Ashland Bus Rapid Transit NIMBYs Cling to Anonymity

Goofball
The only contact info on the NIMBY's website is an a nameless email address.

After I wrote about a June 25 meeting of the anti-bus rapid transit group the Ashland-Western Coalition, Roger Romanelli, executive director of the Randolph/Fulton Market Association, emailed me with some objections. “You incorrectly name me as the leader of the Ashland-Western Coalition, and I seek a retraction,” he wrote. “Our group is a volunteer coalition, and everyone has a leadership role.” He also asked me to refrain from running his name in the future.

Romanelli led the coalition’s first public meeting on January 24, as well as the June meeting, and was the only member quoted in a June 7 Gazette article that broke the story of the group’s watered-down “Modern Express Bus” alternative proposal. Therefore, I responded that no retraction seemed necessary. Since then he has been the main spokesman for the NIMBYs in articles that ran in Lake View Patch on August 9, DNA Chicago on August 12, and Bucktown-Wicker Park Patch on August 15.

I also emailed Romanelli that Streetsblog Chicago would continue to run his name in future articles when appropriate, but invited him to provide a more accurate title or description of his role with the coalition. He didn’t respond.

IMG_5773
Roger Romanelli, center, leads the January coalition meeting. Photo: John Greenfield

In early July the NIMBY group launched a website, AshlandWesternCoalition.com, also accessible via the alarmist url SaveAshland.com. The site includes a four-page “Executive Summary” of the MEB proposal and an eight-page “Official Statement,” as well as an anti-BRT petition and flyer. One thing that’s missing is any mention of who’s behind the coalition. Nowhere does it list the names of the several businesses and community organizations involved, and there’s no contact info, save for an anonymous email address.

On August 2 I tried to report on another coalition meeting, which was listed in the newsletter for the West Town Chamber of Commerce. When I showed up, Romanelli, unhappy with my writeup of the June meeting, barred me from attending but agreed to do an interview afterwards. When I asked why his group has an anonymous website, he responded, “There’s nothing anonymous. We’ve made a lot of public meetings and presentations.”

M-MET4BRT-Chicagorendering
CTA rendering of bus rapid transit on Ashland Avenue.

After I wrote about that experience, someone from the WTCC – wait for it – anonymously commented on the post to ask for a correction, claiming I had inaccurately described the chamber as a member of the NIMBY group. “The West Town Chamber of Commerce does not have an official stance on the BRT and simply attended coalition meetings and shared their group’s stance and website in newsletter,” the person wrote. “WTCC is not a member of coalition – the board is gathering information, forming an Ashland Ave committee and garnering more input prior to voting on a stance.”

I replied that the chamber was listed as a member of the coalition in the invite to the January meeting. Unless something had changed since then, I wrote, it didn’t seem like a correction was necessary. There was no response from the nameless commenter.

So we’ve got Romanelli’s refusal to admit he’s the leader of the coalition, his request that Streetsblog not run his name in articles about BRT, the anonymous website, and the nameless WTCC staffer denying that the chamber is a member of the group. Why should anyone take the NIMBYs seriously if they’re not even willing to operate in daylight?

Nonetheless, the local media has been giving the anti-BRT crowd plenty of airtime. It’s crucial for the thousands of Chicagoans who already understand that the CTA’s plan will create a safer, more efficient and more vibrant Ashland Avenue to make their voices heard. Contact your alderman and sign Active Trans’ petition to express your support.

  • BillD

    1. The analysis is valid. As you state though, such a proposal may not be possible due to other constraints. Which brings up a few points:
    a) Why is a bus line in Chicago a federal project? There is no federal impact of such a line (other than tangentially).
    b) Relatedly, why do citizens of Chicago pay federal taxes that go to pay for local infrastructure? At best it’s inefficient – send $ to one government so that it can be given back to the locale where it was taken from. Isn’t Chicago wealthy enough to pay for it’s own local transportation infrastructure?
    c) Such a system makes making good choices hard. Why shouldn’t Chicago get to make it’s own priority list (where I believe maintenance of existing infrastructure would have a higher priority)?
    d) It encourages people to ask for money because it’s “free” in the sense that it’s not possible to directly link taxes paid to the dollars spent.

    2) As I said, I write with a north side perspective. I can see potential positive economic impacts on the south side. I don’t see it on the north side. Mariano’s new location is one of the few undeveloped locations on the north side. It’s being developed without BRT.

  • Anonymous

    RFMA = Randolph/Fulton Market Association

  • Anonymous

    Looks like a single piece amidst a number of others that have sought to illuminate discussions surrounding a proposed investment that could serve as an important step in the right direction of bus transit service within the City.

    No foul – just a little light being cast into the shadows.

  • Anonymous

    We are not discussing the fairness of federal funding rules here. The fact is that we can use the money for BRT or we can use it not at all. Given the huge potential ROI on this investment (see: Cleveland BRT), I’d say use it.

    And some casual but incorrect(*) comparison from your side does not stand up to real in-depth analysis as was done in Cleveland’s case.

    (*) For the record: Mariano’s got $4.5M in TIF funds for the development and piggybacks of the improvements made to Lawrence Ave. (which is partially funded with TIF money) and the expected increased of foot traffic generated by the new Ravenswood Metra station (which is part of a $200M federally funded project).
    Not sure this project would have been started if it wasn’t for local and federal funded incentives, the same ones you decry when used for BRT development.

  • Anonymous

    Steering Committee = leaders.

    The label doesn’t really matter. I’d say focus on the fact that RFMA is on the steering committee. As such, member businesses are presumed to support whatever the ED says and does.

    Focus on the group, not the guy, and continue to get other countervailing voices and facts into the discussion. How tight is RFMA membership. i.e., do they all know what the ED is up to and agree?

    Rabbit trailing for a moment, why are groups like the Hope Institute and First Baptist Congregational Church on a list of steering committee members opposing the project – do they really understand it, or have they been fear mongered into support? Frankly, their presence on the list is entirely unexpected given the increased level of service that would become available to low-to-moderate income persons, persons with disabilities, etc. It seems these organizations would be allies. Maybe someone should do a little outreach and see if they understand the proposal. If they change their minds, eroding support for project opponents wouldn’t be a bad thing, especially if they disassociate based on erroneous information provided them by other steering committee members.

    To the extent that there are leverage points using economic pressure, use them. Do the people that support Ashland BRT shop at places that do business with RFMA? You can rest assured that RFMA is using its political leverage points, so proponents should be using all of their leverage points, as well – political, economic, and social.

    How much do people want it, and what level of grass roots work are they willing to put into seeing it happen? RFMA’s ED seems to have a lot of energy in that regard.

  • Anonymous

    CREATE is not funded – it is a plan seeking funding. Pieces are funded here and there.

  • Main Man

    It’s great that they are relying on anonymous email. You shouldn’t have to always give out your name. I’ve sent tips to the police using that Crime Stopper thing, which is anonymous and that other site, silentsender.com . But who knows, it seems the govt has a way to read everything these days…

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