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Bus Rapid Transit project presentation; Blago appoints new CTA board member

The CTA will make a presentation Thursday night on the next steps for the Bus Rapid Transit project.  Thursday's presentation will be from 6 till 8 pm at the Near North Branch of the library, 310 W. Division.

At the Coffee with Ron last weekend, Huberman said he had just seen the new BRT buses. They have three large doors, where passengers pre-pay at the stop and then load en masse through the three doors. Prototype buses will be on the four BRT streets next summer -- Chicago Avenue, Halsted Street, Jeffery Boulevard, and 79th Street.

Check back later for a link to the presentation here

Guv appoints new CTA board member. The person who helped developed Blago's free rides for seniors program was named a CTA board member Wednesday by the governor. Sheila Nix, the former deputy governor, will replace Nicholas Zagotta. The governor gets to appoint three of the seven CTA board members. Daley appoints the other four.


God, what a horrible thing these BRTs are. If anyone goes to that meeting, let us know if there is actually discussion about the fact that this is going to destroy every neighborhood in which it is implimented. Businesses will go close because of the lack of parking and reduced car traffic. It will also cause some of the worst traffic jams anyone has encountered (not only on the specific streets but also on the neighboring ones). This ironically is the exact opposite of that its proponents claim it will do. But of course there was never any debate about this. The federal government just handed out the money and the city stupidly decided to take it. Of course, the CTA made its decision as to where to implement this without having any discussions with anyone. I'm really hoping that the drawbacks to this become very clear very early so that there is pressure to end the thing. But unfortunetely, that bar is going to be very high because Daley and the CTA are not going to be inclined to admit they were wrong.

Oops. Forgot to mention pollution. Needless to say, when there are traffic jams there is pollution. The opposite of the supposed goals of the supporters of this.

MK, why don't you go to the presentation to voice your opinion?

Ah, Blago gets to appoint his cronies now. I wonder how long it took Sheila to "develop" free rides for seniors? What...10 seconds?

Perhaps the Board will assign Ms. Nix to finding the money to pay for all those free rides she helped give away.

How exactly is this going to cause traffic jams and ruin neighborhoods?

Do you have any evidence that this will occur? Has this happened in other cities with BRT?

MK - Congratulations! You have now put this board on par with the comments section of the Tribune's website!

I've read a lot about BRT in various cities, and this is the first I've heard any of the complaints that MK has outlined. Most of the complaints I have read or heard have been that people prefer trains, that buses are less efficient, etc. But that BRT, overall, is an improvement over traditional bus service.

I think streetcars, light rail and more L and subway trains would be best, but I think BRT can work in Chicago. My biggest concern about this BRT plan is that the restricted bus-only lanes will only be in effect during rush hour. What makes BRT successful is that it is like "train light," that is, it avoids traffic and has permanent stations. It would be better to make the bus-only lanes permanent, 24/7. Especially since even by the CTA's own count, non-Rush Hour travel is way up now.

Those are the same complaints that I have heard-that people prefer trains over buses because of the perceived pollution buses cause (which, with hybrids, isn't necessarily the case), as well as lack of permanent stations (so businesses can build around them). But if MK has any other evidence, I would love to hear it.

Oh, I never meant to imply that MK was lying. I would also like to hear the evidence. If these are real problems associated with BRT, we need to know about them.

It's just common sense. I haven't studied this issue in depth. Others have and there have been examples given here by people of BRT routes that have resulted in negative effects on neighborhoods. But obviously when you take away parking, as this certainly seems that it will, it means that fewer people will stop on the busineess on the street. And you are also apparently reducing the number of lanes on these streets by one. Of course that causes traffic jams and pollution (and fewer cars is another reason fewer people will stop at the businesses). I've said before that it is similar to what occured on State Street in the 1980s. Have you people heard about that? Do you know Chicago history? Perhaps you even lived in the area then. Someone had the great idea that they should ban cars on State Street in order to make it more mall like. Only buses and pedestrians were allowed. They thought this made sense because this was the decade that the building of malls was surging. But banning cars turned out to be a truly dumb move since they were losing business from people who were driving through the area. Most of the stores closed and the street largely became desolute. You might recall that it was still recovering from this just five or six years ago. At that time, the street was probably close to 50% vacent from Van Buron to Madison. The failed experiment certainly wasn't the only reason for this but it was a major one. I can't think of any arguments why something similar would not happen in the areas where the BRTs will be operating. And, of course, the stated purpose of these BRTs (to encourage people to take public transit instead of driving) makes no sense because they will be operating to and from areas where almost nobody drives right now during rush hour anyway.

