Bus Rapid Transit: Why the Trust Got Involved

Rockefeller’s $1 million investment has leveraged $31 million in public funding for Chicago BRT. Tweet This

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A mere four years after The Rockefeller Foundation partnered with Chicago’s transit leaders to bring bus rapid transit (BRT) to the Windy City, the city’s first BRT line—Loop Link—broke ground in March. This timeline is a remarkable achievement for a major infrastructure project.

In 2011, The Rockefeller Foundation asked The Chicago Community Trust to provide local stewardship, oversight and governance on a $1 million grant to incubate BRT in Chicago. As a global institution, Rockefeller understands the value of engaging a community foundation on complex projects that require local coordination between public, private, nonprofit and community partners. During the course of the project, the Trust has acted as convener, collaborator, fiscal agent and funder. As a result, Rockefeller’s $1 million investment in Chicago has leveraged more than $31 million in public funding for Loop Link – and there is more to come.

Ashland Avenue BRT is the city’s second planned BRT route. Riding the median from Irving Park Road to 95th Street, Ashland BRT would increase bus speeds up to 83 percent in the bustling Ashland corridor, build system cohesion by connecting with nine train stations (seven CTA, two Metra) and 37 bus routes, and provide an essential transit backbone for a corridor with growth projections surpassing 20 percent over the next 25 years. Having completed important community, environmental and technical analyses Ashland BRT is now undergoing federal compliance review.

Finally, the City and BRT partners are developing a plan that could expand BRT to critical corridors throughout Chicago. The system-wide plan will be completed in late 2015.

BRT Chicago demonstrates the Trust’s commitment to sustainable development. The Loop Link and proposed Ashland Avenue BRT will improve transit times, promote land use efficiency and reduce overall traffic congestion. Perhaps most importantly, properly sited BRT connects residents to jobs and services beyond the reach of Chicago’s rail system and in a more efficient manner than conventional bus transit. The Trust is proud to have played an integral role in delivering BRT to a city rich in both transit assets and transportation innovation.

BRT Job Map

BRT Chicago Milestones


  • The Rockefeller Foundation approaches Chicago transit leaders about BRT.
  • The Chicago Community Trust houses BRT funding from Rockefeller and engages multi-stakeholder BRT Steering Committee. Founding members include The Chicago Community Trust, Chicago Department of Transportation, Chicago Transit Authority, Metropolitan Planning Council, Active Transportation Alliance, Civic Consulting Alliance, Urban Land Institute, Chicago Architecture Foundation and the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.
  • BRT pilot routes chosen; they include Central Loop and Ashland Avenue.

2012 – 2013

  • BRT Chicago work plan commences with activities in research, community engagement, technical support, design, marketing and communications and plan making; the Trust distributes funding to project partners.
  • Active Transportation Alliance promotes the benefits of BRT to a range of local stakeholders; 74% of surveyed residents familiar with BRT support bringing BRT to Chicago
  • Metropolitan Planning Council analysis for the Ashland corridor identifies over 64,000 well-paying jobs in six industrial zones accessible by an Ashland BRT route; easy commutes to these industrial areas will mean better business outcomes for employers and employees.
  • Chicago Architecture Foundation-led BRT station design competition garners 42 entries from 14 countries; Chicago Department of Transportation uses competition winner as inspiration for final BRT station design.
  • Civic Consulting Alliance engages downtown business community to inform Central Loop pilot route (later branded Loop Link).
  • The City of Chicago secures federal funding for Central Loop pilot route construction.
  • Environmental Assessment study of the Ashland Avenue BRT route completed.



  • With the goal of sustaining forward momentum for BRT, The Chicago Community Trust makes targeted grants with its own funds to partner organizations.
  • Active Transportation Alliance garners public support for BRT in the specific communities in which BRT projects are planned; over 2800 people participate in an online action campaign to support BRT.
  • Metropolitan Planning Council launches an interactive mapping tool that provides in-depth information about development opportunities, demographics, zoning and amenities near the Ashland BRT route.


  • Central Loop line branded Loop Link.
  • Loop Link construction begins; City of Chicago anticipates winter 2015-2016 completion.
  • BRT Chicago featured in Atlantic Cities, is recognized for its potential to “make life better for millions of everyday [transit] riders.”
  • Completion of system-wide BRT plan.

Written with support from Dan Hughes, Sustainable Communities Intern