Andersonville Development Corp on Bus Rapid Transit: Yes Please!

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Brian Bonanno from the Andersonville Development Corporation with one of the neighborhood's two on-street bike racks. Photo: ADC.

Andersonville has long been ahead of the curve when it comes to sustainable transportation and public space initiatives. The neighborhood’s main drag on Clark Street is one of Chicago’s most vibrant pedestrian retail districts, and its chamber of commerce and aldermen have been strong supporters of bike facilities. The business strip recently became home to one of the city’s first People Spots, which replaced parking spaces with a miniature park, as well as two on-street bike racks.

So it’s no surprise that the Andersonville Development Corporation, a nonprofit that promotes sustainable community and economic development, want to bring bus rapid transit to the neighborhood. Brian Bonanno, sustainability programs manager for the group, says he’s disappointed that the city’s current proposal to build BRT shows express buses going no further north on Ashland Avenue than Irving Park Road, more than a mile south of the neighborhood. Speaking on the phone, Bonanno told me why he thinks BRT would benefit the community, and how he hopes to convince the city to include Andersonville in its plans:

Right off the bat, we see this as an opportunity to provide a needed north-south connection, not only to Andersonville but to other neighborhoods north of Irving Park, including Ravenswood, Uptown, and Edgewater. And a bus system ending potentially on the north side of Andersonville, where Ashland and Clark Street meet up, would also provide access to people living in Rogers Park and West Ridge who don’t really have many fast, reliable north-south options.

So that’s the main reason we’re looking at it, but also because we think it could have a big economic impact on the neighborhood, especially for our local businesses. It would provide another route or option for people coming from different parts of the city to visit Andersonville and visit this whole corridor. We would really love to have that option because the Red Line is pretty far away, as is the Brown Line, and so our only north-south connection is really the #22 Clark bus, which is not always reliable.

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Andersonville's Clark Street business strip. Image: Chicago Bike Map.

We’ve actually had a couple of businesses in the neighborhood write letters showing their support for bus rapid transit because it would expand their customer base, and it would also expand their pool for hiring employees, because a lot of our businesses have trouble hiring people from outside the neighborhood. This would also have a significant environmental impact, by removing cars from Ashland and giving people a quick, easy public transit option. That would do a lot to ease congestion and air pollution.

The bus that currently runs on Ashland doesn’t come up here. Anyone who lives north of Irving Park has always wondered why that is, because there are some pretty dense communities with a lot of unique business districts, and they would obviously benefit tremendously from having the Ashland bus reach them. So when we saw the CTA’s initial plan for the bus rapid transit line which showed the northernmost stop being Irving we thought that was a little short-sighted because as far as we can tell there isn’t much of a difference in terms of the width or makeup of Ashland north of Irving Park.

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Looking south on 5200 block of North Ashland Avenue. Photo: ADC.

I’ve gotten a couple different explanations from the city, that Ashland’s not wide enough north of Irving, although we’ve actually proved that it is wide enough [using Google Earth], and that something’s wrong with the pavement stability north of there. We asked, if something’s wrong with the pavement why are they allowing semi trucks and such a high number of cars to travel up and down that stretch of Ashland, as well as CTA buses returning to the garage? It seems that if they can do that they should be able to bring bus rapid transit to us.

So we’re essentially just going to try and get to the table. We’re not entirely sure that we’ll be able to sway them to bring it north but at least if we can harness some of our resources and partners such as the Active Transportation Alliance, and possibly our aldermen and our business community, maybe we can get into the discussion at least to talk about bringing the line further north.

  • CL

    It would be a huge improvement if the bus continued north of Irving Park. I think the CTA wants you to just take the 22 down to Ashland and then wait for the 9, which is what I have done when I needed to take the Ashland bus. But it adds time and uncertainty. Also, the 22 is slowwww so if we had BRT on Ashland running all the way through Andersonville, it would give residents a good option for heading south quickly, without the extra transfer.