I should have said that State Street was close to 50% vacent from Van Buron to Washington, rather than VAn Buron to Madison. So it was even worse.

MK speaks some truth. The streets that "need" BRT are generally congested due to frequent parking, loading, and high pedestrian retail activity. Having 60-ft behemoths blasting by at 30+ mph alongside the sidewalks while no parking is available for people to visit the retail can indeed harm the street. It all depends on the exact implementation. I'm under the impression that for the CTA BRT, the bus-only lanes will only be enforced during the weekday rush periods, meaning that sort of adverse impact to neighborhood retail shouldn't be too bad. At other times, the BRT service would still benefit from having signal priority to hold a green light, and prepaid boarding, improved shelters, next bus arrival LED screens, and so forth.

A lot depends on what their definition of rush hour ends up being with this. If they end up running the things from around 2:00 to 7:00(like the purple line), it almost would be as if they were running all day.

I'm under the impression that for the CTA BRT, the bus-only lanes will only be enforced during the weekday rush periods, meaning that sort of adverse impact to neighborhood retail shouldn't be too bad.

For some retail, the afternoon/evening rush hour is their busiest time, with people stopping to pick things up on the way home.

To some extent, certain retail still pays attention to the "morning side" and "evening side" of the street when choosing locations.

For example, you'll usually find more newspaper stands on the morning side of the street, but more grocery and grocery-specialty stores on the afternoon side of the street.

BRT is a valid tool in the multimodal toolbox, however Chicago's brand of urbanization does not generally have the characteristics needed for successful BRT. At least not for any long stretches.

BRT, using a mix of PROW and major streets would be perfect for moving Olympic fans around. Not only will their travel patterns match the super-stop format, with significant numbers going to a limited number of destinations, but the money to build PROW's to avoid harming neighborhood retail could be found. And when the Olympics are done, the PROW's can be turned into public streets, and the vehicles redeployed (with some minor modifications) to regular express bus routes until the end of their useful life.

But this whole concept of dropping a BRT system on top of existing streets can do nothing but destroy the current life along those streets.

If the dream of people leaving their cars to ride the BRT came true, it wouldn't be too bad. But the negative impact on regular traffic will not be mittigated by drivers giving up their cars for BRT.

Once you get to the point where the impact on traffic is too great, what will happen isn't that drivers will give up their cars and ride the bus. What will happen is they'll move to parallel routes. Those going short distances will be even more inclined to find short-cuts through residential neighborhoods, and those going longer distances will increase congestion on the next major street over in each direction.

Meanwhile, back on the street with BRT, instead of comuters being able to stop at any available point to patronize retail establishments, a higher percentage will only be able to stop at the super-stop stations.

Also, I don't know if anyone has really considered the impact of these super-stop stations. If passengers are pre-paying, then there needs to be an area accessable only to passengers who've paid. Some sort of fare collection system will need to be squeezed onto the sidewalk, and some sort of enforcement scheme will need to be devised.

Of course they could set-up temporary super-stop stations, and just wait for the attrition of retailers, and tear down some buildings to make room for a more suitable station area.

There are places where BRT is suited for. The chosen places in Chicago don't have the right charactaristics.

Essentially it'll destroy close-in neighborhoods so those living further out can be whisked through.

I'm in favor of better bus service than we have now, but this isn't the answer.

here's what was said at the meeting:
- first of all, this is a pilot program so they're going to try different things.
- for everyone that's worried that the CTA is out to destroy neighborhoods, they are not going to wholesale close off lanes to parking and auto traffic. it sounds to me like they are going to restrict parking during rush periods on either side of the street (inbound-AM, outbound-PM) where it is physically possible. so if it's not physically possible, they're not going to do it (and as far as "morning" or "afternoon" retail... i didn't know it was THAT hard to just cross the street). The buses supposedly will run from about 6am to 8 pm, but will have dedicated lanes only on rush periods.
- from the way i understood it, the pre-pay things won't be at every stop, and where they do have them, there will be someone there making sure the fare is paid. i think they're going to use some sort of portable machine so it doesn't take up the whole block or whatever.
- i guess it doesn't sound that much different than express buses they have now, but they say that with the combination of faster boarding, signal priority, and the dedicated lanes where its feasible will make things faster.

so, that's the synopsis from someone that actually went to the meeting instead of sitting here and complaining about it.

