The Ashland-Western Coalition Meets a Car-Owning, Pro-BRT Chicagoan

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Sun-Times reporter Rosalind Rossi, left, interviews Roger Romanelli during a photo op for Ashland-Western Coalition members at Orlando Glass and Trim this morning. Photo: John Greenfield

Last time I tried to attend a meeting of the anti-bus rapid transit group the Ashland-Western Coalition, I was invited to leave. When Ashland Avenue corridor resident Lindsay Banks showed up for a recent meeting with a friend, coalition leader Roger Romanelli recognized Banks as a BRT supporter and allowed the pair to stay for a while. However, after Banks was told the meeting was over, the rest of the attendees stuck around, which is when the real meeting apparently took place.

When Andrew Herman, an insurance company employee who lives in the Loop, dropped by last Friday’s coalition meeting at the First Baptist Congregational Church, 1613 West Washington, he says he was allowed to attend the full meeting, and the members were cordial. “I’ve been reading about the group on Streetsblog,” he told me. “I get around mostly without a car, so I thought it would be a good idea to show up for a meeting about the BRT proposal. Better transit is something that would benefit my daily life.”

The small gathering included Romanelli, who also works as the executive director of the Randolph/Fulton Market Association, Jack Rickard, owner of Rickard Bindery, 325 North Ashland, church member Mary Brown, plus a reporter from DNAinfo. The members told Herman they were concerned about the conversion of car lanes to bus lanes and the prohibition of most left turns. Herman was told the travel lane conversion would lead to 30 percent of the car traffic on Ashland being diverted onto side streets, although the members didn’t say where they got that statistic from.

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CTA rendering of bus rapid transit on Ashland Avenue.

“They said there’s too much traffic in the area during church and United Center events, which seems to me like a good argument for BRT,” Herman said. The members said they had no idea how many people drive versus take transit to the church.

Romanelli said the AWC objects to the cost of the Ashland BRT, estimated at $60 million for the first 5.4-mile phase between 31st Street and Cortland Street, and $160 million for the entire 16-mile route, not including the purchase of left-boarding buses, which would be paid for by CTA’s regular bus procurement funds. The coalition has floated a “Modern Express Bus” counter-proposal, which would include numerous infrastructure improvements and the hiring of onboard “bus marshals,” but would likely travel slower than the old, slow #X9 Ashland Express buses. “I asked if they have a cost estimate for their plan and they said they had no idea,” Herman said.

The AWC members told Herman they want to see the numbers behind the CTA plan, including economic impact and traffic studies, a timeline for the project, and ridership projections. According to the CTA’s Joe Iacobucci, the agency plans to release an environmental assessment of the plan later this month. Depending on the availability of federal funding, construction on the first phase could start as early as 2015 with service launching by the end of the year or in early 2016. The agency predicts that bus ridership will increase by 46 percent to make up 26 percent of all trips on Ashland.

“They kept saying that they felt like they weren’t included in the decision making process,” Herman said. However, several businesses and organizations in the coalition, including the RFMA and the bindery, were involved in area design meetings with the CTA as part of a block-by-block analysis of Ashland in June and July. The agency is holding several public input meetings this fall.

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CTA rendering of bus rapid transit on Ashland.

According to Herman, Rickard said the coalition gave a copy of their MEB proposal to 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett to submit to the CTA, and claimed the alderman has repeatedly said he doesn’t support the BRT plan but has not come out publicly against it for political reasons.

Romanelli told Herman that the AWC has a list of many businesses that are opposed to BRT. However, he didn’t want to share the names of the businesses because he said they are skittish about being named, for fear that they will be boycotted or protested if they come out publicly as being against the plan.

Herman says Romanelli brought up Streetsblog Chicago three or four times during the meeting, characterizing Streetsblog as “radical bike people” who are making personal attacks on the coalition. Romanelli objects to our use of the term NIMBY (“Not In My Back Yard”) to describe the group and its members. But NIMBY is a fitting label since Romanelli has said that he is fine with BRT, just not on Ashland.

