Support Better Ashland Transit? Your Voice Is Needed to Counter BRT NIMBYs

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CTA rendering of Ashland BRT.

Roger Romanelli’s well-organized anti-bus rapid transit group the Ashland-Western Coalition is rallying their troops to oppose the CTA’s plan, so BRT supporters need to provide a show of strength as well. The transit authority recently released the long-awaited environmental assessment of their plan to create fast, efficient, ‘L’ train-like bus service on Ashland Avenue, and federal officials say they expect “no significant impacts” from the project. The CTA is holding two public hearings this month (see details below) where residents can provide input on the location, design, and social, economic, and environmental effects of the BRT proposal.

On Saturday Romanelli emailed the coalition members urging them to reject the report’s findings that the CTA plan will have no major negative consequences to the Ashland corridor, although it will nearly double bus speeds, while improving pedestrian safety. He exhorted BRT opponents to contact elected officials and local journalists to express their views.

That’s also good advice for BRT supporters. As Romanelli suggests, you can call the mayor’s office at (312)744-3300 this Friday, December 6, and every first Friday, to provide input. Let them know that you support the plan to speed buses with dedicated center-running lanes, prepaid, level boarding, signal prioritization and other time-saving features, while widening sidewalks and calming car traffic.

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Roger Romanelli. Photo: Mike Brockway, DNAinfo

He tells opponents to sign the AWC’s petition and meet with their aldermen. Likewise, if you haven’t already done so, you can join the over 2,500 residents who have registered as BRT supporters by signing an Active Transportation Alliance petition or sending a letter to their alderman. Talking to your local City Council rep at a ward service night would be even more effective.

Romanelli urges the anti crowd to call Mark Brown from the Sun-Times, John Kass from the Tribune, and Ben Joravsky from the Reader and ask to cover the issue. That’s a good tip for pro-BRT folks as well, but email would probably be more effective: markbrown[at]suntimes.com, jskass[at]tribune.com, and bjoravsky[at]chicagoreader.com, respectively. It also couldn’t hurt to contact the Trib’s John Hilkevitch, jhilkevitch[at]tribune.com, and the Sun-Times’ Rosalind Rossi, rrossi[at]suntimes.com, who have written largely negative articles about the plan.

After grousing that next week’s public meetings are taking place during the holiday season and with “minimal notice” – the CTA actually put out a press release to announce them about two weeks ago – Romanelli exhorts opponents to attend. “Bring others since pro-BRT activists will attend,” he says.

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An Active Trans staffer, right, talks to a transit rider about the benefits of BRT. Photo: Active Trans

That much is true. Active Trans is holding a rally for BRT advocates on Tuesday, December 10, at 5 p.m. at Punch House, 1227 West 18th. From there they’ll march four blocks to the South Side community meeting, 6-8 p.m. at Benito Juarez Community Academy, 1450 West Cermak. The North Side hearing takes place that Wednesday, December 11, 6-8 p.m. at Pulaski Park Fieldhouse, 1419 West Blackhawk.

However, a few things in the coalition’s email aren’t true. It lists the pricetag for the 16-mile BRT system as $200 million when it’s only $160 million, and characterizes that as an “extreme cost.” As Streetsblog contributor Shaun Jacobsen illustrated on his blog Transitized, that’s a drop in the bucket compared to many local highway projects.

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The cost of BRT (light blue) is dwarfed by local road projects. Image: Shaun Jacobsen, Transitized

Meanwhile, the AWC has floated an alternative proposal euphemistically dubbed Modern Express Bus service, although it’s really just an attempt to kill the real-world transit plan. Since it would make almost three times as many stops as the old #9 Ashland Express, which itself was only marginally faster than the local buses, MEB would be even slower than the #9. MEB would include many expensive bells and whistles, and the coalition hasn’t put out a cost estimate, but the email refers to the watered-down proposal as “affordable.” The message also characterizes the AWC as a volunteer group, which isn’t really true, since Romanelli is doing his anti-BRT organizing work on the clock as director of the Randolph/Fulton Market Association.

If you can’t make it to either of the two hearings, written comments in support of the BRT plan can be also submitted by emailing AshlandBRT[at]transitchicago.com or by mail to the Chicago Transit Authority, attn.: Joe Iacobucci at 567 West Lake Street, Chicago, IL 60661. To be included as a formal comment as part of the EA, comments must be submitted no later than 4:30 p.m. on December 20.

  • Roland Solinski

    Even I am starting to sour on the BRT proposal as it is currently conceived after seeing the draft plans in CTA’s recently-released EA. CTA plans to close every cross-street across Ashland with a median, save for the major half-mile streets and those (like Augusta or Polk) that already have stoplights.

