A closer look at rapid transit buses

The CTA has faced a long, slow road in introducing bus rapid transit—express bus service that would get riders to their destination faster because of bus-only lanes and traffic signals that give buses priority over other traffic.

In 2008, the CTA was awarded $153 million in federal funds to build bus-only lanes on parts of Chicago Avenue, Halsted Street, Jeffery Boulevard and 79th Street. Express buses were supposed to be running by 2010.

But in 2009, the CTA had to forfeit that money because of application troubles. One of the problems: CTA officials failed to hold enough public meetings about the project, the Tribune reported.

The CTA got back on track and in July the agency was awarded an $11 million grant to test bus rapid transit on about 16 miles of Jeffery Boulevard from 103rd Street and Stony Island Avenue to Madison Street.

Now the CTA is holding a public meeting about Jeffery Boulevard plans from 4-6 p.m. Wednesday at the Chicago Public Library Avalon Park branch, 8148 S. Stony Island Ave. A second open house will be held 6-8 p.m. Thursday at CTA headquarters, 567 W. Lake St.

Meanwhile, Mayor Emanuel listed bus rapid transit as one of his priorities in a report released last month.

Other cities already have successfully instituted bus rapid transit. Pittsburgh was praised for buses that arrive every two minutes during peak hours while Cleveland was lauded for its dedicated bus lanes, which helped result in a 60 percent increase in ridership. Those findings were published in a study last month by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, a non-profit group that promotes developing infrastructure.

The Chicago program is expected to enhance service, which may increase ridership, on the No. 14 Jeffery Express bus route that runs between 103rd Street and Stony Island Avenue and Washington and Jefferson Streets.

The No. 14 has become less popular over the last few years. The route sees about 12,000 riders on an average weekday, down from about 14,500 riders in April 2008, according to an April CTA ridership report.

In addition to the Jeffery Boulevard pilot, Emanuel said in his first 100 days of office the city will initiate an "alternatives analysis" on Western and Ashland Avenues to determine which corridor can most benefit from bus rapid transit.

The analysis is expected to completed in Emanuel's first year of administration.

Both avenues have seen ridership shifts since express bus service was cut in February 2010. The Ashland bus logs 30,031 riders on an average weekday while the Western bus see 28,210 riders, according to the CTA.

The Ashland bus is the second most popular bus in terms of average weekday ridership, behind the 79th Street bus, while the Western bus is the third most popular.

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RIDER'S BLOCK

My pledge to ride every CTA bus line continues. I rode the No. 130-Museum Campus last week and boiled my review down to a tweet.

» @tracyswartz 23 mins from Ogilvie to Adler Planetarium. Runs Memorial Day to Labor Day. Not on Bus Tracker. Slowed by Wacker project, wackadoo tourists.

110 routes down, 29 to go!

Next up: No. 53A-South Pulaski.