By Jim Freeman
Chicagoans who work in the loop have been enduring construction on Madison and Washington for the last several months. We’ve seen bus station islands emerge from what was the middle of the street. Now complete, the stations’ roof resembles the rib cage of some prehistoric animal. The glass ceilings lifted with steel rafters make artistic architecture for a bus stop. The Loop Link bus stops are off the sidewalk, separated by a green bicycle lane. People waiting for a Loop Link bus will no longer take up valuable sidewalk space, rather they will wait on the island for the next bus. Perhaps this signals the end of pedestrians wading through a huddled mass of people waiting for westbound buses at evening rush hour.
On Friday there was a CTA employee distributing fliers to bus commuters informing them of the change in loop bus stops starting this morning. The Loop Link is intended to make travel easier for motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians and CTA users alike. Traffic on Madison has been expanded from three through lanes to two dedicated car traffic lanes, one bus-only lane, and a green bicycle lane.
If you’re like me you’ve long felt that Chicago needed to provide some safe passage for bicyclists wishing to traverse the loop east and west. I’ve been dreamily watching the bike lanes take shape over the last few months. My hope is that the new green lanes may provide some conflict relief for my daily commute.
Today I rode the 20 Madison bus in to work today just to sample the anticipated Loop Link. Pickup was normal as any other day with the exception of the bus reading “20 Madison via Loop Link.” A lighted construction sign just east of Clinton warned traffic of new traffic patterns and advised motorists to stay out of the red “bus-only” lanes. The route was also the same, until we crossed over the river and entered the new red “bus-only” lanes marking the Loop Link.
e driver slowed the bus to about 5 mph. The bus eased forward until the front door was even with a yellow band marked on the bus stop island. I estimate the island will accommodate two buses at once.
After leaving the first loop link stop the bus was slowed to a stop by a right turning car partially blocking the bus only lane. I anticipate this will be a common disruption for rush hour loop link buses. It’s one thing to mark bus only lanes, but it’s quite another thing to actually keep other vehicles out of them.
I exited the bus at the new Dearborn stop. The islands are elevated, so there is no “step down” when exiting at a loop link stop. An elderly lady with a walker exited the bus behind me with ease.
The islands are equipped with ramps to marked crosswalks across the adjacent bike lanes. I noticed that pedestrians tend to walk in the bike lanes rather than on the sidewalk when exiting the Loop Link islands. I expect we’ll see some interactions between bicyclists and pedestrians on this point while people learn how to negotiate the new bus stops.
Overall I’m very excited about loop link. As a transit user I hope it will provide more efficient bus travel during busy travel times. As a bicyclist I hope the bike lanes will provide safe travel to east/west loop commuters. Be careful when you’re riding in the new bike lanes. Be conscious of pedestrians in the lanes and watch out for drivers making turning movements across the bike lanes. Just because they mark bike lanes doesn’t mean we can run down pedestrians. Let’s be courteous while people get familiar with the new Loop Link traffic patterns.