It is often said that we can't build our way out of gridlock, that our best shot at easing traffic madness is through innovative ideas. The City of Chicago got a pile of money from the federal government Tuesday -- $153 million -- to begin work on an idea meant to reduce traffic congestion in the city by linking the words "bus" and "rapid transit."
The average bus speed in Chicago is 9 mph, because of traffic, which doesn't make the bus a terribly inviting alternative. The huge federal grant that Chicago got Tuesday envisions a concept called "bus rapid transit." It calls for new hybrid fuel buses that would operate in dedicated lanes, and would have the ability to change traffic signals, much like emergency vehicles do now.
"If people realize these buses will go faster than cars because they will be going through the intersection and the cars won't, people will say I get there faster with the bus," said Mike McLaughlin, Metropolitan Planning Council.
Within a year, the CTA will be looking at four heavily traveled corridors as pilot programs for bus rapid transit. It would eventually expand into a route system of about 100 miles in the city.
"And with the bus rapid transit network, the bus stops are further apart -- so the stops will be four to five blocks apart as well -- loading in key locations, and moving people through," said Ron Huberman, CTA president.
The other emphasis of this project is to make it less attractive to drive. That would involve charging more for parking meters during peak periods and charging more to those who use loading zones and parking garages. There have been no decisions yet on what those fee hikes might be, and when asked, the mayor had a little fun with that.
"Not as high as high," said Mayor Richard Daley.
Much of this is still on the drawing board. There are a few other cities that have started bus rapid transit, but Chicago's plan would take it to a much higher level.
"We think it can work and it can work very well. Chicago is gonna test it out. We believe that once it works here we can replicate it in other areas," said Mary Peters, U.S. Secretary of Transportation.
The four pilot routes for the CTA's bus rapid transit program will be chose soon, and within two years time, it will be expand into the much broader 100-mile network.