“Minimal Public Notice” for BRT Hearings? Not By a Long Shot

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Is an ad in the Chicago Reader and eight other papers “minimal public notice”?

At next week’s open house meetings (see details below) on the CTA’s plan to create fast, efficient bus rapid transit on Ashland Avenue, there will probably be plenty of project opponents grumbling that the agency didn’t do a good enough job of publicizing the events. On Saturday, Roger Romanelli, leader of the anti-BRT group the Ashland-Western Coalition, emailed members, complaining that the hearings are being held “with minimal public notice.”

It turns out that Romanelli’s claim is ridiculously inaccurate. I asked CTA spokeswoman Lambrini Lukidis what the agency has done to get the word out about the events, and she sent this provided the following list of the myriad ways they’re getting the word out about the events:

  • The environmental assessment for the plan was posted to CTA’s website on November 19
  • That day CTA issued a press release which was distributed to all media outlets
  • A legal advertisement was posted that day about the environmental assessment in the Sun-Times
  • Besides the Sun-Times, ads were placed in eight newspapers: The Gazette, Beverly Review, Chicago Defender, Hoy (Spanish), La Raza (Spanish), Our Urban Times, Chicago Reader, Newcity
  • An e-blast notice about the posted EA and the meetings were sent to a number of more than 1,500 recipients who have previously provided their contact information as being interested in the project
  • A postcard similar to the email was mailed to more than 300 recipients
  • Notices were posted on all #9 Ashland and #49 Western buses, as well as 16 other routes that are serviced by the same garage (#44, #47, #48, #54B, #55, #55A, #55N, #59, #62, #62H, #63, #63W, #67, #75, #94, #165)
  • Today [Tuesday] CTA is posting customer alerts about the meeting at 35 bus stops (northbound and southbound, so technically 70 total) along the length of the #9 corridor
  • CTA has reached out to aldermanic offices and more than a dozen community groups along the corridor regarding the latest steps for feedback on the project
  • City Year volunteers are expected to distribute flyers to businesses and at CTA stations and some major intersections at various times Friday through Monday

Short of hiring the Goodyear blimp to fly up and down the Ashland corridor advertising the meetings, I can’t imagine what other kind of public notice Romanelli is looking for.

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A #9 Ashland bus in Englewood. Photo: John Greenfield

The open houses are scheduled for:

Tuesday, December 10
6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Benito Juarez Community Academy
1450 West Cermak Road

Wednesday, December 11
6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Pulaski Park Fieldhouse
1419 West Blackhawk Street

Written comments can be also submitted by emailing AshlandBRT@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.

  • Anne A

    It certainly sounds to me like CTA has done a responsible job of providing adequate public notice – more than enough time before the meeting and plenty of publicly available sources for the information.

  • Romanelli is merely claiming that in order to rile people up in his favor.

  • JKM13

    However, it is supposed to be extremely cold Tuesday, December 10th. Are we wrong to suspect this was intentionally planned by the goons at the CTA and EMPEROR RAHMBO to suppress public feedback against their NEFARIOUS plot they are shoving down are throats??!

  • I agree. The CTA has learned its lessons many times over on how to engage the public. Their South Red Line rehab project exemplifies their understanding of engagement.

    Ventra? That’s a different story, and they share the blame with Cubic’s marketing vendor, Grisko.

  • Fred

    Its easy to say you didn’t know about something when you close your eyes, stick your fingers in your ears and say “LALALALALALA!”.

  • The meetings were scheduled before November 19. It’s pretty hard to predict temperatures three weeks in advance. Rahm’s a pretty powerful mayor, but he doesn’t control the weather.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    I signed up early to get notices of BRT meetings.

    1)
    I drive Ashland regularly, and have not seen a
    single posted sign about these meetings.

    2)
    I have
    not received a post card about these meetings.

    3)
    I have not been advised by my alderman about
    these meetings.

    4)
    I have not been advised by my local chamber of
    commerce of these meetings.

    5)
    No one has come to my business to advise me of
    these meetings.

    6)
    CDOT has my email, I sent it in my letter to Mr.
    Klein, and have not been sent any notice of these meetings.

    7)
    Ooops, I guess if you miss the paper one day,
    you’re SOL.

    Back in August wasn’t there a headline on this blog about “Emanual
    promises “plenty” of opportunity to discuss BRT.”

    Here’s what I think really stinks about this whole BRT
    proposal.

    1)
    It’s never been just a proposal. There’s never been any serious discussion on
    whether we should have it or not. The
    proposal was we will give you three lousy choices, choose the one that stinks
    the least. The rest is “we’re going to
    ram it through whether you like it or not.”

