Confused DNA Article on BRT Highlights Need to Pick Preferred Option ASAP

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CTA rendering of center-running BRT with travel lane removals. The agency could eliminate some confusion about BRT by selecting this configuration as the "preferred alternative" as soon as possible.

It looks like some reporters are having trouble wrapping their heads around the city’s forward-thinking proposal to build Bus Rapid Transit on Western and/or Ashland. A DNAinfo.com write-up of a recent BRT meeting includes a few inaccurate statements and implies that the CTA and Chicago Department of Transportation are intent on removing large amounts parking on these streets to make way for bus lanes. In fact, the scenario that would yield the biggest improvement for bus riders and pedestrians would also retain almost all of the on-street parking. But since the wide range of potential BRT scenarios seems to be confusing the press as well as the general public, it’s time for the agencies to choose the best option and move forward with it.

The article, “Business Owners Rip Proposal to Replace Parking With Express Bus Lanes,” states that the proposal “would create express bus lanes along Western and Ashland Avenues, in some cases cutting parking on the streets by more than half.” In reality the plan would create BRT corridors on either Western or Ashland, or possibly both. CTA and CDOT are considering four possible street configurations involving either center-running or curbside running buses, and travel lane removal or parking and median removal. Only two of these scenarios would remove parking from one side of the street; the other two would maintain 90 percent of parking (see all four scenarios in a chart).

The article states, “Two [design options] would focus on maintaining high levels of street parking by placing the express bus lanes in the middle of the street.” That’s incorrect. One of the two center-running configurations would involve parking removal; the other wouldn’t. The reporter also writes, “The other options would reduce parking on one side of the street, but would also maintain left turn lanes for cars.” Actually, one of the scenarios with parking removal would also eliminate left turns, but the other would retain them.

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CTA's Joe Iacobucci presents at Thursday's meeting.

DNA should have gotten its facts straight. But one way to reduce misunderstandings about the BRT proposal would be to simplify the options. At Thursday’s meeting, hosted by the newly formed Ashland Avenue-Western Avenue Coalition, a coalition of chambers of commerce and community development groups, business owners expressed concern that large-scale parking removal would hurt their bottom line. They didn’t seem to understand that half of the proposed BRT scenarios would retain the vast majority of parking spots. The fact is, the current proposal includes so many different possibilities – Western and/or Ashland, center-running or curbside, parking and medians removed or retained – it’s easy for citizens to get confused.

After taking community input on the project last fall, CTA and CDOT are currently deciding which of the four possible street configurations they will announce as the “preferred alternative” later this winter. By now it’s obvious which one they should choose. Months ago the Active Transportation Alliance endorsed the option with center-running BRT, travel lanes removed and parking retained because it’s the best choice for efficient bus service plus pedestrian safety and comfort. And it’s clear that neither business owners nor street safety advocates want to see parking and medians removed, which would hurt retail and force peds to cross a six-lane highway. That’s why CTA and CDOT should nip confusion about BRT in the bud by announcing center-running BRT with travel lane removal as their preferred alternative, as soon as possible.

 

  • Maybe I’m wrong, but I always saw the different alternatives not as discrete plans, but more like choices in a toolbox. 

     In some segments, such as the parts around expressways and the Illinois Medical District, it may make more sense to preserve four traffic lanes + bus lanes and remove parking.  These areas have heavy traffic, but few retail businesses and little demand for on-street parking.

    Obviously, other segments have a vibrant business community and a need for on-street parking, so CTA has the ability to combine various alternatives in each segment along the corridor.

  • I think they’re discrete plans because each scenario considers exactly how many parking spaces would be removed or maintained, which to me means the planners looked at the entire proposed route. 

    One of the main reasons I, and Active Transportation Alliance, prefer the center lane-running, travel lane removal scenario is that it reduces the travel lanes, keeps the parking buffer to protect sidewalk uses, and widens sidewalk. It’s the parking buffer that should be kept, even if there’s little demand for on-street parking. 

  • BlueFairlane

    I think a mix is the worst possible scenario. From a car standpoint, one of the worst things you can endure is a street that keeps going from one lane to two lanes and back, as the two-lane sections encourage people to fight for position. Everybody tries to get in front of everybody else before the lane goes away, and you wind up with more congestion than you’d have if you’re just kept it one-lane throughout. From a non-car standpoint, you wind up having to maneuver around a bunch of frustrated, chaotic drivers who act progressively more unpredictable. I say keep it one travel lane or keep it two travel lanes, but don’t try to mix and match.

  • This has been been my understanding too. It seems to me to be more achievable. at the moment.

  • Froiv86

    Was any consideration given to having BRT in one direction only for each? For instance, South BRT on Western, North BRT on Ashland? Since they are only a mile apart, it does not seem like that would be too crazy, and might alleviate the concerns of altering each street drastically.

  • Ted King

     They probably did NOT consider a split corridor like your suggestion. Bus riders have enough trouble with split corridors that are one block apart (e.g. San Francisco’s downtown). A split of more than a couple of blocks would probably be a total turn-off.

    I’m a regular transit user and am willing to walk the extra blocks (roughly five [5] blocks total) to catch a train (SFMuni LRV) into downtown SF. But it’s very nice to have bus stops on a major corridor only two [2] blocks away. I also have feeder service (Samtrans) just across the street. And yes, that’s part of why I chose the apartment I’m living in.

  • The routes probably wouldn’t be completely uniform layouts for their entire length, but the CTA is giving different cost estimates for each of the four possible configurations on each street, so they are discreet plans.

  • Anonymous

    WBEZ is reporting this morning that Chicago’s “transit leaders and urban planners” have indeed made a choice, favoring a short section of Ashland for reduction of a traffic lane, full stations, landscaped medians, and parking on both sides. In other words, the full BRT deal, but only on a central-city section of Ashland. 

    The story says Western is back-burnered for now.

    http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-planners-push-boldest-bus-rapid-transit-option-105187