MK: "But obviously when you take away parking, as this certainly seems that it will, it means that fewer people will stop on the busineess on the street. And you are also apparently reducing the number of lanes on these streets by one."

So, you're taking away the parking lane, *and* another lane of the street? How big are these buses?!

Obviously just about everybody here is all about increasing transit options/usefulness in general -- yet, when an extra transit option is going to be implemented, it's the fact that parking will be decreased at certain parts of the day that will kill local businesses. What, everybody drives there now? So, increased public transit will actually kill local businesses? I didn't realize people couldn't park on side streets, or the opposite side of the street, or *god forbid* take the bus to local businesses. No, it's the fact that people won't be able to park directly in front of local businesses at certain times of the day that will certainly drive them into the ground..

"and as far as "morning" or "afternoon" retail... i didn't know it was THAT hard to just cross the street."

It is not a matter of it being easy or hard. If a business owner decided whether or not to open a business based on whether something was easy or hard for customers it is not likely that they will be successful. For example, it is not hard for people who eat at a restaurant to, when they expect that their order is ready, to actually walk into the kitchen and get a tray and then pick up their food. The restaurant would not have to pay for as many employees if they had this system. Yet, as far as I know, none exist. The reason, of course, is that the question is not whether something is hard or not. It is whether it is convenient. And, believe it or not, many people have busy lives. And an extra minute or two to walk across the street is going to make a difference in whether they patronize a business. Convenience stores and small grocery stores depend on convenience for their business. That is the only reason why people shop there. They can usually get everything there cheaper at a supermarket. If you reduce the ability of people to park, there will be much fewer people who stop. Rusty is absolutely correct about morning and evening businesses. On Chicago Avenue, which will be a BRT area, there are six coffee shops (from my count) west of the brown line. How many are on the south side of the street where they can generate the most foot traffic for its peak morning business. Absolutely all of them. There are no coffee shops on the northern side of the street from the brown line to Western at least. There used to be a couple but they have closed. Simularly, the overwhelming majority, if not all, of the convenience stores and small grovery stores are on the northern side of the street where they can generate the most afternoon business. Most fast food restuarants are also there. This is not a coincidence. The BRT will throw off all of this and decrease foot traffic.

Yes it's exactly like going to a restaurant and having to wait on yourself (though, you know, those do actually exist).

So what you're saying is the businesses on the selected streets survive because people in their cars swoop in, buy stuff, and then drive off. So, by increasing mass transit options, the businesses are going to die, because people can't park directly in front of them (have you ever tried to park on a lot of Chicago streets lined with businesses? You usually don't get a prime spot..) It sounds like mass transit is killing local businesses to me! Let's get rid of it!

So what you're saying is the businesses on the selected streets survive because people in their cars swoop in, buy stuff, and then drive off.

If you mean "survive" as in that's the majority of their business, no. If you mean "survive" as in their margins are typically so narrow that taking away this foot traffic is the difference between making a profit, and losing money, then yes.

The concepts of morning and afternoon sides of the street actually have root in mass transit patterns. The foot traffic that originally fueled this well proven concept came from bus riders.

For businesses most dependent on foot traffic the proximity to a bus stop on the right side of the street was an essential part of the planning process. Once people started driving, those mid-block spaces on the right side of the street became acceptable sites, too.

Even the modern-day sophisticated franchises with their own parking lots want their primary customers to be able to make right-turns into, and right-turns out of their parking lot. To be on the left side of the street means less customers stopping.

MK offered a very good example on Chicago Ave. It's *not* just coincidence that coffee shops on the wrong side of the street don't survive.

Is anyone here a merchandiser? (For those who don't know what that is, they're the people who go into stores and arrange merchandise on the shelves.) How products are placed on the shelves has a huge effect on how well they sell. As any merchandiser can tell you, certain products need to be at certain heights on shelves located in certain parts of the store to sell well. No, it's not that hard for someone to go out of their way to grab these products from different places, but the bottom line is whether it's very hard or not, people don't make the extra effort.