    2)
    After reading the documents, with its warm and
    feeling goodness about improving the road for bike riders, are you being
    suckered. Take out 1 foot of parking lane, move traffic lane over a foot and
    add an extra foot for the BRT lane. It
    may be possible to ride a bike on Ashland now, but squeeze out a foot between
    the parking and the traffic lane and there will be no place for bikes after BRT
    on Ashland.

    3)
    The #9 Ashland has the most CTA riders of any
    bus run fallacy. 16 miles with
    approximately 10 million riders/year.
    That’s 625,000 passengers per mile.
    Now take the #36 bus with 6,000,000 CTA riders a year with a run that’s
    approximately 8 miles. That’s 750,000
    passengers per mile. And the #36 runs
    parallel to the Red Line thru Edgewater & Uptown, and runs the same route
    south of Diversey on Clark. We need BRT
    because there are sooooo many people in need of a #9 Bus that it can’t be
    handled???

    4)
    Not once
    in the Environmental Report is the issue of truck and commercial traffic on
    Ashland addressed. Where’s it going to
    go? Reading all the tables and charts,
    I gather Western Avenue is going to see a 30% increase in traffic. If no left turns are allowed, where are
    those trucks going to go? There are
    weight limits on Southport and Damen.
    So many low bridges and viaducts all over the place. (Can someone here tell me what you buy or
    consume that does not get delivered on a truck.
    And if you say, well I don’t shop on Ashland, so who cares, remember
    that same truck also delivers to your store too.)

    5)
    With all the curb bump outs they are creating it
    will be nearly impossible for trucks to even make safe right turns. Do the folks at CMAP not have a basic grasp
    about commerce in this city?

    6)
    The local Ashland bus will now have its stops in
    front of the intersections instead of past the intersections. That’s not going to help traffic flow
    either.

    7)
    I read the gobblity gook about mediation, but
    all that could be admitted to was that add longer right turn lanes and possibility
    of lengthen the time of the traffic lights, but that’s not a sure thing because
    the author’s hedged on it.

    8)
    Nowhere in the discussion is the impact on east
    west streets addressed and the inability to make a left turn from an
    uncontrolled intersection will no longer exist.

    9)
    Imagine creating more problematic intersections
    after BRT than before BRT. From Irving
    Park Road down to Fullerton, all these major intersections have a decrease in
    traffic flow even if a significant amount of traffic goes to other routes.

    This whole mess is spawned by a bunch of
    ivory tower bureaucrats that don’t get off their butts and take a look at what’s
    really on the ground. They spend their
    days futzing over computer models and having wet dreams of “sustainability.” And sustainability is one of those rubber
    words that can be bent to fit anyone’s argument.

    Here’s what’s going to happen. They build the BRT anyway. And people hit the tipping point. Schools are lousy, is worse than ever traffic
    wise. People start bailing. Housing prices tank. Businesses go belly up. Loss of sales taxes (which support mass
    transit). Vacant retail no longer pays
    significant property tax (which supports mass transit) and we have one giant
    mess on our hands. How’s that for
    sustainability?

  • Guest

    Right. The city has survived Urban Renewal, White Flight, race riots, de-industrialization, an overtly-corrupt parking meter deal that won’t expire in our lifetimes, etc., etc., and one single solitary BRT line that many people actually approve of is going to cause a black hole.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    It took 17 years for the Bright Ones at city hall to finally cut their losses on the State Street Pedestrian Mall. If you were one of the businesses or one of the employees of a business that went under during that period, I suppose you can say the city survived, but what about the individuals whose lives were affected?

    How much recovery time will be needed to dig out of the black hole the BRT will create? In the meantime, businesses will suffer. You can’t have any model for “sustainability” without an economic component. Unfortunately the environmental report sadly lacked any economic justification for BRT or any discussion on the ramifications it would have for small businesses.

    If you read any significant discussions on Transportation Oriented Development, there is always a discussion that goes something like this: TOD does not work unless plans are on the ground before TOD to create an economic environment that supports TOD. Unfortunately the Ashland BRT project has no serious discussion of economic development plans but alludes to TOD as a result of BRT. Further, the most unsuccessful TOD projects are ones where the economic considerations were not implemented.

  • JKM13

    Maybe I should’ve laid it on a little thicker.

  • Guest

    You assume that State Street’s problems were due entirely to the pedestrian mall. I would suggest there were a host of issues happening (see my list above) that likely contributed.

    People are always affected by transportation investments; some benefit, some lose. I guess our disagreement is about whether the losers outweigh the winners. The truth is, neither side can accurately predict. Ashland BRT is an unprecedented investment in Chicago (and there aren’t a lot of perfectly applicable case studies anywhere else to use as guidance). What scant evidence there is suggests that it will be a net benefit. Claiming apocalyptic fallout without acknowledging that some groups stand to benefit isn’t exactly a basis for rational discourse.