Herman told me more about why he supports the CTA’s plan for fast, reliable BRT service on Ashland. “I have a car, but I believe this solution will help everyone get around better, whether they’re walking, biking, taking transit or driving,” he said. “It’s not just for people who don’t drive.”

On stretches of First Avenue in New York City, one general traffic lane was converted to a bus lane and another was converted to a protected bike lane without affecting traffic volumes or speeds. Photo: NYC DOT

He moved to Chicago from New York City, where he lived at First Avenue and 14th Street. “I thought it was weird when they started putting in the Select Bus Service on First Avenue,” he said. “They took out car lanes and put in a bus lane and a protected bike lane. But afterwards I found I got to work faster. They put in pedestrian islands so it was easier to cross the street. Reconfiguring the street calmed traffic and make it more organized. I don’t think it caused more congestion. Traffic seems to flow at the same speed, or maybe a little faster.” GPS data from NYC cabs shows that, in fact, the average traffic speed increased after Select Bus Service was implemented.

At the coalition meeting, Romanelli told Herman that the success of Select Bus Service in New York and Cleveland’s Health Line BRT service are not comparable to Chicago. “Every example you give, they say Chicago is different,” Herman said. “But after seeing what New York has done in terms of being more walking, biking, and transit-friendly, I think Chicago has the opportunity to do the same thing.”

The Ashland-Western Coalition is about to get its first exposure in the daily papers. This morning about a dozen members, including Romanelli and Rickard, showed up for a photo op and interview session at Orlando Glass and Trim, 641 North Ashland, with Sun-Times transportation reporter Rosalind Rossi. We’ll provide our take on Rossi’s article when it comes out later this week.

  • I keep seeing two competing arguments from the anti-BRT: Reducing car capacity will reduce business on Ashland, but reducing speed on Ashland makes it harder for people to get where they’re going since Ashland is a north-south arterial.

    So on one hand, you’re arguing that business will be hurt since as many drivers can’t use Ashland, while on the other hand, you’re arguing that traffic will slow so much that Ashland is no longer a fast, north-south way to move through the city.

    So which is your concern? In my experience, drivers don’t drive aimlessly about looking for businesses to frequent. If you have to go to a certain business on Ashland (and I can’t name any, because I don’t use Ashland since it’s a terrible street for non-drivers – maybe I’ll frequent it once the BRT is in and the street is calmer), and you’re driving, you already know where to go. So use another parallel street and turn left or right on the east-west cross street to get to Ashland. This insistence that drivers are programmed only to go one route is misguided. Further misguided is the notion that all drivers are always making the same trips and that none of those trips can be combined or done away with. Here is one study that shows this (it was conducted in the UK but cites 70 global cases), since so many people are curious where the research is: http://contextsensitivesolutions.org/content/reading/disappearing-traffic/resources/disappearing-traffic/
    There’s some research for you to dwell on.

    Bottom line is that the city shouldn’t be built for more car capacity, it should be built for more people.

  • Anonymous

    bedhead–if you’re asking me, I don’t have an answer, bc I have the same question.

    I was just being snarky about how the pro-Ashland-BRT (note: I’m pro BRT, but have serious reservations about *this* proposal will work north of Chicago Ave (dunno enuf south of there to have solid opinion)) folks have tried repeatedly to shut you down. “Where’s your study, huh? Show us, or all you have is an ‘opinion’, man.”

    Also, retaining the local bus and the curbside parking are *both* designed to allay business concerns (among other things). The “all pedestrian crossing will be preserved” and the “maybe we won’t prevent cars from crossing at non-signaled intersections” also go in part to business concerns.

  • Anonymous

    Traffic evaporation will be offset by an increase in BRT passengers, and increase in foot traffic. So it may not lead to reduced business activity.

  • Anonymous

    See duppie’s reply, above.

  • Alex Oconnor

    I like how it does not show that at all. It shows 1 traffic lane of traffic one dedicated bus lane and the maintained traffic lane. In the lower picture it shows a right turn lane.

