Do you ride a bus? Transportation officials want to hear about how to make it better

The Chicago Transit Authority and the Chicago Department of Transportation are seeking public input on their Better Streets for Buses Plan.

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Commuters board the CTA’s southbound No. 49 bus on North Western Avenue at West Leland Avenue on the North Side, Friday morning, Dec. 11, 2020.

The CTA is seeking public input on its Better Streets for Buses plan.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Many Chicago residents can tell you what it’s like to ride a Chicago Transit Authority bus. Or wait at a bus stop. Or navigate a bus route.

The CTA and Chicago Department of Transportation now want to hear about these experiences. Maybe a bus regularly gets stuck in traffic. Maybe a bus stop isn’t clearly marked.

The public input will be used to inform a new Better Streets for Buses Plan, which will guide improvements to street infrastructure across the city and target specific corridors. With the changes, the CTA and CDOT aim to improve bus stop conditions, wait times, reliability and other aspects of the ridership experience.

The CTA has previously launched smaller-scale bus service improvement projects, but this is its first citywide effort.

“After implementing some of these measures throughout the city over the years, we knew that there would be a time when we had to do this at a much larger scale,” CTA spokeswoman Catherine Hosinski said. “This is what this plan is.”

The project is long overdue, said Kyle Whitehead, managing director of public affairs at the Active Transportation Alliance. Riding the bus is often a frustrating experience, he said. Service can be slow and unreliable. Buses get stuck in traffic. Riders sometimes must wait 20 to 30 minutes at bus stops.

“On almost every Chicago street today, we see a crowded bus stuck in traffic alongside every other vehicle,” Whitehead said. “That’s just not smart planning for the city.”

Chicago residents can give feedback through an interactive website or by phone, text, email or physical comment cards. The CTA and CDOT will also hold three virtual public meetings throughout the month of May. The public input period opened April 19 and will end May 31.

Residents are encouraged to weigh in on key decisions, such as which corridors to prioritize for improvement. The CTA and CDOT have proposed 45 neighborhood corridors and 16 downtown corridors as potential areas of focus, but Jennifer Henry, the CTA’s senior manager for strategic planning, said she anticipates those may change with public input.

On the website, the public can drop pins on a map identifying corridors they think should be included in the plan and prioritized for changes.

They can also share ideas on the plan’s proposed toolbox of street treatments, such as offset bus lanes or the conversion of some stop signs to traffic signals to decrease bus delays.

Whitehead said building out a network of dedicated bus lanes is particularly important.

Other local groups also see improvements that need to be made.

Audrey Wennink, transportation director at the Metropolitan Planning Council, said the plan should focus especially on improving bus reliability.

Roger Romanelli, executive director of the Fulton Market Association, said bus lines need heated bus shelters with emergency call buttons.

Romanelli said the plan is missing key changes important to many West Side residents. Residents in Fulton Market, he said, have been advocating for the restoration of a bus on Lake Street since 1997, which would run near the CTA Green line. It’s the only rail line that doesn’t have a corresponding bus service within an eighth of a mile, Romanelli said, and people are forced to walk between L stations.

Whitehead said he’s excited about the plan and hopes to see it implemented fast.

“We have talked about bus lanes for many years ... but we’re just not seeing a lot of paint on the ground and a lot of bus lanes being rolled out,” Whitehead said. “So we are really hoping and expecting that this is not a plan that will sit on the shelf, but that it will be implemented quickly.”

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