So yes, it is hard to cross the street. Hard enough that enough people won't make the effort. Enough people to make the difference between success and failure of a business. This isn't something I've made up.

So, MK's coffee shops, that are all on the same side of the street on Chicago Ave. -- significant numbers of people driving their cars stop at these places, get a coffee, then drive the rest of the way to wherever they're going. Instead of just getting a coffee once they're much closer to work? And people driving home -- they stop at convenience stores somewhere in between work and home to pay a premium for necessary items, instead of stopping somewhere closer to home? Your "foot traffic" idea basically consists of people parking their cars in front of the store, which seems pretty far-fetched. I would bet these coffee shops all on the same side of the street near the Chicago Brown Line probably get just about all of their business in the morning from people that are already walking to the train stop, which will in no way be affected by a BRT lane..

MK's example of the cafés only proved that businesses on the "wrong" side of the street will struggle when faced with competition on the "right" side of the street. It doesn't tell us anything about whether people would stop going to those places if the rush hour parking were removed.

Similarly, the State St example only proves that completely closing a street to traffic, when gas prices are low and people are fleeing the city, will kill businesses. The conditions today are radically different - people are returning to the city, they're demanding more transit, and no one is talking about closing any streets.

" I would bet these coffee shops all on the same side of the street near the Chicago Brown Line probably get just about all of their business in the morning from people that are already walking to the train stop, which will in no way be affected by a BRT lane."

I didn't say they were near the Brown line. I said they were between the brown line and Western Avenue. In fact, only one of the six I menioned is anywhere near the brown line. And none of them are very close to the blue line either. Sorry, your argument doesn't work.

"On Chicago Avenue, which will be a BRT area, there are six coffee shops (from my count) west of the brown line."

"I said they were between the brown line and Western Avenue."

Oh, OK. I didn't notice that you were talking in really general terms about businesses located miles apart from each other. Which will surely be killed when people can't park their cars right in front of them, because that's what drives their business. Down with mass transit!

BRT isn't just mass tranist. It's a specific type of mass transit.

Just like there's a difference between Milwaukee Avenue and the Kennedy Expressway, there's a difference between having BRT zipping past neighborhood businesses and services that depend on foot traffic, and a bus that stops each block to serve that neighborhood.

BRT and even their lesser cousin the express bus are valid forms of transportation. But not if they're going to destroy the neighborhoods they zip through.

Express buses are no big deal. They're loaded with people who don't want to stop, and they increase the capacity of the street for nearly all modes of transportation.

BRT requires an infrastructure that reduces the capacity of the street for other modes of transportation, and in that process, they can destroy a neighborhood.

Effective BRT needs it's own lane of travel to be rapid. It also needs super-stop stations, which take up more room than a normal bus stop.

If you want to Salt Lake City where they have these wide boulivards with plenty of room to spare, you could plop one down fairly easily without destroying anything significant. (On the other hand, Salt Lake City doesn't really have a need for BRT.)

Or your could build a PROW for the BRT. BRT might be a better choice for the old Crosstown Expressway corridor than some of the other plans that have been floated over the years. (Actually, BRT essentially been proposed at least a couple of times, but it wasn't called BRT.)

But flopping down the infrastructure for BRT -- and yes, BRT requires infrastructure or it's not really BRT -- on top of existing streets going through existing neighborhoods where there is no extra room for a new transportation corridor won't work.

Actually, that's why they build the elevated train lines: They couldn't fit them in at street level without being distruptive. Replacing streetcars with rapid transit was something that just wasn't going to work, and people knew it.

Of course today you wouldn't be able to build a second level to the street for BRT. Even if the BRT would run often enough, and transport enough people to make it worth the cost, you couldn't effectively turn the street into a tunnel these days, either.

Mass transit is generally good. This specific form of mass transit, however, does not fit where they want to put it. That's not good.