    Nice try in your dissembling attempt to muddy the waters.

  • Alex Oconnor

    Well I do not excuse it. Your premise is false there is no distortion.

    But it makes for a pretty nice attempt at a diversion and an attempt to spread distrust…..well done.

  • Alex Oconnor

    And the car in the traffic lane being fussy indicates movement; meanwhile the cars in the parking lane are clearly stationary.

  • Alex Oconnor

    If you goal is more car traffic than that is the perfect stategy just see the suburbs or inland empire in Cali…..nightmare

  • Al Lux

    +1 for the link. By the way, i read if before when you posted it in reply to something I said.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, some people will switch from driving to the bus. Some. CMAP is quite generous in their assumption (shocking) of how many…who knows if it’s ultimately right.

    Foot traffic? I’m not following you. People will voluntarily walk to Ashland by virtue of there being a BRT along it? Or do you mean the increased foot traffic will be from BRT riders stopping, who would’ve otherwise have kept riding if they were on the #9? Either way this seems like a stretch.

    I dont get how people can keep trying to have everything both ways, with everything falling in their favor. There will be traffic evaporation, but it wont hurt businesses. There will be 50% lane reduction, but no material auto traffic impact. There will be a change in routes, but it wont burden side streets. It’s not okay to have 1/2 mile bus stop spacing, but it’s fine for the BRT. There will be signal priority, but cross streets wont get backed up. It never ends, every downside is dismissed unconditionally.

  • It’s by no means the holy grail of research proving BRT will work, but it can help calm some of the fear that lowering traffic capacity will cause traffic mayhem. Some of the traffic disappears, some of it switches modes, some of it switches time, some switches path. But it’s not like it’s going to reduce the amount of business on Ashland by 50%.

  • Anonymous

    It’s a bad render–the nearside parked cars are all about 3 feet from the curb, they are parked 10 feet apart from each other, the parking lane is nearly 15 feet wide and the white stripe is a mistake.

    If that is all accurate, I will then ask: why no bike lane?

  • Peter

    and I’ll redirect you to my response above. DASH striping indicates adjacent lane of TRAVEL not parking. Please re-review the rendering and my response…. Thanks

  • Not all of the traffic is headed to a final destination on Ashland.

  • I cycle on Ashland sometimes from Milwaukee to 18th Street, but often with someone else. From Congress to Roosevelt there’s a third, unused lane in each direction.

  • Anonymous

    Foot traffic will increase because it will be a more inviting street to walk on (Thanks to traffic evaporation!) Foot traffic will drive development of a new type of retail store that depends on foot traffic, further increasing foot traffic.

    Yes, a store that totally relies on their customers arriving by car may see a decrease in business, but the overall business activity will go up.

    Don’t believe that’s true? tell that to the merchants on Clark St. in Andersonville. Lots of foot traffic, partially because Clark is a street where pedestrians have been prioritized over car traffic. The methods may be different (narrow roads, stop signs, many cross walks vs. BRT) the result are the same.

  • Anonymous

    Again, I think you’re seeing what you want to see in all of this. How does putting a bus lane make Ashland more walkable and see an increase in foot traffic? It’s a bus, not a tourist attraction. Plus, there’s already a bus line with plenty of riders along this street.

    If Ashland becomes a more inviting area, something more walkable, it is going to take time and will have to undergo a MAJOR beautification facelift beyond simply installing a BRT. (I can only speak for the north side about this, and btw I would love for this to happen) Ashland currently has more than its fair share of strip centers and run-downish looking commercial spaces, and it’s going to be a while (if at all) before things start converting into something more pleasant.

  • Alex Oconnor

    And I will redirect you to mine. if you noted that level of detail it would be inconceivable that you would have failed to notice that the car in that rendering is blurred.indicating movement The cars in the parking lane are not; indicating stationary cars in a parking lane.

