Active Trans Outreach Team Gets the Word Out About the Benefits of BRT

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CTA rendering of Ashland BRT.

In recent months the anti-bus rapid transit group the Ashland-Western Coalition, led by Roger Romanelli, has garnered plenty of ink in the mainstream press for their opposition to the CTA’s plan to create fast, reliable transit on Ashland Avenue. Meanwhile, the Active Transportation Alliance’s Bus Rapid Transit Action Team has been quietly spreading the good word about the benefits of the plan to residents and merchants along the corridor.

“Since August we’ve been working with about a dozen volunteers to do outreach to bus riders and businesses,” said Brenna Conway, who manages Active Trans’ Riders for Better Transit campaign. “We’ve been giving people handouts with information about BRT and explaining how it will lead to shorter commute times and better conditions for walking. If they’re interested, we ask them to sign our petition supporting the plan. Many of the people we’ve talked to are very excited about BRT.”

BeeRT pub stroll
Conway asks a BRT supporter to sign a petition at Tuesday's BRT Advocate Social. Photo: Steven Vance

The action team has done four outreach events so far along the stretch of Ashland between 31st Street and Cortland Street where Phase I of the project will be built. The team spent two days talking to people waiting for the bus by the Ashland/Lake ‘L’ station, a busy bus-and-train transfer point, and another two days visiting businesses on and near Ashland between Ogden Avenue and Division Street. The First Ward Transportation Advisory Committee, which has endorsed BRT, has also been helping out, speaking with businesses in the ward on and near Ashland north of Division.

The outreach workers have been asking the CTA customers about their bus riding experiences, and whether they find the current service to be convenient and dependable, Conway said. “We’ve been telling them that we think BRT will improve speed and reliability and make it easier to connect with other transit lines,” she said.

Most of the business owners and employees they’ve talked to along Ashland were unfamiliar with the plan. “But they’re open to the idea and interested in the benefits for their customers and employees,” Conway said. “These are our first steps in doing direct outreach along the corridor. We want to make sure businesses have all the info, and hopefully they’ll be interested in voicing their support.” She said they’ve gotten positive responses from many shops and restaurants along the street.

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An Ashland bus in the East Village. Photo John Greenfield

What do they say to residents and merchants who are incredulous about the plans to convert two of the four travel lanes on Ashland to bus-only lanes and prohibit most left turns? “We tell them that that over 30,000 people a day are currently riding the Ashland bus, and those numbers will rise significantly once we improve speed and reliability, so that will help get cars off the road,” she said. “We also point out that this isn’t the first time BRT has been implemented. It’s been done successfully in many other cities without creating the doomsday scenarios we know people are concerned about.”

The CTA is planning to hold a series of public meetings on the BRT plan, although these have been delayed, since the government shutdown slowed the federal approval process for the project’s environmental assessment document. “We hope to get a big turnout from supporters at these meetings, so we’ve been collecting contact info from the people who we talk to who are interested, so that we can remind them to show up,” Conway said.

In the near future, Active Trans plans to set up a curbside pop-up exhibit about the elements of BRT and the benefits it brings, at various locations along the corridor, hopefully before the end of the month. To get involved with the BRT Action Team, fill out a contact form here, or email campaigns[at]activetrans.org for more info.

  • Hope Active Trans can counter the media hysterics about losing a lane of traffic. Alarmism sells though.

    I wish the project included overhead wires for the buses. I remember seeing that in SF and now vancouver. Can’t smell the buses, seems to reduce pollution. Would have to look more into it I guess but seems like it’s a good way to future-proof the system and help us all breathe more easily.

  • Anonymous

    “…so that will help get cars off the road.”

    Freudian slip I suppose. Brenna demonstrates that the goal here isn’t so much to promote sensible alternative transportation as it is to get rid of those icky cars. And if it creates more problems than it solves, or costs a bloody fortune, so be it.

  • Just about everyone, motorists included, agrees there are too many cars on the road in Chicago. If we can convert as many car trips as possible to transit trips, that will make it easier for everyone to get where they need to go. Can you imagine how many cars there would be on the street if we had no transit?

  • Anonymous

    I agree with your general position here, no doubt. I obviously disagree that the BRT “makes it easier for EVERYONE to get where they need to go.” [emphasis added] I’ll wait (and wait and wait and wait…) for CMAP to disclose the details before getting all riled up about it though.

  • Alex Oconnor

    It is called mode shift. It is not some conspiracy to rid the world of those “icky cars”. And it is why a separate ROW, with left turn limitations / prohibitions along with signal priority is a critical component. Short / predictable head times and speed are the two most significant factors in influencing rider choice.

