On Bus Rapid Transit

What is Bus Rapid Transit?

Bus Rapid Transit is a cost-effective way of using existing infrastructure to provide commuters with a fast, easy and green way to travel.

How is Bus Rapid Transit different from a bus?

Bus systems generally lack one or more of the four key elements of effective BRT: dedicated lanes, pay-before-you-board stations, level boarding, and signal priority at intersections.

How is it different from an express bus?

While express busses tend to have faster travel times than regular busses, BRT moves even quicker. Yet speed alone does not qualify a bus system as a BRT system. In BRT systems, busses travel in dedicated lanes, passengers wait for the bus in at-grade stations and pay before they board, and bus drivers can signal green lights at intersections. These four qualities add up to a much more efficient, reliable, and convenient transit service than even an express bus can provide.

Is Bus Rapid Transit more like a train?

In some ways, BRT is like a commuter train: Just like at commuter rail stations, passengers pay at BRT stations before they board. Like trains, BRT busses have dedicated right-of-way, which means they are far less likely to be affected by vehicular traffic on the road. While BRT carries fewer passengers than a train, it also costs millions of dollars less to implement than either a light rail or heavy rail system because it builds off investments in the existing street grid. By building in an existing roadway, rather than creating a new thoroughfare (such as a rail line), it is less challenging to construct the most optimal and direct routes. This means it can also be implemented much more quickly, so we can get transit improvements sooner. BRT also is a more flexible investment than heavy rail, easily adaptable to community needs and changes.

How long does it take to build?

Bus Rapid Transit networks can go from the conceptual phase to operational within three years.

How much will this cost and who will pay for it?

BRT systems in the U.S. have cost anywhere from $7 to $25 Million per mile to build; of the five best systems in the U.S., the average capital outlay was $13.32 million per mile. By comparison, light rail costs an average of $35 million per mile and heavy rail $96.25 million per mile, a reflection of the fact that BRT uses existing roadways. While a BRT network in Chicago would involve the Chicago Dept. of Transportation and CTA, financing need not be limited to traditional options. For instance, a public-private partnership or value capture mechanism could be created to finance a BRT network in Chicago.

How can BRT improve my community’s local economy?

Bus Rapid Transit alone has good potential to spark community and economic development simply by bringing more people to specific corridors. What’s more, developing near BRT is more attractive than developing near a bus stop or even than near an above or below-ground El station, because BRT stations are at grade, which means greater visibility and access for local businesses. Imagine how two new transit stations could improve business in your neighborhood! However, the full economic and community development potential of BRT will only be realized if government, civic and business leaders work together to focus new investment in and around these corridors.

What does construction of BRT look like and how will it affect local businesses?

Businesses must be at the table as key stakeholders in planning a new BRT system in Chicago. While BRT systems can be constructed in a fraction of the time it would take to build a heavy or light rail system, even two years of disruption can be fatal to a business. Ways to mitigate the effects of construction, such as doing it in phases, should be explored. For instance, before and during the construction of Cleveland’s Healthline, the City worked hard to engage with the business community along the corridor. All businesses were given the opportunity to comment on plans, and plans could not move forward until each business signed off on specific design and construction plans. Ultimately, business owners saw the long-term value and demanded additional stations be added to deliver more shoppers to the corridor. Though some businesses suffered, to date the corridor has seen $4.3 billion in new investment.

How does BRT impact traffic?

The design of the routes has not yet been determined and therefore traffic impact is not yet known. CTA and CDOT encourage residents and businesses along the corridor to attend public meetings and provide their input. MPC’s report has suggested the addition of a dedicated lane for BRT would decrease the average speed of automobile traffic by just 1 mph, from 17 mph to 16 mph. The study also showed that BRT can be constructed along Western and Ashland and still provide right of way for pedestrians, cyclists, motorists, and transit riders, supporting the City of Chicago’s efforts to create Complete Streets.

How does BRT impact parking?

The design of the routes has not yet been determined and therefore parking impact is not yet known, but many BRT systems in other cities run the buses in the median, which would not necessitate removing parking. We encourage residents and businesses along the corridor to attend public meetings and provide their input to help shape the design.

Will this replace my local bus and impact my bus stop?

Many BRT systems maintain local buses running on the same route, so that riders can take a local bus or transfer to the BRT. The Western Corridor project hasn’t been designed yet, which is why it’s so important for the community to provide input on these kinds of issues.

On plans for BRT in Chicago

What are the plans for Bus Rapid Transit in Chicago?

In his transition plan, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel pledged to develop BRT in Chicago. The Chicago Climate Action Plan also identifies BRT as a cost-effective way to expand the city’s transit network. To meet increased demand along the corridor, the CTA has been piloting some elements of BRT along the Jeffrey corridor on Chicago’s South Side, as well as along Madison Ave. in the central business district. The CTA also received a $1.6 million Livability Alternatives Analysis grant from the Federal Transit Administration and, in partnership with the Chicago Dept. of Transportation, has begun exploring the potential for BRT along Western and Ashland avenues.

Why are you trying to feed more people onto a transit system that is at capacity?

Exploring BRT both addresses current challenges and looks ahead to plan for the future. In 2008, MPC published a report showing excess traffic congestion on our roads costs the metropolitan Chicago region $7.3 billion annually. Further, it showed that the City of Chicago bears the greatest cost of congestion in the region. The City and region are exploring ways to reduce congestion and make better use of existing infrastructure. BRT has the potential to reduce regional congestion, while serving people who do not currently have access to transit. At the same time, transportation advocates continue to support state and federal funding for the maintenance and modernization of the existing transit network, which would also ensure a BRT system could reach its full potential.