Sun-Times Editorial Writer Gets BRT, Even If Its Transpo Reporter Doesn’t

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Sun-Times reporter Rosalind Rossi interviewing BRT opponents. Photo: John Greenfield

After running a not-as-terrible-as-expected piece on Ashland BRT earlier this week, Sun-Times transportation reporter Rosalind Rossi regressed with her write-up of Tuesday night’s info session hosted by the Chicago Grand Neighbors Association, titled “Backers of Ashland bus rapid transit plan object to left-turn ban.” First of all, Streetsblog contributor Lindsay Bayley tells me that she was the only BRT advocate at the meeting who even brought up the possibility of allowing some additional left turns by motorists, so “backers” is inaccurate. Secondly, Bayley says she was simply suggesting the city consider adding a signal phase at some intersections where drivers in the right lane would be permitted to make a left while the center-running buses have a red, although this would slow the buses.

“I know that [the CTA has to] severely limit left turns,” Bayley told me afterwards. “I’m not opposed to that. It just seems like the left turns that they have allotted are only at highways and maybe they could throw in one or two on local intersections with something creative like a “hook” turn… I’m just throwing ideas out there to see if we can address some of the major concerns [from Ashland corridor residents].”

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The Q & A session at Tuesday's BRT meeting. Photo: Kristen Maddox

But Rossi’s article begins, “Even some supporters of a plan to put dedicated bus lanes in the center of Ashland Avenue joined opponents Tuesday night in criticizing a ban on almost all left turns on such a major street.” Essentially, she misunderstood a quote and turned it into the major theme of her story, implying that the CTA plan is so radical that even sustainable transportation advocates have misgivings about it.

In fairness, DNAInfo reporter Alisa Hauser, whose transportation articles are generally far more accurate and balanced than Rossi’s, made a similar error in her otherwise solid meeting writeup. “Even supporters of the plan, such as Noble Square resident Lindsay Bayley, questioned the ban on left turns,” she wrote. After I shared Bayley’s explanation with Hauser, the DNA post was edited accordingly. It goes to show, it pays to keep your comments simple when you’re speaking in front of reporters.

Coming on the heels of Rossi’s tone-deaf writeup, today’s Sun-Times editorial on BRT was surprisingly well researched and written. It’s a guarded endorsement of the CTA’s plan, acknowledging that fast, efficient transit is what’s needed to keep Chicago moving forward, even if it means taking away space from cars.

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CTA rendering of typical layout of BRT stations on Ashland.

Granted, the headline “Rapid transit buses not there yet,” makes it sound like this will be an anti-BRT piece. However the author does an excellent job of outlining the potential benefits of BRT for residents, and deserves kudos for pointing out that the autocentric status quo isn’t going to cut it in the future. “Chicago is one of the most congested places in the country, and to ease that congestion and boost the city’s economy, public transit must be given priority over cars,” the piece argued.

The editorial debunked the Ashland-Western Coalition NIMBY group’s claim that its “Modern Express Bus” counter-proposal, essentially bringing back the old, slow #X9 Ashland Express bus with extra stops, plus some expensive bells and whistles, is a more sensible alternative to BRT. “Some business owners prefer resurrecting the express buses that once ran along Ashland, which wouldn’t require closing two lanes to cars,” it stated. “But express buses improve travel times only about 15 percent.”

Altogether, this editorial is a breath of fresh air compared to Rossi’s generally backward coverage of sustainable transportation issues. It would be great to see the concepts from this piece incorporated into future Sun-Times BRT articles.

  • Anonymous

    I think Lindsay is on the right track with limited left turns. They don’t have to slow down the buses, just have the left turn light stay red when a bus is there. The reality is that there will not be a bus at an intersection way more than there will be. So, when there is a bus, too bad, no left turn light on that cycle. After the bus is gone, left turn light.

  • Or turning restrictions at certain times? I’m just thinking, if there’s a lot of buses at rush times, maybe turning cars could get in the way. They don’t have to ban all left turns, but should ban ones onto smaller residential streets (where there wouldn’t otherwise be a median).

  • Anonymous

    Time restrictions make sense if needed, block 7-9 and 4-6 or something like that.

    I was thinking major arterials only. North, Division or Milwaukee, Chicago, Grand, something around Ogden, Roosevelt, Cermak. Not every place a left is allowed today.

  • Anonymous

    Left turn arrows have one major drawback: they shut down the entire intersection from pedestrian traffic so cars-only can be accommodated.

    Pedestrians, senior citizens, children, handicapped all must wait just to convenience vehicle drivers.

  • tamanduabeijo

    Just a general question about the current plan. Is the median planter going to run the whole length of the BRT route? If so, wouldn’t it be better to place the BRT lanes together (only diverging at stations) and redistribute the median space as bike lanes? Or widen the pedestrian space to include more planted area? In all the renderings, that median seems like the absolute worst possible use of space.

  • R

    I think the editorial also did a great job framing BRT in historical perspective with trolleys, rail, and automobiles, something that needs to be done more as outreach continues.

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