    It is a rendering. At the picayune level you suggest of distinctions between stripe color you have chosen to push a nefarious idea of intentional misrepresentaion:

    You : “I like how the rendering at the top of this post shows a bus lane + 2 lanes of traffic in each of the north/south directions (it does show an elimination of parking however). If I understand the plan correctly, that is not exactly an accurate depiction of how it’s supposed to work.

    Like I said it does not do that. And you have chosen to selectively focus on a minor rendering mistake and attribute to that mistake intentional misrepresentation and bad faith. At the same time with that microscopic attention to detail you fail to give any effect to the clearly blurred car and blurred bus in the traffic lanes and the clearly unblurred stationary cars in the parking lane.

    At some minor level a sloppy render..I’ll give you that. An attempt to mislead by indicating 2 traffic lanes….the render clearly does not do that. Any claim that it does is a disingenuous attempt to muddy the waters.

  • Alex Oconnor

    There is as far as I know no bike lane included on Ashland with the BRT; I may be incorrect on that.

    A bad render…maybe. More likely just a little bit sloppy. There are clear attempts to indicate movement in b0th traffic lanes. The rest of what you mention is minor carelessness.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, given it is a parking lane the line should not be dashed. Yes, the cars are too far from the curb, as well.

    Whomever did the top rendering failed in that regard, with depicted motion a poor substitute for a clear rendering.

    A conspiracy to mislead it is not, though.

  • Al Lux

    Chillax man. Ok we all know now that the second image is supposed to have a curbside lane of parked cars, a travel lane, and a BRT lane. Understand that the images are confusing because a dashed line means a travel lane (if you look at the top half of the third image you’ll see that it’s a solid line), and the cars are parked ridiculously wide apart in the second image which kind of suggests a travel lane to the casual observer (in addition to the dashed lines).

  • Alex Oconnor

    There is too much disinformation being spread about the BRT by its opponents to sit back and allow a false claim about its characteristics or a claim that harps on a minor mistake in rendering to effectuate more confusion for me to chill out.

    Opponents of the BRT plan have already indicated via their disinformation campaign that they see lying about its characteristics and the alternatives they present as perfectly acceptable promotional techniques.

    Such disinformation be it explicitly false claims, or subtle attempts to undermine confidence in the process must be confronted head on.

    As I said in an earlier post as well. I’ll give critics the fact that the render at a minor level is a bit sloppy. But implicit or explicit claims that the rendering is an attempt to mislead is just a corrosive cynical attempt to undermine confidence in the entire project.

  • Anonymous

    Bedhead,

    Believe whatever you want to believe, but here are some examples of private development happening
    because of other developments (either government or a private investment aimed at reducing blight):

    1. Lawrence Ave streetscape improvement (including a road diet from 4 lanes to two traffic lanes) and the development of a new Ravenswood Metra station just started. (you can argue that the development of the new Mariono’s next to Ravenswood station can also be counted in this group of developments, since it is bankrolled by a 4.5 million TIF payment). Already 3 new businesses have announced that they will open up once the construction is complete: a pizzeria, a bbq joint (Smokedaddy’s? can’t remember) and an as of yet unnamed brewpub. Their stated reason? The new streetscape and upgraded station is expected to bring in new foot traffic.
    2. The Chateau on Broadway has been an eyesore for many years. Building was sold earlier this year, and residents evicted. The rehab started and within months developers announced to develop the gas station site on the NE corner of Broadway and Sheridan into condos with ground level retail. Also developers across the street announced that they will upgrade and enlarge the capacity of their properties Their stated reason? A final resolution around the Chateau being in place.
    3. Similar thing happened in Cleveland: private investors started creating new developments around BRT stations the moment the BRT construction got underway). Look it up yourself. Simply google Cleveland BRT.

    Also, BRT includes a streetscape redesign including new sidewalks, lights, etc. (I read that in an earlier post. Someone please correct me if I am wrong on the details)

    So the improvements may happen a lot quicker than you think.

    Now it’s your turn: Can you point to some examples of how BRT drove away business, that go beyond the “I believe” that accompanies all your other posts?

