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Loop Link Will Be A Proving Ground For Bus Rapid Transit

By Rachel Cromidas in News on Dec 21, 2015 10:28PM

via the City of Chicago

Chicago's foray into rapid bus service, known as Bus Rapid Transit, is finally up and running in the Loop. It's now up to bus riders to determine whether the $40 million project lives up to its hype.

Similar to how a train or trolley can bypass traffic by running on its own track, Loop Link gives buses a dedicated bus lane, set somewhat apart from traffic on bustling Madison Street and Washington Boulevard, which cut east-west through the Loop. The lane is painted red and reads "bus only," and boarding stations are elevated off the ground and separated from the sidewalk.

By removing a lane of traffic (two in some places) and separating CTA buses from cyclists and regular traffic, Loop Link aims to make it faster and safer to get around downtown on Washington, Madison, Clinton and Canal. The buses that use those streets include the J14, the 19, the 20, the 60, the 124 and the 157.

The lanes opened to drivers Sunday morning, but one station, just east of Wabash Avenue on Madison, is not opening until next year. And the Canal leg of the project is not coming until Spring 2016.

Streetsblog Chicago gave the transit project a favorable first-look on Sunday. They also noted that it hopefully won't be the city's only Bus Rapid Transit project:

This isn’t the most robust BRT system around. More timesaving features are planned for the 16-mile route that is very tentatively planned for Ashland Avenue, a north-south street two miles west of the center of town. And there’s definitely going to be a learning curve for Loop Link during the upcoming weeks. Count on plenty of stories in the mainstream media quoting drivers annoyed by the lane conversions.

But Loop Link looks like it’s going to be effective in making crosstown bus travel more efficient and less frustrating. It’s going to be especially useful for “last mile” trips for workers and visitor arriving in the West Loop via Metra commuter rail. It’ll be fun to witness the bus system become an essential element of the downtown transportation mix.

Streetsblog Editor John Greenfield tried out one of the bus routes along Loop Link and recorded the journey. The slow, slow journey:

We're cautiously optimistic. The city has promised that Loop Link will speed up bus travel at peak hours from a plodding 3-miles-per-hour to a more useful 12 to 15 miles-per-hour. That change alone could make the project worth the time and money by shortening the commutes of thousands of daily passengers. But the design of the new bus-only lanes will require motorists and cyclists to obey traffic signs and stay in their respective lanes, even when they're in a hurry and the path of least resistance would take them through the BRT's red bus lane.

City transportation officials have said Loop Link will be a testing ground for the BRT concept, and its performance over the coming year could inform how the city moves forward, or doesn't, when it comes to other proposed rapid transit bus projects, including one long in-the-works plan to dedicate a lane of traffic on Ashland Avenue to an express bus.