CTA bus in "bus only" lane

Bus Priority Zones

We’re working with the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) to implement an initiative to help make your bus ride better. We've identified ways to make buses travel faster and provide more reliable service along some of Chicago's busiest corridors, and as a result we've launched the Bus Priority Zone (BPZ) program. 

On this page:

Overview

Through the Bus Priority Zone Program (BPZ) our goal is to unsnarl what we call “bus slow zones”, which are often caused by traffic congestion, insufficient space for bus boarding, or a major intersection that creates a bottleneck.  What we've found is that these bus slow zones not only affect the quality of bus service in that particular area they  create a ripple effect of delays and bus bunching, which negatively impacts travel times and service reliability across the entire route.

By using elements from a toolkit of street treatments that help give priority to public transit, these targeted projects are intended to make bus operations smoother and address specific slow segments and pinch-points for buses, creating “Bus Priority Zones.” 

Seven Bus Priority Zone projects were constructed in 2019 on portions of some of the city’s most heavily traveled corridors: 79th Street, Chicago Avenue, LaSalle Street, Wacker Drive, and Western Avenue. Two more on 79th Street are planned and expected to be completed in 2020, and CTA and CDOT are developing plans for more.  Together the bus routes utilizing the Bus Priority Zone projects listed below serve over 67,000 bus rides daily.

See below for more details on improvements being made.

Tools in the BPZ toolkit

One size does not fit all; CTA and CDOT looked at each of the slow zone segments to determine what could help reduce delays given the existing street configuration and context. Improvements made under the Bus Priority Zone program may include elements such as:

  • Designated bus-only lanes, which could be in effect all-day or weekday rush hour period(s) depending on location, and indicated with new pavement markings and signage.
  • Queue jump signals, special bus-only signals which would give buses a head start from regular traffic at intersections.
  • Sidewalk reconfiguration, such as a curb extension to shorten crossing distances for pedestrians or creating a new cul-de-sac to simplify complex intersections and create a better environment for waiting bus riders and pedestrians, and facilitate bus boarding.
  • Signal timing optimization to make sure streets with major bus routes get the appropriate signal time and keep traffic flowing.
  • Optimization of bus stop locations, such as moving a stop from the “near side” of an intersection to the “far side,” so that buses can keep moving after customers have boarded.
  • Other streetscape improvements, such as street resurfacing, improved pedestrian crossings, or concrete bus “pads” that help preserve the street at bus stops

Benefits

Public bus service plays a vital role in Chicago’s robust transportation network and adds great value to the local economy. By prioritizing bus service, we’re improving the travel experience for our current riders and encouraging more people to take the bus by making public transit a more attractive travel option.  Improving speed and reliability in a Bus Priority Zone to address a specific “slow zone” along a route can also improve performance and reliability for the whole route.  In some cases the improvements we’re making as part of the BPZ program will improve the pedestrian environment and/or better organize traffic as well.

 

BPZ projects

79th Street at Martin Luther King Jr. Drive

Served by the #79 bus route, this segment of 79th Street connects to the neighborhoods of Greater Grand Crossing and Chatham. Signal Timing Optimization at this intersection will improve bus service and traffic flow in the area. This project is anticipated to be complete in early 2020.

 

79th Street:  Columbus Drive to Kedzie Avenue                                                                 

Served by the #79 bus route; this segment of 79th Street between Spaulding and Kedzie consists of three closely spaced intersections forming a complex triangle that adds to congestion and creates potential vehicle conflicts. To help improve bus service, safety and traffic flow in the area, the following improvements are planned for early 2020:

  • Cul-de-sac installation at Sawyer Avenue north of 79th Street to simplify intersection to simplify intersection and expand pedestrian space
  • Installation of red bus-only lanes in effect 24 hours and 7 days a week, with overhead “Bus Only Lane” signs
  • Signal timing optimization
  • Bus queue jump at eastbound 79th/Kedzie
  • Bus pads

 