I think it is worthwhile to remind everyone how this came about(and let those know who didn't already). I don't think there is any doubt that if you ask 50 random people what would be the best thing to do with the amount of money being spent on this you will find that none of them would mention the BRTs. If you ask the top 50 people who make decisions involving the CTA the same question you also will likely get zero people who state this should be the top priority. This is being payed for entirely by the federal government. The transportation department, who are completely divorced from the reality of the communities that it is effecting, came up with this specifically for New York City. Yes, New York City. That pretty much stunned most transportation experts and others who realize how bizarre the rationale of encouraging people to use public transit is in a place where probably less than 1% of people drive. The reason this was being proposed by the Bush administration, from what I have heard, is because the owner of the company that will be making the parking meters for the downtown area which charge variable prices depending on time of day (a small part of the plan) was able to achieve a great deal of clout. Perpaps the company gave enough campaign contributions. Ironically, using federal dollers to provide these parking meters to cities like New York and Chicago probably wouldn't be a bad thing. Higher prices for parking during peak hours downtown make sense. And perhaps it is good for the feds to provide the infrastructure to do this. But unfortuenely, I guess they decided that if they did this alone without integrating it into a comprehensive plan it would be too obvious that they were deciding policy based on clout. That is why they came up with the BRT idea. New York City wisely decided to turn down the federal money because of how stupid the whole plan was for their city. Nobody needs to be encouraged not to drive there. Nobody does. It is very unusual for a local government to turn down money that doesn't even have to be matched by them. Yet they correctly decided to do that. So the federal government just dumped the plan on Chicago even though there had been absolutely no discussion about any benifits and drawbacks here. Again, the stated purpose of the plan is to encourage use of public transit in order to relieve congestion. Yet it focuses on peak direction rush hour driving to downtown. Almost everyone who commutes in this manner already uses public transit. Those who don't probably have a good reason such as a need for their car. The city, unfortunetely, did not follow New York's lead and decided to take the money for something that doesn't make sense. That is how we ended up with something that no one was asking for. This is not how these things should be implemented. There needs to be debate and discussion over what is the best use of money.

MK, you are unusually wrong on this one. It's true that the money was made available when New York rejected it. But the BRT and parking meter plan was completely different from the one being considered in New York. The NY plan would have implemented congestion pricing, requiring anyone driving into Manhattan south of 60th to pay a fee for the use of valuable road space. The fee was to vary according to the degree of congestion.

This would have been a huge advancement in transportation policy. Contrary to your claim that "probably less than 1% of people drive" in New York, only 55 percent commute using transit.
Congestion pricing would have both increased transit use and generated major new revenues that would have been poured into improving transit.

New York City did not reject the plan - the mayor, city council, and 2/3 of the population supported it. Rather, the plan was killed by the leader of the state house of representatives, bowing to pressure from suburban interests and parking companies.

I don't doubt that corruption may have played a part in the parking meter part of the plan. But there's a lot more going on there - the Bush administration has been pushing congestion pricing (including the kind of variable pricing of parking that Chicago is getting) as part of a larger strategy to privatize all forms of transportation.

The administration's goals are despicable, but the use of congestion pricing can also be turned to progressive ends as a means of imposing the true social costs of cars on drivers and generating revenue for improving transit.

"Contrary to your claim that "probably less than 1% of people drive" in New York, only 55 percent commute using transit."

Just a reminder that there are all those yellow vehicles that travel all around the city. They are called taxicabs. When I visited Manhatten a few years ago, they seemed to represent around 90 to 95% of all vehicles in the street. So it certainly seems that it is consistant that 55 percent of people commute using transit and only around 1% drive. Imposing congestion pricing, as far as I know, would not have affected taxicabs. And very few people commute to and from work in taxicabs.

Oh, it's also important to note that the statistic you mention includes all residents of New York, including those who commute to suburbs or rural areas. That isn't really what I was talking about (nor is it what the plan would have focused on apparently). I was referring to people who commute within or to the city. If the statistics focused on that, I'm sure the number would be much higher than 55%.

Fair enough, and it turns out that the number of people driving alone to jobs in Manhattan is only 5 percent of the total number of commuters. Yet there are so many jobs in Manhattan (2.3 million!), and the entry points are so few (only a handful of bridges and tunnels) that this small percentage translates into huge traffic jams every morning.

I followed the debate while it was going on, and opponents used a number of arguments against it. But not once did I see anyone raise the idea that there was no congestion to fight, or that no one would end up paying the fee because no one drives. (Taxis, btw, would have been assessed a $1 fee for each trip.)

