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Transportation Thu Aug 18 2011

How Bus Rapid Transit Can Be Implemented in Chicago

The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) released their report Bus Rapid Transit: Chicago's New Route to Opportunity publicly at an event held yesterday at the Union League Club. For some background on the report, see here.

The speakers at the event included former mayor of Bogotá Enrique Peñalosa, United States Bus Rapid Transit Program Director for the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), Annie Weinstock, MPC Project Manager Josh Ellis and Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) Commissioner Gabe Klein. The event focused on how BRT's implementation in Chicago could work and cited examples from other cities using BRT, primarily Bogotá.

As mayor, Peñalosa oversaw the development of Bogotá's BRT system. TransMilenio, as it was called is now viewed as being the world standard in BRT. There are 84 kilometers (52.2 miles) of road used in the TransMilenio route and it serves more than 1 million riders daily. (Note: TransMilenio links are in Spanish but can be viewed in English by clicking on "Idioma.")

"Buses operating as BRT are wonderful," Peñalosa said during his presentation.

Among the problems Peñalosa addressed is the stigma of buses and how calling Bogotá's system TransMilenio helps distance itself sounding like a bus by using a more modern sounding name.

"No one going on TransMilenio would say they're taking the bus," Peñalosa remarked to the attendees.

As for speculated economic development, Peñalosa said that there have been new malls built along TransMilenio routes. Peñalosa also said that a study showed that 69% of people in Bogotá are influenced in their decision of where to find a place to live by the proximity to mass transit.

"It would have a great impact in the world and all over the United States to have a full-fledged BRT [in the United States]," Peñalosa said.

According to the presentations, Chicago could and should aim for a "gold-standard BRT," which is determined by a rating system that looks at various criteria including use of stations placed in the median of roads, level boarding platforms, extra-wide doors for boarding and iconic stations to differentiate BRT stations from regular bus shelters. (The rating scale can be viewed here [PDF] starting on page seven.) JCDecaux, who currently builds bus shelters in Chicago would handle design for BRT stations.

Annie Weinstock of the ITDP said that the five true BRT systems in the United States are not gold-standard systems because they do not meet the criteria the ITDP developed.

The Chicago Transit Authority and CDOT will be investigating BRT in what is being called the "Western Corridor," which seemed to show a lot of promise. The Western Corridor is bordered by the suggested Ashland and Western routes. The suggested Western route would travel from Howard Avenue to 95th Street, while the current Western Bus Route on the CTA only travels from Berwyn Avenue to 79th Street.

"We can do better than [waiting for 20 people to pay their fares on the bus], Chicago," John Ellis of the MPC told the crowd.

MPC will be holding a webinar Thursday morning from 10 to 10:30 am where the researchers for the report will explain how they developed the screening method for testing livability and how it can help other cities. Interested individuals can register on MPC's website.

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