    Pedestrian connections would be maintained at some, but not all, side-street intersections – and even then, the crosswalk would only exist on one side. Biking across Ashland will become very difficult as well. This kind of highway-like barrier is fundamentally incompatible with the kind of dense, connective network that a livable city needs.

  • That’s pretty horrifying. And I say that as someone who lives right next to Mayfair — a neighborhood whose design is actively hostile to anyone attempting to get from one side of it to the other. It’s a maze of one-way streets that change their polarity over their length, whose grid is 45degrees off the rest of the city, and almost all the streets in it (going both angles) have names that start with K, making it even harder to figure out where you are and where you’re going. Especially the way Mayfair interacts with Elston causes Elston to be a wall and not in any way a linking point, unless you’re trying to go through on Elston without stopping. it’s almost as bad as the Kennedy embankment for chopping up the area and making it un-navigable, and I wish I was kidding.

  • Adam Herstein

    Ashland already sucks for riding a bike.

  • Adam Herstein

    I plan on attending the ActiveTrans rally next week.

  • Roland Solinski

    Yes, but quiet side streets like Altgeld or Cornelia are great streets to ride a bike on. These streets will be closed off, along with many others. The result should resemble the Ashland/Ohio intersection in many cases, but many others will have no crosswalk at all.

    http://goo.gl/maps/eWxe8

  • Do people already cross Ashland at these spots? I have a hard time crossing Ashland at any non-signalized intersection (i.e. major street) because nobody stops in the first place. It’s *already* a street to avoid.

  • Anne A

    We NEED to have crossings like this at many side streets. Having the median as ped refuge would make these safer and more viable as crossing points, helping the most vulnerable users to reach their destinations more easily.

  • Adam Herstein

    You raise a good point, and I hope that CDOT will not ban crossings for people biking and walking, too. This problem can be easily solved with curb cut-thoughs that are wide enough for a bike, but too narrow for cars. Same goes for peds, except you extend the crosswalk though the median.

  • Adam Herstein

    Good point. I never cross Ashland except at a light. Will the median be extended though side-street intersections that have lights? e.g. Ashland and School.

  • I’ve had good luck (in non-rush conditions!) with aggressively ‘taking the lane’ as a pedestrian — I step out towards the path of a car with plenty of time to stop, make eye contact with the driver, and a good percentage of the time they’ll yield. If not I let them pass and assert my right of way at the next car (without actually stepping OUT into traffic proper until they slow down, of course).

    I hope the medians are nice and low throughout, since high plantered medians (concrete to waist height and then tall bushes) like exist on some of Ashland make it near impossible to see what’s on the other side of the street, be interested in businesses, etc.

  • Just because they said there will be medians doesn’t mean they’ll block businesses. I hope they wouldn’t do something so pointless. And they should at least make the medians passable by pedestrians.

    That said I’ve given up on doing what you’d seri bed. Too often the driver behind the stopping driver just goes around. I’ve just resorted to going to a light. Unfortunately. With only one lane in each direction it’ll be easier to cross.

  • Alex_H

    Yes, crossing Ashland at Ohio is not bad at all. The island makes a huge difference, compared to trying to cross at a spot where it’s open pavement.

  • Peter

    If I live on the 1500 block of Fry, and want to get home from the north with the median blocked off, how will I get there? Its all one ways! It looks like I will have to take Pearson to Paulina to Chicago to Fry… thats pretty annoying. Sorry about-cha ‘Fry-guys’

  • Peter

    The same can be said for many one way residential streets along the corridor… that sucks

  • Peter

    I have yet to delve into the study, but is there any mention of improving stormwater infrastructure as a part of the project. I know many of the underpasses are heavily inundated with flood water after a heavy rain… Ashland just south of Cortland/north of Wabansia and Ashland just south of Fultan specifically come to mind. It would be a shame to spend all of this money and not improve existing infrastructure problems that directly effect the longevity of the new improvements… sorry if this is addressed, but i haven’t had a chance to dive into this yet.

  • bedhead1

    I cross Ashland every day on one of these streets as a bike commuter. Mostly when it’s warm and I’m walking more, the fam and I are always crossing at these non-signalled streets.

    It would be a total drag to lose this. Guess we can add “makes Chicago less walkable/bikeable” to the long list of things wrong with the BRT.

  • CL

    You have to wait for a break in traffic in one direction, run to the middle, and then wait for a break in the other direction.

  • Yeah I’m not going to do that, especially if there’s no median.

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