Commuting through the Loop is about to become a lot less painful. On December 20, the long awaited "Loop Link" bus rapid transit system will finally open on Madison, Washington, Clinton and Canal streets and will reduce downtown congestion for bus riders and drivers alike.
You might have noticed the raised boarding platforms and designated bus lanes that construction crews have been installing since last March. Cars won't be permitted to drive in those lanes, and they're expected to reduce the travel time between Union Station and Michigan Avenue by 15 percent on the J14, 20, 56, 60, 124 and 157 bus routes, according to the CTA. Buses will stop every two blocks instead of every block, a trend that the city's begun exploring lately with the return of the Western and Ashland express bus routes.
The new boarding platforms are also accompanied by two-way protected bike lanes on Madison, Washington and Clinton streets, with another similar lane coming to Randolph Street in 2016.
Commuting through the Loop has been an absolute nightmare during construction on the Loop Link lanes, as Madison and Washington streets have been reduced to just one lane. The completion of the project should bring a tear to the eye of any Chicagoan who's yanked out a chunk of hair during gridlocked rush hour downtown this year.
The new bus lanes and boarding platforms are just one part of the Loop Link project, which also includes the construction of a new transit center at Union Station and the installation of the new Randolph-Wabash El station (which is replacing the rundown Washington-Wabash station that closed earlier this year).
Loop Link is a huge step in bringing bus rapid transit systems to Chicago. If it turns out to be as successful as the CTA and Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office are claiming it will be, more bus systems of the sort could be coming to the city in the near future.