This is not an acceptable way for transit operators to deal with slow bus traffic


The bus operator of a 36/Broadway bus drives illegally in the bike and parking lanes on Clark Street between Goethe and Schiller Streets in Old Town on October 30, 2012, at 17:24. I’ve already reported it to the Chicago Transit Authority’s [email protected] email address. Although the run number isn’t visible in the photo, you can see the bus number in my other photo. Couple that with the time and location and you can find the driver.

There are two better ways, but it’s a kind of Catch-22:

  1. Reduce the number of cars on the road by providing fast transit that attracts more passengers who used to drive cars.
  2. Provide fast transit that attracts more passengers who used to drive cars, by reducing the number of cars.

This pisses me off. Driving in the bike lane and parking lane, to bypass automobile traffic congestion, is not how to speed up bus traffic. Gabe Klein talked a lot about CDOT’s partnership with CTA in my interview with him (see below). I kept bugging him in the interview about CDOT can actually speed up CTA. He didn’t say anything that was meaningful or systemic, though. Sure he mentioned the Jeffery Jump and other BRT projects, but how do you speed up 100+ bus lines in the city and get more people on transit? You reduce the number of cars. That’s the only way. Or build more grade separated transit, which is extremely costly.

There are many ways to reduce the number of trips by car. I already told you one, in the Catch 22 above. But you can also improve the bicycling infrastructure. Except it’s useless if it keeps getting driven and parked in.

Vance: What about CDOT’s ability to manage congestion? That greatly affects the CTA’s ability to run buses reliably for over 1 million trips per day. Aside from signal optimization and upgrades around the city, including Transit Signal Priority, the plan doesn’t mention goals to change road congestion (like decreasing the number of single occupancy vehicle trips). Can you address this?

Klein: For one thing, we don’t have full control over the parking meters. In my prior life I was really working with the parking system to upgrade it, and to use that as a congestion pricing mechanism. However, the private entity that manages the parking. They’ve upped the prices, but it’s not dynamic (which I think is optimal) but we’re interested in working witht he company to give a better customer service experience with parkers. Like giving better information. If they knew about the parking and traffic situation downtown, they might use another mode.

Knowledge is power, and there’s way we can get the information out there.

We did have to prioritize what we want to do in two years. We’re a small DOT. We’ve a lot of work on our plate, but we don’t have a lot of resources.
800 people, includes front line workforce. With consultants, it’s over 1,000.

Even though we don’t run CTA, we work seamlessly with them. I feel comfortable doing transit stuff, especially on BRT. We’ve gotten $150,000 from Rockefeller to work on “soft costs”

BRT can help relieve congestion. It moves considerably and it can be an alternative to driving.

Carrot and stick, you see cordon pricing, parking pricing, parking info (seen in Europe).

We’re trying to use a lot of carrot. Give people a lot of options. So the SOV isn’t the default on every trip. I can walk my kid with me to the grocery store and not get run over. It’s about firing a lot of different cylinders.

Part of this interview was published in Grid Chicago in May 2012 about the Chicago Forward Action Agenda.

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About Steven Vance

Enthusiast for urbanism, bicycling as transportation, and open data. Building a bicycle culture in Chicago.
  • Mike Busch

    Perhaps even better, remark these parking/bike lanes into Shared Bus Lanes ( This provides a much wider, much safer (can’t get doored, more room to maneuver, etc.) space for cyclists. It also gives buses a priority lane, which makes them a much more attractive option for people who would normally drive. We cyclists might even find that bus drivers are more polite to us – they are in less of a hurry because they aren’t stuck in stopped traffic.

    • Steven Vance

      I’m skeptical about these. They appear too much like a travel lane that people drive in them. I don’t ride in the Clark Street bus-bike lane often enough to form an opinion on them (and they are temporary, active only from 7-9 AM southbound).
      There’s at least one other bus-bike lane in Chicago: Milwaukee Avenue between Ohio Street and Erie Street (on the bridge over the Ohio Street feeder ramp). However, since there’s rarely a traffic backup here, and the lanes end quickly, people rarely drive in these lanes.

    • Eloise Mason

      How is getting stuck behind busses any better for cyclists than getting stuck behind cars? You can’t even effectively pass a bus, ever, because of their width and the fact that exiting/entering passengers are often crossing pedestrian-wise right in front of the bus.

    • Adam Herstein

      I ride in the Clark Street bus/bike lane every morning and it’s far from optimal. First, it’s often ignored by motorists who park illegally in it or pull their taxis over it in. It’s also used as a turning lane or as a way to bypass stopped cars at a red light. Second, having to share space with buses while riding a bike is awful. Buses have huge blind spots and bus drivers often can’t see people on bikes terribly well. Buses are also wider than cars, making it difficult to go around a bus when pulled over at a stop without getting run over by traffic in the car lane.

      The lanes on Clark are only bus/bike only during morning rush hour – outside that time they are used for car parking. They are wider than a typical parking lane to allow for bike traffic, but this configuration forces cyclists to ride entirely within the door zone.