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The CTA Plans To Speed Up Your Commutes On Ashland And Western

By Rachel Cromidas in News on Aug 18, 2015 5:17PM

The CTA has announced plans to create express bus routes on Ashland and Western Avenues that could shave minutes off rush hour bus commutes.

The #9 and #49 CTA buses, which serve parts of Ashland and Western, respectively, are getting new routes with stops about half a mile apart during rush hour, according to a Monday night press release from City Hall. The express buses could run 12 minutes faster each way compared to the local buses, officials said. The move represents a re-introduction of express bus services that were phased out in 2010 during a massive round of CTA budget cuts and service reductions brought on by the recession.

The release makes no mention of how the new Ashland express service could affect plans in the works for an Ashland Avenue Bus Rapid Transit Line. The Ashland BRT proposal has been in the works for years now, (as well as one for Western Avenue,) but has struggled to gain community approval. The city's first BRT line is under construction now on Madison Street in the Loop. Transit officials told the Sun-Times Tuesday morning that the Ashland BRT is still "in the planning stages."

The concept of Bus Rapid Transit, typically involving a dedicated lane for bus traffic, pick ups and drop offs that is set apart from other types of traffic, has taken off in other major cities like New York City but been slower to catch on in Chicago.

Ron Burke, head of the local green transportation advocacy group the Active Transportation Alliance, said the restored express routes should be a first step toward the future of BRT in Chicago.

“Restoring express bus service on Ashland and Western is good news for transit riders who are forced to deal with overcrowding and slow, unpredictable trips on two of the most popular bus routes in the system," he said in a statement. "This decision should be a first step towards CTA building a true bus rapid transit (BRT) corridor on Ashland with dedicated bus lanes, improved stations, and enhanced sidewalks and medians."

Burke noted that a 2013 CTA bus service analysis showed that BRT would be significantly faster than the express service planned for Ashland Avenue. The average bus speed on Ashland Avenue (including non-rush hour times) is less than 9-miles-per-hour according to that study, he said. Express service could bring the speed up to over 10-miles-per-hour, but BRT could push the speed up to 16-miles-per-hour.