  • Peter

    … or maybe the sharp cars are moving the speed limit and the blurred images are moving at HYPER – SPEEEEEEED because of the new BRT system. :-)

    Relax Bro….its all good. Just pointing it out as it is technically not accurate.

  • Either they intended to show a parking lane, or this rendering dates to when they were still considering removing parking for BRT. Either way, you are correct, this is a confusing and/or obsolete image, so I’ll stop using it in the future.

  • If the experience of other cities is a good indicator, it BRT will lead to increased commerce.

  • mrsman

    Has there ever been any discussion of a compromise position, along the lines of rush hour no-parking lanes?

    One scenario: (each direction)

    During rush hours, 2 lanes on Ashland in each direction, no parking, bus only lane.

    During other times, 1 lane on Ashland for driving, and one lane for parking, bus only lane.

    Bus lanes along the median at all times.

    Second scenario:

    During rush hours, 2 general traffic lanes on Ashland, no parking, 1 bus only lane.

    During other times, 2 general traffic lanes on Ashland, 1 lane of parking. Buses will share the traffic lanes with the general traffic.

    As far as the left turns go, It seems to me that some accommodation for left turns is warranted. Is it true that there are only left turns allowed to the expressway unramps? I believe that there should be a median break at least once per mile to allow for left turn lanes. In Cleveland, there are provisions for left turns, see the corner of E83rd and Euclid for example.

  • Interesting suggestion, but if you had two car lanes and one bus lane in both direction, that would be six lanes of moving traffic, which would make the street very unfriendly to pedestrians. This scenario was considered and rejected by the CTA.

  • Anonymous

    But those parallel streets don’t have L stations; Ashland has SIX! The car drivers don’t give a damn about the L Stations, but many of the people riding the BRT certainly do.

    “There are exactly 3 alternatives” IF the trip crosses the river. The Ashland BRT will eventually go as far south as 96th. Can you claim with a straight face that someone beginning a trip as far south as even 40th destined to north of the river wouldn’t use the Dan Ryan?

    If so, out here in Washington State whatever you’re smoking is now legal.

    Otherwise all those parallel arterials are just fine for the task.

  • Anonymous

    CJ Lane,

    The illustration shows clearly that vehicles will not be allowed to cross the reservation between signalized intersections. There’s a green median between the bus lanes where there is no station.

    Left turns to and from non-signalized streets and driveway will not be allowed.

  • Anonymous

    The illustration clearly shows that where there is not station there is a green median between bus lanes. If a pedestrian gets only half way across and a bus comes, she or he can stand in the median quite safely.

  • Anonymous

    CJLane,

    Do people actually cross the existing four lane Ashland Avenue at non-“zebra striped”, non-signaled intersections?

    I know that in most states the law says there is legally an “implicit” cross-walk at every intersection, but in those same “most states” if a pedestrian tries to enforce that law, the pedestrian gets dead.

  • Anonymous

    “out here in Washington state”?????????

    Astroturf.

  • Anonymous

    Also:

    “Why does the auto traffic have to speed up?”

    That’s what your fellow travelers are claiming IN THIS THREAD!!

    I want to know if anyone seriously believes that, or if it’s just feelgood BS.

  • Anonymous

    “out here in Washington State”

    “Otherwise all those parallel arterials are just fine for the task.”

    So happy you know my city better than me from 1700 miles away. And demonstrating it so well referring to 40th in the context of Ashland.

    What about the person who *does* want to cross the north branch? You’d say ‘GFY’? Same thing with the south branch.

    And, so long as we’re telling folks to STFU and accept it, why are we preserving left turns at Robinson, when the alternate to the WB Stevenson is as simple as 35th to Damen?

  • Anonymous

    It won’t be “empty” except during some “fraction of the day”. You don’t even know what BRT IS, do you? It’s NOT peak hour expresses. This will be 5:00 AM to 1:00 AM frequent service or maybe even 24 hours. The lanes will never be “empty” unless by “empty” you mean “not used for ten minutes”.

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