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Design Contest Held for Chicago's Future Bus Rapid Transit System

By Chloe Riley | April 1, 2013 6:31am | Updated on April 1, 2013 9:51am

CHICAGO — Imagine the Chicago bus ride of the future.

That’s the order from the Chicago Architecture Foundation, which partnered with the Chicago Architectural Club to launch NEXT STOP, a design competition for Chicago’s Bus Rapid Transit systems.

Travel times for the new system would be comparable to taking an “L” train and would also have designated platforms where passengers would board, backers say.  

Though a bus rapid transit system for the Central Loop already has been approved, the proposal for a system along Western and Ashland avenues is still in the community input process.

That proposed system would stretch from Howard Street on the north as far as 95th Street on the south along Western and Ashland Avenues. In some versions of the proposal, left turn lanes and street beautification would have to be removed.

“These stations, if done right, have the opportunity to become kind of gems in the city,” said Ingrid Haftel, associate curator at the Chicago Architecture Foundation. “Our role at Chicago Architecture Foundation is getting people excited about the power of design in the city.”

Not everyone is excited.

At a January community meeting regarding the Western and Ashland Avenue bus proposal, many residents and business owners voiced worries over the loss of parking and city streetscaping. 

Haftel pointed to the economic development the system would bring, including car-sharing opportunities, public art and bike lane integration.

“In our view, this design opportunity isn’t just about public transit riders,” she said. “It really is about Chicago design and the big picture.”

Criteria for those looking to submit a design proposal include the design's ability to encourage and enhance "intermodal connectivity" — i.e. walking, biking, driving — construction feasibility and cost, among other guidelines.

Submissions will be passed along to representatives of both from Chicago Transit Authority and the Chicago Department of Transportation.

CTA spokeswoman Lambrini Lukidis said while there’s no guarantee, those submissions might influence the ultimate design elements of the new system.

Lukidis also stressed that it’s this kind of community input will be crucial to getting Chicago’s system rolling.

“Through every part of this we want to be able to engage and involve the community. I don’t think any other cities have had this kind of public engagement process,” she said.