    I kind of understand why the CTA doesn’t want to run the 22 and the 9 right next to each other (and they are very close together up north). But if Ashland gets BRT, that would give them a good reason to do it. They could run it like an express bus up north with fewer stops, leaving 22 as the local.

  • m.

    It’s a mystery to me why the Western option has been put off. The street is definitely wide enough (for people to treat it like a highway late at night), it doesn’t have lush medians like parts of Ashland & isn’t so residential north of Irving. It runs through areas that badly need public transport that’s fast. Originally BRT was represented as a development tool (the example of the Cleveland Healthline was touted) to aid areas that weren’t thriving. Western is walkable or linkable by existing routes to Andersonville but also to areas west that need a lot more transit support.

  • CL

    BRT on Western would be even better, I agree. I think BRT on Ashland will be useful, but if I had to choose between having it on Western and Ashland, I would choose Western.

  • Marcus Twain

    The #9 should go north Montrose then turn east to Clark and south to Southport. Making an easier transfer. No sense in duplicating service of the #22….then again, what would a developer know?

  • John

    Agree with this. Running buses on Ashland and Clark would be covering the same service area. However, I like the local/express arrangement idea.

  • Anonymous

    No, it wouldn’t make for an easier transfer. Passengers would be dropped off at the west side of the street and would then have to cross Clark to the East side and walk to the nearest #22 stop.

    Currently there are 2 stops (just north of Irving Park and near Southport) where passengers can transfer from the #9 to the #22 without walking or crossing a busy street. That is as easy as it gets

  • Anonymous

    I do like Brian. He seems to be one of those guys that is really trying to make a difference in his community.

    You didn’t happen to ask him about plans to close off one of the streets between Clark and Ashland to create a public square (i.e. a People Place)? Personally, I think that is more important for the development of the Andersonville commercial district than extending the BRT to Clark and Ashland, and could be done at a fraction of the cost of BRT.

  • Adam Herstein

    Since when is the Red Line far away from Andersonville? It’s half a mile from Clark in most places.

    Ashland does not have bus service north of Irving Park because it is so close to Clark at that area that it duplicates service of the #22.

  • KR

    Brian is right. Extending BRT north of Irving Park on Ashland would be a critical transportation improvement for Uptown, Andersonville, Edgewater, and Rogers Park. This area lacks efficient north/south service.

  • Yeah, it’s about a ten-minute walk from Clark to the Red Line. Nearby Broadway should be a great pedestrian retail area since it’s right next to the Red Line. Instead it has four traffic lanes and many autocentric businesses. It’s notable that people are willing to walk half a mile west from the train to access ped-friendly Clark Street.

  • No, but that’s a great idea for another post, thanks!

  • Adam Herstein

    What about the Red Line?

  • Adam Herstein

    Broadway has some good Ethiopian restaurants, but other than that – as you said – it’s mostly car-centric businesses. Clark is much more walkable, and thus attracts more pedestrian-friendly establishments.

    It’s a wonder what skinny streets can do for a neighborhood’s livability.

  • Anonymous

    Selecting a street to close off should not be done based on ease of implementation, but where it would the most useful. Edgewater may be easy, but there is very little pedestrian traffic in that area, and very little businesses that can draw pedestrians that fa up norht, so it is likely to be underused. Berwyn on the other hand is in the heart of the A’Ville business district, sees lots of pedestrian traffic, is the location of the farmers market already, and therefore would likely be used more. AFAIK that is where the local chamber is looking to put a People Place.

  • Adam Herstein

    Good point. There are a few business that front Berwyn already, and if ped traffic is already high, then a plaza would work well there.

  • KR

    The Red Line is great if you’re east of Clark, but not if you’re west. The difference between BRT and the regular bus is that BRT will operate similar to rail, offering faster and more reliable service on the the street infrastructure. BRT offers a new service – it isn’t duplicating the service of the #22, which is very slow, often unreliable, and makes frequent stops.

