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.