New proposal for “bus rapid transit system” for Chicago

A new proposal calls for a “bus rapid transit system” in Chicago:

That’s one reason to like a new proposal by the Metropolitan Planning Council (pdf) that outlines a major bus rapid transit system for the city of Chicago. The system would be pretty expansive. Its 10 routes would wind through roughly 95 miles of windy city. It would link up to Chicago’s existing transit lines and thereby increase transit trips throughout the region by 3 percent, with as many as 7,000 daily drivers converting to public transportation…

More importantly, the proposed system would also be relatively inexpensive. Whereas light rail can often cost around $35 million a mile to build, bus rapid transit can be done for about $13 million, according to the council’s report. Still, modest as the plan is, it might not be modest enough. Currently Chicago has plans for only three fast bus lanes, with another three to come in the future — “BRT light,” as one official put it. A spokeswoman for the city’s transit authority told the Tribune the money for more lines just isn’t there:

“Given the funding constraints, our plan for three routes is an aggressive, reasonable and workable plan,” CTA spokeswoman Molly Sullivan said.

This looks like an interesting proposal, including the livability scores calculated for each bus route. If I had to sell someone on this, I would say that the proposal argues that these buses deliver light-rail like performance without the additional infrastructure costs. The proposed routes seem to be targeted at areas that are not easily served by the El, particularly along several key north-south corridors.

Several questions come to mind:

1. The proposal includes several small case studies of BRT (bus rapid transit) in action in cities like Portland, Johannesburg, and Las Vegas. Is it reasonable to ask that such proposals include city systems that were not terribly effective?

2. Could this find its way to the suburbs? Suburban buses always present difficulties due to limited service over a wide areas and consistent funding issues. But rapid buses that cover well-trafficked routes might be worth considering.

3. The funding issue is a big deal. Is the City of Chicago in any position to approve new mass transit considering its financial state? The proposal suggests this would be beneficial because it would encourage development, improve mass transit, and make the city more livable but would this also provide cost savings? It would be interesting to hear from a panel of experts as to whether Chicago “needs” light rail or BRT. In other words, is this a luxury or a necessity?

Minneapolis and Seattle fight congestion

USA Today reports on successful efforts in Minneapolis and Seattle to cut down on congestion on local highways. Some of the efforts include: building more bus lanes, building more light rail, encouraging employers to have flexible schedules, variable speed limits depending on traffic, high-occupancy vehicle lanes, and more.