CategoryBus

Whatever happened to the CTA express bus boarding lane?

While the Chicago Transit Authority investigates the use of alternative payment methods (like with a bank card or your cellphone), there are some things they can do now to improve the customer experience for the long term. The CTA is also investigating getting rid of traditional fare media entirely. My suggestions are congruent with that goal, although I do not support eliminating transit cards and cash payments, and I believe they can be implemented quickly using existing technology. Without a deeper knowledge of the limitations of the devices, software, and vendors CTA currently uses for fare handling, I present you three suggestions for speeding up the CTA:

1. Expand fare types on its RFID cards

Allow multi-day passes to be loaded onto Chicago Card (CC) and Chicago Card Plus (CCP). Go online and apply a 7-day pass to your card for the same price as it would cost at Walgreens. And since your CCP is already registered in your name, if you lose the card, you don’t lose the value of the multi-day pass. CC customers should register their card to protect its stored value.

I write this now because a friend just told me she lost her 7-day pass. That’s $23 down the drain. But if she lost her more durable CC/CCP she could pay $5 and receive the benefit of having her remaining days restored to the card (remaining days would be calculated based on the time she reported it lost).

Having the touchpad located here on the buses was supposed to reduce congestion in the doorway. But it appears to not have worked as the CTA moved the touchpads on all buses to the normal fare collection device, near the driver (in 2010). Photo taken in 2005 by Christopher.

2. Change U-PASS fare media

Switch U-PASS to be an RFID card like the CC and CCP. This will make it cheaper to replace lost or stolen U-PASSes (students must pay $35 to have it replaced while CC and CCP customers only pay $5), while also speeding up boarding time and decreasing overall travel time. I’ve written about switching the U-PASS media before.

I believe suggestions 1 and 2 can be done within a year and that it will provide immediate benefits, possibly more than those provided by the existing old CC/CCP program. Those cards have been available for almost 7 years now and a minority of repeat CTA customers use them.

3. Integrate

This almost goes without saying…fare media should be integrated with Pace*, Metra, and even taxis. CTA has already taken the wonderful step of integrating the CCP with I-GO car sharing.

Essentially, the existing RFID card program (that’s CC and CCP) should be more like the ORCA card in Seattle (ORCA stands for One Regional Card for All). The ORCA card allows multi-day passes (including a monthly or 30-day pass), youth discounts, senior discounts, disabled discounts, and low-income traveler discounts. It can be used on ferries, trains, and buses. And like the CC/CCP “pay as you go” method, the ORCA can hold “cash” to be used for transfers between agencies or paying for a companion (they call it e-purse).

Click through to read why Oran Viriyincy has four ORCA cards.

The public is nothing short of great ideas for the Chicago Transit Authority. Now if only there was a way where we could present our ideas or have them vetted by listening managers.

*The Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus can be used on Pace buses.

Mayoral candidate Miguel del Valle’s view on sustainable transportation

Active Transportation Alliance executive director Ron Burke wrote a blog on Friday (January 14, 2011) about his meeting with mayoral candidate Miguel del Valle (the current Chicago City Clerk).

Despite those caveats, he talked about his fondness for bicycling, its importance to the city and how his son is an avid cyclist. He also talked about one of the reasons he opposes the city’s parking meter contract, and has joined a lawsuit to overturn it: It’s because it limits the city’s ability to take away parking spaces for building bike lanes and sidewalks, and slowing traffic. We [Active Trans] share these concerns! [emphasis mine]

This meshes with a report Active Transportation Alliance released in June 2009 but recalled parts of the report five months later. But the message that report gave us remains true today and Miguel del Valle is repeating it. Margo O’Hare wrote announcing the report:

This limits any potential projects that use streets with metered spaces: bus rapid transit, bicycle lanes, street festivals, sidewalk expansion, streetscaping, pedestrian bulb-outs, loading zones, rush hour parking control, mid-block crossing, and temporary open spaces. The City’s ability to use streets in fresh, people-centric ways is now dictated, controlled and limited by the arrangements and penalties within the parking meters lease.

In November 2009, the Chicago Reader reported how the Active Transportation Alliance was going to release a new version of the report. Mick Dumke wrote:

Yet Monday night the Active Transportation Alliance inducted Mayor Daley into its “hall of fame,” and the group will soon release a new version of the report—screened beforehand by city officials—that will recant many of the criticisms it made in June.