    You should really be in favor of a robust BRT as it will allow you to traverse the public ROW with your own personal auto-prosthetic.

  • At this point, the main holdup with the environmental assessment, and the CTA community meetings on it, is that the federal shutdown delayed the FHWA approval of the document: http://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20131015/wicker-park/government-shutdown-kink-ashland-bus-rapid-transit-plan

  • Anonymous

    Main holdup? Eh, I’m not so convinced. The government was shut down for a whopping 13 working days. If this was really the cause of the delay, we should see this thing released in ~2 weeks, right? Is that the expectation?

    To clarify, obviously the shut down slowed this down, I just am a little skeptical that that’s the *primary* reason we haven’t seen anything yet.

  • Before the shutdown the CTA was saying they planned to release the EA by the end of the month. since the shutdown delayed the process by at least two weeks, it’s a safe guess that we won’t see the EA before mid-November.

  • Anonymous

    Ok thanks, fingers crossed I guess.

  • Adam

    Note that the SF buses are powered by electricity from Hetch Hetchy. So coal is not the source of the electricity. But John Muir contended that the Hetch Hetchy Valley was every bit as beautiful as Yosemite. Solar or perhaps wave generators would be a better source. But yes, the electric buses are quiet and it’s a renewable energy source.

  • When I first read “Hetch Hetchy” I thought you were making some SF-relevant inside joke. It’s a dam!

    Hey, we’re making good steps in Chicago: two coal power plants (that didn’t even serve the city’s electricity) were shut down in 2012 thanks to a secret agreement between Mayor Emanuel and the plants’ owner Midwest Generation.

  • Fred

    Plus the State Line coal plant just over the border in Indiana. You can thank fracking for that.

  • Not being allowed from using a road or lane is not even close to being the same as “your mobility is being restricted”.

  • BlueFairlane

    This illustrates a point I often make to people who suggest anything that isn’t coal is good. Dams–like Hetch Hetchy, which drowned one of the most beautiful valleys in one of the most beautiful national parks–may provide “clean” energy, but they are horribly destructive to river ecology. Wind has very similar ecological consequences, and it spreads this damage over a huge footprint. I recently passed through the Coachella Valley near Palm Springs, California, and saw a horrible mass of windmills clogging every inch and spread out over 675 square miles, all to provide the electricity provided by one coal plant sitting on 0.27 square miles. The consequences are different, but one’s not necessarily better than the other.

  • What’s so horrible about windmills? While there’s plenty of scientific proof that coal energy causes all kinds of environmental and health problems, most of the arguments against wind power seem to be made by people who have an economic interest in opposing it, or an aesthetic dislike of windmills. Personally, I enjoy pedaling by a bank of windmills in the Illinois or Iowa countryside.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve read about allegations that windmills harm birds, but I thought that problem was very minor compared to the downsides of other types of energy. I share your sense that aesthetics seem to be motivating a lot of the objections to windmills.

  • BlueFairlane

    Any good answer to this requires more space than either of us wants to devote to it, but here’s as brief a summary as I can muster:

    They can be extremely disruptive to bird migration patterns. Area golden eagle populations dropped by about 70% after the installation of the Altamont windmills in California, for instance. (This may be mitigated by the replacement of those older windmills with larger models that spin at lower rpms, though the newer models haven’t been on-site long enough to see.) New research is showing the sound can have a severe effect on the feeding behavior of bats, who are having a hard enough time at the moment. Windmill vibrations can have similar effects on soil ecology. Their huge footprint creates severe disruptions for whatever wildlife might still exist where they’re built. Their construction requires a lot of increasingly rare materials which are hard to extract and refine, and which drives a lot of environmental damage currently taking place in Third World nations. And it hasn’t been shown that they affect the production of global warming gases at all, despite their increasing spread.

    Large scale wind farms have existed since the 1970s, more than long enough to demonstrate an offset in the use of coal or the production of global warming gases. I’ve looked for such studies often, but have never found one. I have found studies, though, that suggest global warming gas emissions in a region stay constant with the addition on windmills. The California experience illustrates this. Since the 1970s, the number of windmills in California wind farms has grown to about 15,000, which collectively produce about 1.5% of the state’s electricity. But overall electricity demand has increased far greater than the 1900 MW these windmills have the capacity to put out, and global warming gas emissions in California have increased despite the 1500 square miles the windmills now occupy.

    The effect of building more wind energy, in fact, seems to be similar to the effect adding a lane to a highway has on traffic, as people vastly overestimate the benefit of the windmills. People look at the windmill farms spread out to the horizon and say, “Hey! Clean energy! I don’t have to turn that light off after all!” Windmills don’t replace production. They just add to it and give us reason to grow larger and larger. (And yeah … this is the short version.)

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