Saturday, January 13, 2007

Brown Line Project Rail Delay: Missed Opportunities

Last week's reports (here, here and here) on the major delays facing commuters on the CTA's Red, Brown and Purple Lines until some time in 2009 indicate that almost 200,000 people travel by CTA rail in that corridor every work day. This is a major travel corridor. By way of comparison, the Dan Ryan expressway carries over 300,000 vehicles daily. Since many of them are single occupant vehicles, the Dan Ryan may carry very roughly twice as many people as the CTA north line corridor.

When the Dan Ryan was being reconstructed there was a massive effort to inform people of travel options and a real sense of urgency. In contrast, the CTA's approach seems much more low-key, even though the expected travel delays are very significant, up to a doubling of travel times. Telling customers to, in essence, grin and bear it, is hardly an effective form of outreach.

The capacity reduction on the CTA rail lines could have been an opportunity for the CTA and the City of Chicago's Department of Transportation to test some rudimentary bus rapid transit ideas, including traffic signal prioritization, on major north-south streets like Halsted, Ashland and Western. There are opportunities for express bus service along Elston and Clybourn Avenues that would take folks straight to North Michigan Avenue and the Loop. Could some CTA bus routes (e.g., Montrose Avenue) take short jogs to connect with Metra stations?

And what about Metra? Could it have put up a temporary station at Addison Street and other locations along its North Line that could serve CTA north side rail riders? Is it that hard to put up some wooden stairs and lay down enough gravel for people to stand on while they wait for the train?

These CTA and Metra initiatives could have laid the foundation for CTA and Metra services improvements in the future. I guess we will have plenty of time to ponder these lost opportunities while waiting for the north side trains over the next two years.

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