Express bus service on Chicago's Ashland and Western Avenues will be restored during peak hours under a plan announced Tuesday by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA).
The city is also planning to speed up service on the busy bus routes by eliminating the least-used stops and upgrading more traffic signals with "transit signal priority" technology, which helps buses get through major intersections easier.
"These improvements will help to modernize bus service along Ashland and Western, making commutes shorter and connecting more residents to jobs and economic opportunities," Emanuel said in a statement. "By modernizing bus service along Ashland and Western Avenues we will put another building block in place to create stronger neighborhoods and keep these two critical transportation corridors moving in a way that is faster, smarter, and safer."
The CTA is expected to launch a process to gather public feedback on the changes later this year.
Express service on the #9 Ashland and #49 Western bus routes was eliminated in 2010 because of budget cuts.
In response to the city's plan to restore express service on the two routes during morning and afternoon rush periods, Active Transportation Alliance Executive Director Ron Burke issued this statement:
Restoring express bus service on Ashland and Western is good news for transit riders who are forced to deal with overcrowding and slow, unpredictable trips on two of the most popular bus routes in the system. This decision should be a first step towards CTA building a true bus rapid transit (BRT) corridor on Ashland with dedicated bus lanes, improved stations, and enhanced sidewalks and medians.
The CTA's own analysis from 2013 shows restoring express bus service will result in slightly faster trips but nowhere near the speed of BRT. Currently, the average bus speed on Ashland is less than nine miles per hour. With express service it could tick back up to just over 10 miles per hour. Buses will still be stuck in traffic during peak periods, however, and trips will remain unpredictable.
The CTA found building a rapid transit corridor on Ashland could speed up trips to as fast as 16 miles per hour, an 83 percent increase over current speeds. The project would also result in predictability similar to a train, more efficient traffic patterns, and dozens of blocks of sidewalk and crosswalk enhancements.
As more Chicagoans choose to ride transit every year, it's time for the city to invest in expanding the city's rapid transit network to give riders faster, more convenient options. Restoring express service is only a first step, and implementing BRT must come next.