Said Rob Sadowsky, “On behalf of the Active Transportation Alliance, I would like to simply state that we should not have published this report. I am embarrassed that it not only contains factual errors, but that it also paints an incorrect interpretation of the lease’s overall goals.” Regardless of any errors or misinterpretations, the original report’s essence will prove to be correct and foretelling: The City lost control over its own streets, the most basic and widely used element of neighborhoods and our  transportation system.

I look forward to voting for a mayoral candidate who opposes Mayor Richard M. Daley’s parking meter “lockout” with Morgan Stanley and other investors.

Along with the parking meter lease came the removal of approximately 30,000 high-quality bike parking spaces.

I’ve written a few times about the mayoral election, including the two forums I’ve been to (one at UIC about the economy and higher education, and the second about public school systems at the Chicago Teachers Union).

I think I finally figured out the purpose of making plans

No, not plans with friends for dinner at Ian’s Pizza in Wrigleyville (which was great last night, by the way).

I graduated in May 2010 and I’m just now figuring out why we should make plans. What did I come up with?

Plans are to give a basis for the future so that the future is shaped from what people collectively need and want. They keep you on track so you focus on what’s most important and not the things that will derail the path to the plan’s stated goals.

(You can quote me on that. But I wouldn’t rely on that statement to stay the same – it’s still a work in progress.)

For example, you go out and survey the bike parking situation at all transit stations in your city. You collect data on how many bike parking spaces are available, how many bikes are present (both on bike racks and other objects), and bike rack type.

You then gather information like ridership, access mode, and surrounding residential density. From this you can list the stations in order of which ones need attention now, which ones need attention later, and which ones won’t need attention. Talking to people who work at the stations, who use the stations, and others will help you fine tune the ranking.

That’s the plan. The plan might also include narratives about the rationale for having high quality, sheltered, upgraded, or copious bike parking at transit stations (hit up the Federal Transit Administration for that).

Then the plan sits. Two years later, someone reads the plan and decides to apply for funding to build bike parking shelters at the transit stations in most need.

What stations are those? Oh, the plan tells us.

For a fair division of commuting space

UPDATE: Transportation writer Jon Hilkevitch (“Hilkie”) published an article today about crosswalk enforcement in Chicago based on a new state law the Active Transportation Alliance helped pass that removes ambiguity about what drivers must do when a person wants to cross the street (they must STOP).

But I’m updating this post because he also writes about the crazy pedestrian situation I describe below at Adams and Riverside. I’ve quoted the key parts here:

The situation can be even worse downtown, where a vehicles-versus-pedestrians culture seems to flourish unchecked. Simply walking across Adams Street outside Chicago Union Station at rush hour can feel like you’re taking a big risk, as pedestrians dodge cars, buses and cabs and then must maneuver around the panhandlers and assorted vendors clogging the sidewalks near the curb.

It’s a mystery why such mayhem is tolerated by city or Amtrak police. The highest volume of pedestrian traffic downtown is right there at Adams and the Chicago River outside the station, according to a study conducted for the city.

“The cabdrivers have no concern with pedestrians trying to cross Adams in the crosswalk,” said Richard Sakowski, who commutes downtown daily on Metra from his home in Oswego. “They cut in front of other drivers cursing and yelling, pull from the center lane to the curb and stop in the crosswalk, not caring who they might hit. It is a very dangerous situation that the city does not care about.”

Chicago officials disagree, yet they have for years studied the problems around the downtown commuter rail stations without taking major action.

The city has received more than $10 million in grants to develop an off-street terminal on the south side of Jackson Boulevard just south of Union Station to address traffic safety issues and the crush of taxis and buses vying for limited curb space, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation.

“No timetable yet, but construction could begin in the next few years,” CDOT spokesman Brian Steele said.

Read the full article.


Every weekday afternoon in Chicago, over 100,000 people need to get to Union Station and Ogilvie Transportation Center to get on their Metra trains and go home. If you’re watching them walk, it seems like they don’t have enough room. The multitude of private automobiles with a single occupant and the hundreds of taxicabs also traveling towards these train terminals block the tens of buses that are trying to get commuters to the stations or to their neighborhoods.

Let’s look at Adams Street between Wacker Drive and Riverside Plaza. Riverside Plaza is a pedestrian-only thoroughfare (privately owned) alongside the west bank of the Chicago River and connects both train stations.

People “wait” to cross to the south sidewalk on Adams Street at Wacker Drive because they want to get to the entrance of Union Station. I use wait lightly – they creep out into the street and jog across whenever there’s the slightest opening (against the crosswalk signal).

Those who didn’t cross Adams Street at Wacker Drive now have to cross at Riverside Plaza. Thankfully, there’s a timed signal here for the crosswalk that stops traffic on Adams Street. It doesn’t always work because taxi drivers park their cabs on all segments of Adams Street here, sometimes on top of the crosswalk stripes themselves.

Take a look at the data (from the City of Chicago Traffic Information website):

  • 41,700 pedestrians, walking in both directions, were counted on Adams Street immediately west of Wacker Drive in one 10 hour segment, between 7:45 and 17:45, in 2007.
  • 14,300 vehicles, westbound only, were counted on Adams Street immediately east of Wacker Drive in one 24 hour segment, on September 20, 2006.

For simplicity, divide the number of pedestrians in half to get the actual number of people walking toward the train station in the afternoon. 20,850 commuters walk on Adams Street to get to Union Station. But trains don’t stop at 17:45. There are several more leaving every 5-10 minutes until 19:00. So add a couple more thousand pedestrians. Imagine that a couple hundred of them will be walking in the street because the sidewalk is crammed (I haven’t photographed this yet).

Now for vehicles. We don’t know how many are delivery trucks, taxicabs, or buses were counted. Only two bus routes come through here. (On Madison Street, in front of the Ogilvie Transportation Center, there are twelve bus routes and fewer walkers.) Some of the vehicles are turning right or left onto Wacker, so we can probably decrease the quantity that’s actually passing by the same count location as the pedestrian count.

Spatial mismatch

So now we know a little bit more about how many people, and by what mode, travel on Adams Street between Wacker Drive and Riverside Plaza. Walking commuters have little room (so little that some choose to walk in the street) on their standard 10-14 feet wide sidewalks and motorized vehicles get lots of room in four travel lanes. Then, the vehicles that achieve the highest efficiency and economic productivity are delayed by the congestion, in part caused by the least efficient vehicles.

Is the space divided fairly? What should change? What examples of “transportation spatial mismatch” can you give for where you live?

Is Chicago ready for Tokyo-inspired elevated pedestrian bridges at intersections? Las Vegas has several of these, as well as every Asian city with a few million residents. I first brought this up in the post, World photographic tour. Photo by Yuzi Kanazawa.

Where to start with off-bus fare collection

Right here, at Madison and LaSalle.

After reading this article on Human Transit about off-bus fare collection in Paris*, I thought, “Where in my city can we implement that system?”

I count 61 waiting passengers in this photo. If the routes that picked up here had off-bus fare collection, all 61 passengers would have paid for their upcoming ride and would be able to board at all doors. Instead of idling for 4 minutes, the bus would leave in 2.

“Proof of payment,” as off-board fare collection is commonly known, is typical in light rail systems around the world, including in North America, but not so much on buses.

Is there a stop or route in your town where off-bus fare collection would speed boarding and improve travel times? Do you see any disadvantages to collecting payment before passengers board?

Four routes stop here and use high-capacity buses (they’re articulated). All use LaSalle Street until its end and then continue on to different north side neighborhoods.

Non-auto construction projects in Chicago

There are 17 construction projects listed here and none are about automobiles. Additionally, there is information about 2 studies for bus rapid transit-like projects.

Download all of these into Google Earth with this KML file.

A couple of these projects are being held up by the current Illinois roadway construction workers’ strike. UPDATE: Apparently a deal has been reached to end the strike.

Streetscapes

  • Blue Island/Cermak – I wrote about this project at length in October 2009. Construction should begin as soon as the strike is resolved. CONSTRUCTION UPDATE, 10-21-10: Bioswale, or creek, is mostly complete at Benito Juarez Community Academy (BJCA). Plaza with permeable pavers, and sheltered bike parking also complete. Photos here.
  • Congress Parkway – Full details and renderings from CDOT (PDF). Project should begin in 2010 and will narrow lanes, reduce number of lanes, straighten lanes (no more mid-intersection lane shifts), widen sidewalks, and improve crosswalks. Will add a lot of landscaping and unique and decorative lighting.
  • PROPOSED: Lawrence Avenue between Ashland and Western. Reduce the number of travel lanes from four to three, adding bike lanes and a center turn lane. Project limits include the rebuilt Ravenswood Metra station at 1800 W Lawrence. More details on Center Square Journal. Construction wouldn’t begin until 2011.

Transit

  • Morgan/Lake Green and Pink Line CTA station (new) – Details and renderings from CDOT (PDF) – Overview from Chicago Transit Authority – Tons of bike parking included at the beginning, how it should be. Construction should start this year. To better serve the West Loop area, where more people are moving to, but also has lots of existing businesses.
  • State/Grand Red Line CTA station renovation – Construction should finish this year.
  • 35th/Federal Rock Island Metra station (new) – Construction started in 2010.
  • LaSalle/Congress Intermodal Center – To improve connection between buses and the LaSalle Metra station. Mentioned in the Congress Parkway streetscape presentation (PDF).
  • Wilson Red Line CTA station renovation – Down the street from a new Target store that opens this weekend and hundreds of brand new housing units in the Wilson Yard development. Will use TIF funds from the Wilson Yard district. Overview on CTA Tattler.
  • Ravenswood Metra Station – A popular station on the Union Pacific-North line (to Kenosha). Will add longer and sheltered platform and become accessible. Details with Chicago Square Journal.
  • FLOATING: New Green Line CTA station at 18th or Cermak. Roosevelt station serves three lines. South Loop neighborhood fast growing. The new station would improve transit access to McCormick Place (at least if built at Cermak). Follow the Chicago Journal for more news on this topic.

morgan cta station rendering

Rendering from the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) showing context-sensitive design. See the full presentation (PDF) for architectural influences.

Bridges

  • Halsted Street over North Branch Canal of the Chicago River. Replaces 99-year old moveable span with fixed span. No information on how it will accommodate the Halsted Street bike lane. Construction to begin in 2010 (PDF). CDOT project number 74062.
  • Navy Pier Flyover – Elevated section of the Lakefront Trail to bypass current bottleneck where the Lakefront Trail currently enters the Lake Shore Drive bridge over the Chicago River and DuSable park. Details from CDOT presentation on July 15, 2010.
  • PROPOSED: 35th Street pedestrian bridge over Metra/Illinois Central tracks and Lake Shore Drive to lakefront and Lakefront Trail. Bridge will be self-anchored suspension, like the new Bay Bridge from Oakland to San Francisco. Overview on Burnham Centennial (drawing says 2007).

Rendering of the Navy Pier Flyover as it travels over the Lakepoint Tower condominiums as seen at the Cities and Bicycles forum with David Byrne in June at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Other

  • Various CREATE projects. All CREATE projects involve railroads in some way and most projects will construct grade separations. I’ve written about CREATE.
  • The Chicago Park District opened a new beach at Oakwood/41st Street this year. The grand opening for the beach house happened this past Saturday.
  • The Chicago Park District is currently building a harbor and marina immediately south of the 31st Street beach. The Public Building Commission of Chicago has the details and renderings. AECOM, the architect of record, produced these concept drawings (PDF). It appears how bike riders currently navigate the intersection at the entrance to the beach will change to be a little more normal and not force bike riders on the sidewalk. It’s unclear how many new parking spaces are being created along the lakefront – the fewer the better. The concept plan shows a new parking lot on the west side of the railroad tracks, a design I wholly support.
  • FLOATING: Luann Hamilton mentioned at the Cities and Bicycles forum with David Byrne in June that CDOT was thinking about a buffered bike lane on Wells Street.

31st street harbor concept rendering

Rendering of the 31st Street harbor concept plan. As seen in the contractor’s presentation to the Public Building Commission of Chicago.

Related

Although not construction projects, two additional proposals merit your attention. The Chicago Department of Transportation and the Chicago Transit Authority each received grants this month to study and develop two corridors with bus rapid transit-like features. CDOT’s plan is to develop a priority bus lanes for up to seven routes between the Metra stations and Navy Pier and North Michigan Avenue (the Miracle Mile). Thank you to Kevin Z for the update.

CTA’s grant money is to fund the development of a speedy bus service from the southeast side to the West Loop via the north-south Jeffrey Avenue.

Bikes and transit – share your knowledge

UPDATE: Why bikes and transit go together (PDF) – read this brochure from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).

While you’re reading up on the 80+ comments on the story about some Seattle bike riders suing the city, I want to take this opportunity to again promote the Bikes and Transit group on Flickr. The group’s purpose is to document interactions between bicycle riders, bikes, and transit vehicles, both buses and trains. The definition of “interaction” is quite loose.

Photo from the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition taken one 3rd Street during the May 24, 2010, Sunday Parkways.

Many times, bicycle riders are also transit users. If not, they’re riding in streets shared by streetcars, light rail, and buses. The pool of photos from around the world can help us learn about practices in other countries. Or we can find out that fat bike tires won’t fit in many bus-bike racks (see photo below).

Richard Masoner points out that 2.6 inch wide tires don’t fit into the bike rack on Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority buses, using the Sportworks Veloporter racks (common to bus operators across the United States).

Add your own photos! Or link me and I’ll invite your photos one by one.

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