CDM Smith partnered with the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) to analyze the benefits of bringing bus rapid transit (BRT) to one of the busiest corridors outside of downtown Chicago, Illinois. In 2012, CDM Smith performed a year-long alternatives analysis of two avenues—Ashland and Western— with the goal of increasing transit speed and reliability. Based on the analysis and public input, CTA chose to pursue a 16-mile, center-running, bus-only lane on Ashland Avenue. Tasked with fast tracking subsequent project phases, CDM Smith completed a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) assessment and conceptual engineering and design in record time.
With more than 31,000 bus boardings per weekday, Ashland Avenue has the highest ridership of all CTA routes; one in four households within the proposed project area does not own a car. Roughly 232,000 live within the 16-mile stretch, which connects to seven local and two commuter rail stations, 37 bus routes and nearly 134,000 jobs in walking distance. In addition, expansive population growth outside the central business district has occurred and is expected to continue. Ashland was chosen for advancement to accommodate this growth, avoid future congestion and offer an enhanced, sustainable and premium transit option for the community.
One of the major benefits established during the alternatives analysis was the ability to create a dedicated, center-running, bus-only lane, which would increase bus speed by 83 percent—or reduce a 30-minute bus trip to 16 minutes—and eliminate friction with cars parked curbside. In addition to the center-running lane, others factors were considered: frequency of buses, roadway geometrics, traffic data, parking, removal of lanes and left turns, vehicle design and traffic signaling among others.
Following the analysis, CDM Smith performed the conceptual engineering and NEPA analysis to identify ways to avoid impacts through design early in the project development process. Extensive traffic analysis was conducted using a number of models to understand impacts to traffic conditions along Ashland Avenue, including nearby parallel arterial roadways and neighborhood level roadways where traffic is most expected to divert.
The NEPA assessment evaluated potential impacts to cultural and historic resources, noise and air quality, land use and economic development, and pedestrian space among others. In all phases, CDM Smith also helped coordinate an outreach program to educate the public about the project, including developing key messages; producing meeting materials, fact sheets and pamphlets; distributing a magazine with reports and graphics; and planning and attending public meetings.