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What's With All This BRT Talk?

By JoshMogerman in News on May 12, 2012 9:00PM

A stop on Eugene, OR's EmX bus rapid transit line [Chris Phan]

The Department of Transportation put out its landmark action agenda “Chicago Forward,” the first document of its kind in the City’s history. For a sense of what is in the 100-pager, check out Chuck's Chicagoist overview that posted yesterday and transit maven Steven Vance's interview of Commissioner Gabe Klein over at GRID Chicago, but it is worth your time to read the whole thing. While the plan stands as another example of how adept the Emanuel Administration is at repackaging stuff they are already doing in grandiose fashion, there really is a ton of new stuff to like. It certainly stands as a refreshing bit of transparency, an approachable read with clear goals in a short timeframe and a thoughtful look at how the City that Works should work.

Though much of the attention has gone towards the plan’s safety goals, we couldn’t help but notice that this is the latest City initiative devoting significant focus on BRT. With Chicago’s pork fetish, its understandable that most of us probably think this is a bacon and fancy lettuce sandwich, rather than a transit option (and why don’t we put radicchio on our hoagies anyway?). But take heed, Bus Rapid Transit is coming to Chicago this year in the form of a test project on CTA’s Jeffery Express route.

What is BRT? Think of it as the lovechild of L trains and express buses. Giving large buses dedicated lanes and deference at traffic signals lets them move quickly like trains on surface streets. The concept is popular in cities around the world due to its flexibility and relative cheapness to deploy. WTTW’s Chicago Tonight has done a lot to demystify BRT; sending reporters Ash-har Quraishi and Eddie Arruza to Mexico City for a look at how their “Metrob├║s” system works and talking with CTA President Forrest Claypool at length on subject back in March. Both segments are worth watching for a peek at what is soon to come—though the Chicago version will be slimmed down comparatively: