Preliminary concept

for restructuring Chicago bus routes

to accommodate a proposed light rail network

This scheme simplifies and restructures the bus network in four main ways:



It combines and replaces north-side express buses with a light rail line that passes through downtown on Michigan Avenue.



It upgrades south-side express buses to Bus Rapid Transit service using a congestion-free bus and toll lane on Lake Shore Drive until 18th St, then the existing McCormick Place busway alongside Michigan Avenue, with links to the streetcar network and cross-Loop bus lanes. These bus routes continue north to the Northwestern Memorial Hospital district and Lakeshore Park, where they turn around in a bus priority circuit.



It replaces slow and confusing bus service in the Loop with streetcars on Michigan Avenue and streetcar-bike-pedestrian-only streets on Madison, Jackson, and Clark, as well as bus lanes on Lake, Randolph, and Harrison. Routes are consolidated into fast-and-frequent service in dedicated lanes, and the streetcars can have signal priority at intersections without shutting down traffic on the surrounding grid because of their higher capacity.



Instead of just turning around in out-of-the-way places, the downtown ends of several bus routes come together to make a circuit through a high-demand area in bus lanes. This allows the buses to turn around quickly, but also provides a fast-and-frequent last-leg shuttle service between commuter rail, rapid transit, and major job centers.



The objective is not to invent but to copy the best practices established in other cities. How have cities with successful new high-capacity urban tramways adapted their bus systems to accommodate their new rail lines?


Today most of Chicago is served by local buses operating on a regular grid of streets, and by heavy-rail train lines that radiate out from the central business district. Along the north and south lakefront, where some of the most densely populated areas are beyond walking distance of heavy rail, a series of express buses run local along the edge of the neighborhood and express into downtown on Lake Shore Drive. Most of these are channeled together onto Michigan Avenue and State Street and dispersed onto downtown streets, crawling through heavy car traffic with no priority in the street.


In the restructured system, the buses continue to operate on the grid across the city. Trips into downtown are served by the L, the streetcar, and BRT. Short trips within the Loop are by streetcar (on Madison, Jackson, Clark, and Michigan) and bus (Lake-Randolph circuit and Harrison St), and by walking. 

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