  • Erik Swedlund

    I live on Ashland Ave in Rogers Park. I work near the corner of Ashland and Chicago Ave. The #22 stops just around the corner from my house, which was very helpful two years ago when I had a broken foot and there was a lot of snow on the ground after the blizzard–I couldn’t navigate on crutches to the Red Line. Taking the #22 to Chicago Ave was SLOW. Instead of my one hour Red Line + #66 commute, the #22 + #66 commute was about an hour and 45 minutes (I think the snow slowed down the busses).

    I have good north-south transportation options in Rogers Park: the Red Line, the Metra, the #147 Outer Drive Express, the #22, and my normal choice of my bicycle–of these the #22 is the slowest. It was also my only option with a broken foot.

    I would welcome an Ashland BRT that got closer to Rogers Park. It duplicates service on Clark, but it would be better than the #22 in that stretch, and also be the west-most route (i.e., closest to my usual destination in West Town).

  • Brian

    Thanks very much for your support! We are actually looking into our options for closing a street this spring and turning it into a “People Plaza”. I am just working with CDOT right now to figure out which street would be best; then we will be reaching out to the business community and residents for input shortly after.
    There is definitely no guarantee that we will be able to get BRT up this way but I think its a really great opportunity to start a conversation on alternative transportation in Andersonville.

    Transportation and public space are two equal parts to the sustainable community puzzle in our minds. We still have a lot of other pieces to go for sure, but we are getting there.

  • Frank

    There is an Ashland Avenue bus. The Damen Avenue bus runs on Ashland Avenue from Foster Avenue to north of Bryn Mawr serving most of west Andersonville.

  • Alan Robinson

    It has the same problems as the 22. It’s also significantly less frequent.

  • m.

    Excellent! It’d certainly make more of a statement about getting people out of cars & walking if they’d be ambitious & go for a true BRT run on Chicago’s longest street.

    Then they could give California over more to cyclists, pedestrians, & local residents/businesses for a whole bunch of reasons they haven’t yet thought of…

  • I thought I read an article in the tribune that stated this was going to only go from the Orange Line to Division or was this just a study for that part of the BRT?

  • That’s unconfirmed. The CTA and CDOT will announce the preferred alternative by the end of spring 2013.

  • The North Side Main Line (where there are 4 tracks that serve the Red Line, and parts of Brown and Purple) is being planned for a modernization. The BRT could serve as an alternative; the construction work will take a decade.

    Additionally, the Red Line has its own speed problems and BRT isn’t just about providing transit opportunities, but economic development and car volume-reduction.

  • That report was from WBEZ, based on anonymous sources, but on Wednesday Emanuel and Claypool said a decision hasn’t been made yet.

  • Thanks for Clearing that up guys!

  • You’re right it was WBEZ… was trying to remember where, heh.

  • Sure thing.

  • Edgewater Roadie

    It’s true. Semi-trucks are not allowed on Ashland north of Irving Park.

  • Why not light rail (streetcars) on Ashland? They were there, once upon a time.

  • Sounds like you and John “Streetcar Desire” Krause would have a lot to talk about: http://gridchicago.com/2012/streetcar-desire-john-krause-wants-trams-on-clark-street/

  • Ezra

    I know I’m late to the discussion, but think how different the pedestrian volume and sidewalk-dependent business might be near the Milwaukee, Damen, and North Ave. intersection if the nearest ‘el’ stop was not at that intersection, but at Western Ave. and North Ave., for instance, the same distance the Berwyn Red Line stop is to the center of Andersonville.

  • If you live between Clark and Ravenswood, the nearest red line stop may be a mile or more away. Late at night or in bad weather, that’s a really long walk. I’ve spent plenty of time in Andersonville and have many friends there. My experience and theirs is consistent with what’s said in the article – that Andersonville really lacks efficient transportation.options. When I lived in Rogers Park, going by bike was usually far more efficient than any other alternatives.

  • The 22 bus is almost always slow (except late at night when there’s hardly any traffic). The only reason I’d ever take it for any distance longer than a mile or two is a limited mobility situation similar to what you described or extremely bad weather.

  • And I’d still like to see it go all the way to 95th, instead of stopping at 79th, so it could provide an efficient connection to the orange line/Midway and points further north.

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