79th Street at Halsted Street

Served by the #79 bus route, this stretch of 79th Street between Green and Emerald connects to the neighborhood of Auburn Gresham and the Halsted corridor. To help improve bus service and traffic flow in the area, this Bus Priority Zone project includes the following improvements:

  • Installation of red bus-only lanes in effect during rush hours, with overhead “Bus Only Lane” signs
  • Signal timing optimization

 

79th Street at the Red Line 79th Station

Served by the #79 bus route, stops along this segment of 79th street between Perry and Wabash connect riders to the Red Line and see some of the highest ridership along the corridor. To help improve bus service, safety, and traffic flow in the area, this Bus Priority Zone project includes the following improvements:

  • Installation of red bus-only lanes in effect 24 hours and 7 days a week, with overhead “Bus Only Lane” signs
  • Bus queue jump at westbound 79th/Lafayette
  • Signal timing optimization
  • Reconfigured pedestrian refuge islands

 

Chicago Avenue at the Blue Line Chicago Station

Overview of street changes being made along Chicago Avenue between Sangamon and May

Served by the #66 Chicago bus route, this segment of Chicago Avenue between May and Sangamon connects riders to the Blue Line and includes some of the highest ridership bus stops in the entire CTA bus system. To help improve bus service, safety, and traffic flow between three closely spaced intersections in the area, the following improvements were made:

  • Installation of red bus-only lanes in effect during rush hours, with overhead “Bus Only Lane” signs
  • Cul-de-sac installation at the north leg of May Street to simplify the intersection and expand pedestrian space
  • Improved bus stop boarding area for the westbound bus stop near the Blue Line entrance
  • New curb extension on southeast corner of May/Chicago for improved pedestrian safety
  • Extended left turn lane (from westbound Chicago onto southbound Ogden) 

Artist renderings of enhanced bus lanes and pedestrian waiting areas at the Chicago/Milwaukee/Ogden intersection.

 

Chicago Avenue: Larrabee to Michigan

Served by the #66 Chicago bus route, this segment of Chicago Avenue connects the neighborhoods of River West, Cabrini Green, River North, Streeterville and the Magnificent Mile along Michigan Avenue.  To help improve bus service, pedestrian safety, and congestion in the area the following improvements were made:

  • Installation of red bus-only lanes in effect during rush hours, with overhead “Bus Only Lane” signs
  • Bus queue jump signals at westbound Franklin/Chicago and eastbound Clark/Chicago
  • Signal timing optimization
  • Bus pads
  • Curb extensions for improved pedestrian safety at Cleveland, Hudson, Wells, Clark, and Wabash
  • Street resurfacing

 

LaSalle at Wacker

This location is served by the #134 Stockton/LaSalle Express, #135 Clarendon/LaSalle Express, #136 Sheridan/LaSalle Express, and the #156 LaSalle bus routes, and experiences very high ridership during peak travel periods. To allow buses to better navigate in and out of traffic as they serve the southbound stop, new pavement markings were added to help keep the bus stop clear of unauthorized vehicles.

 

Wacker at Michigan Avenue

Bus stops at this location serve the #2 Hyde Park Express #6 Jackson Park Express #134 Stockton/LaSalle Express, #135 Clarendon/LaSalle Express, #136 Sheridan/LaSalle Express, #146 Inner Drive/Michigan Express, and #148 Clarendon/Michigan Express bus routes, with very high ridership during the peak travel periods.  To allow buses to better navigate in and out of traffic as they serve the stops, new pavement markings were added to help keep the areas clear of unauthorized vehicles.

 

Western Avenue at the Blue Line Western Station

Served by the #49 Western and the #X49 Western Express bus routes, stops along this segment of Western Avenue between Bloomingdale and McLean connect to the Blue Line and see some of the highest ridership along the corridor. To help improve bus service, safety, and congestion in the area, the following improvements are planned:

  • Installation of red bus-only lanes in effect during rush hours, with overhead “Bus Only Lane” signs
  • Signal timing optimization
  • Bus pads
  • New pedestrian refuge island at Cortland
  • Curb extensions to shorten walk distances across Armitage and Wilmot
  • Street resurfacing

 

More info

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