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   Advancing Bus Rapid Transit in Downtown Chicago
   Public Affairs/Chicago Department of Transportation/The Americas/Grisko

Challenge

How do you advance a major transportation project from conception through construction? Traffic congestion in downtown Chicago has plagued the city for decades. Whether in a car or bus in stop-and-go-traffic, or navigating crowds of people on the sidewalk, gridlock is the only guarantee when it comes to traveling east-west through the Loop. The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) identified Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) as the best way to reduce congestion while moving people more efficiently to their destinations downtown. Grisko was tasked with leading stakeholder outreach during the planning and design process for the City’s first BRT, and with executing an education campaign during construction that would prepare Chicagoans to use the new system from day one.

Response

Engaging stakeholders. Cultivating supporters. Given the BRT’s location in the heart of the city and the dramatic impact it will have on the way thousands of people move downtown every day, a comprehensive stakeholder engagement campaign was critical to fine-tune the project design to meet the needs of the businesses, residents and cultural institutions in the area while educating and growing support to advance the project. Grisko planned and executed a public meeting to get feedback on the initial BRT concepts, then scheduled and managed more than 50 meetings between CDOT and hundreds of stakeholders representing every block in the project area to discuss the BRT and resolve issues with the proposed configuration. With the project headed for construction, Grisko developed a clear and engaging brand – Loop Link – to establish a distinct identity for the BRT that differentiates it from the local bus service and promises a premium, high-quality bus experience. Grisko then developed an education campaign that communicated the key components and benefits of the Loop Link to the public in a simple, effective way.

Results

One step closer to a faster Loop. Exhaustive stakeholder outreach coupled with compelling educational messages created broad support for the Loop Link. Stakeholders voiced that support through news interviews, community forums, social media and a video produced by CDOT. With support secured, the City of Chicago was able to seamlessly advance the project through each stage, with an expected launch by the end of 2015. The Harvard Review praised Chicago for its attention to public outreach, as other cities face challenges implementing BRT, noting in a May 15, 2015 article that “…coalition building paid off; dissenters were eventually drowned out by the overwhelming support.”