I raise these issues because I think Chicago should also think seriously about a congestion pricing system to fight traffic jams and raise money for transit improvements.

The cost of parking in Manhatten is enormous. Nobody is going to drive to or within manhatten unless, for some reason, they absolutely need their car or if the are coming from a suburb from which they cannot easilly take public transit (I'm not sure that there are any in the New York area where there is no good transit, but if there is that probably is a large portion of the 5%). It is not only much cheaper in manhatten to take transit or a cab but it is also much more convenient. I gave you some reasons in the other thread (I love the fact that we are having two simultanous conversations about the same thing) why some people would need their car at or after work. The few people who commute by car in both New York City (or at least Manhatten) and downtown Chicago likely fit into that catagory. These are legitamate reasons that you cannot just make go away by some silly pricing incentives that just add a tiny bit onto the already ENORMOUS pricing incentives which already discourage people from driving. Nor does a bus rapid transit system do anything to make any of the factors of the causing the few people commuting to these areas by car go away. I think it is completely ridiculous that anyone thinks it does. Someone coming from anywhere in the city can get downtown for less than $2.00 on public transit while they would have to spend probably eight times this just to park (even using the cheapest monthly plans of the garages). And then they would also have to spend several dollers on gas. And, of course, it takes time to park and to go get their car after work which is much less convenient than simply walking off of a bus or a train. It is absurd to be looking at incentives for people choosing transit for commuters to downtown Chicago or Manhatten. The incentives already are huge, to the point that someone would need to be insane to choose to drive if there were not a specific reason they needed their car. When you impose more incentives you not only would not make the slightest dent in achieving what you are attempting, you also are discouraging people from coming to the loop. The 5% you mention (which I'm sure is a similar number for city residents commuting to jobs downtown during rush hour) already have many issues that are making it tough for them to work in the area conveniently and economically. If you make it even more difficult they may choose jobs in the suburbs (or even another state entirely) instead. And this means decreased economic activity here. It also discourages employers from locating downtown (no it is not huge since the number of people in this situation is not huge but every little bit makes a difference).

If you want to fight congestion with such things as congestion pricing you should look to the suburbs. It also would help to expand transit over there. Many suburbs are becoming more and more dense which means they are more and more transit friendly. And the higher gas prices will attract more riders. Yet there has barely been any increase in transit in the suburban Chicago area for decades. Here in the city, there already is a huge amount of transit and numerous incentives for people to use it, especially to congested areas at peak times. Again, we are back to the same discussion we have had at least twice before. You have spent a great deal of time in many places talking about the need to expand and promote transit. Yet you are focusing almost entirely on the city in areas where there already is a huge amount of transit. Why is this?


I don't just support transit expansion in the city. As I've said over and over again, I support the Yellow Line extension. I support the STAR Line. I support (with some reservations) the Cook Dupage expansion proposals.

But I also think that with people returning to the city, rising gas prices, the threat of global warming, and the needs of low-income communities, the need for expanding transit options in the city is also pressing. The question is why you oppose almost all these initiatives.

I don't see how we can have a discussion about these things if you're going to cite numbers you just make up on the basis of how you think sane people should act. If you can't give me statistics to back up your idea that everyone who is able to already takes transit to the Loop, or why you think a BRT on non-Loop corridors like Western and Ashland would also not increase transit use, then there's no point in continuing.

I don't oppose many transit improvements in the city. I would certainly support, for example, buiding stations where there are currently huge gaps on the green line in the South Loop and the West Loop. A BRT on Ashland or Western would, undoubtadly, increase transit use. You are right about that. If they were going to introduce BRTs they probably should have done so there. However, I would still oppose them for the reasons I stated earlier. It would have detrimental effects on the businesses of the street. And there already are express buses on those streets that reduce travel times considerably. And the signal priority part of the BRT plan is something that is very good. It would go a long way if they implemented that without the dedicated lanes. And the good news is that they are apparently doing so on Western.

I am not citing numbers I just made up. You are the one that stated that 5% of commuters in Manhatten are people who drive alone in cars. Based on the simularities to downtown Chicago I just used common sense to assume it probably is a number close to that. Also, as I stated before, I don't know anyone who lives in the city and works downtown who drives everyday to their job.

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