    As for TOD, I would use caution comparing any kind of general, nationwide TOD examples to something in the city of Chicago. In most contexts, TOD refers to “urbanizing” suburbs around a new transit line. Most of Chicago, including the Ashland corridor, was built when TOD was just the way things were done – a totally different context.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    So you would think that before embarking upon a venture into the unknown, that economic impact would be considered. Scant Evidence is certainly the operative phrasing because nowhere in the Environmental Report has trucking or commercial traffic on Ashland been addressed.

    Some of the last few operational industrial areas in the city of Chicago exist on Ashland. If trucks can’t make deliveries or pickups (because of no left turn restrictions) what will be the impact? It’s not addressed. So if business owners choose to relocate, the employees that lose their jobs are just collateral damage. Where is the “net” benefit?

  • Guest

    That’s the point. Given the lack of comparable examples, economic impact can’t properly be estimated, either for or against. I don’t own a crystal ball and unless you’re hiding something from the rest of the world, neither do you. It’s easy to make conjectures (which both advocates and opponents have done), but there will never be certainty about the economic impact until the project is complete.

    In other words, your manufacturing job moving elsewhere is someone else’s new job at an expanding Medical District. And your delivery truck inconvenience is someone else saving a half hour each day on their commute thanks to better bus service.

    The thing we know is that Ashland is already a congested mess during peak periods thanks to SOVs, so I’m personally skeptical that BRT will make things order-of-magnitude worse.

  • Peter

    As a skeptic of the project, I will have to agree that I cringed a little when I saw part of the rally cry was not significant notice. I saw/received links to meeting information on multiple outlets be it from the Red Eye, twitter, a couple of local news outlets…. I think they have done a decent job of notifying the public.

    It would have been nice however if the meetings were spaced a little more. I have a neighbor who would like to attend but will be out on business travel. A week separation between meetings might have given a better opportunity for more to attend IMO.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    My expectation is that there was some kind of economic analysis done. How can you spend between 160 and 200 million dollars (plus graft/cost overuns) and not do some kind of economic analysis. I think the analysis looked so bad and could not even begin to support/justify this kind of expenditure that it was intentionally left out. Instead part of the Environmental Analysis was a laundry list of TIF and Empowerment Zones with no detail on how BRT could potentially make these TIFs and Empowerment Zones attractive to investors.

    I am glad you can feel okay about people losing their jobs so others get a faster bus ride, but from my perspective, where I’ve risked my personal capital to build a business (opened during tough economic times), it would be nice to know some people actually cared.

  • JKM13

    How would left turn restrictions prevent trucks from making deliveries?

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Northbound trucks delivering to the west side of Ashland need to make left turns. Southbound trucks making deliveries to the east side of Ashland need to make left turns. One’s presence on the street doesn’t mean you don’t have a dock in back.

    You can’t always make the truck go in a circle because of low viaducts/bridges and weight limits on other n/s and e/w streets.

    Twice a month I have a 55″ semi with trailer that’s 13’6″ high deliver to me. Even the right turns with traffic bump outs will be difficult to turn that trailer without running into the BRT lane.

    The least this Environmental Report could have done was address the issues of commercial and truck traffic, but it does not.

  • JKM13

    Deliveries on the west side of the street approach southbound. Deliveries on the east side approach northbound. These are not insurmountable problems.

  • Guest

    If by insurmountable you mean that someone somewhere is going to have to spend at least 10 minutes thinking about how to do things a little differently then yes, they are insurmountable.

    Clearly, one business owner on Ashland is far more important than the thousands of travelers suffering excessive commute times through the corridor on slow, crowded buses.

  • Jim Mitchell

    In fairness, WWW is identifying a potential problem for numerous commercial and industrial operations along Ashland that require deliveries and pickups by tractor trailers, not just his own business. Truck logistics is a complicated business, and I think it is unfair to assume that “10 minutes of thinking about how to do things” will necessarily solve all issues related to trucking in a dense urban setting with restricted weight routes, viaducts, etc. I know this because my family’s business when I was growing up included truck deliveries in a similarly complex urban setting, and it was a pain in the rear for my dad and his drivers. However, I am not a trucking logistics professional, so I’ll just end my commentary here with an admonishment not to assume things are simple, because they rarely are, and often for reasons common sense would never uncover.

  • Guest

    I’ll grant that I was being a bit flippant. Of course this is a burden on businesses in the corridor, and if there was a way to retain easy truck access *and* facilitate bus traffic *and* keep existing private auto capacity, we could all hold hands and sing kumbaya.

    My contention is that, unfortunately, there will be winners and losers, but BRT will be a net gain for the city and its people despite the hardship to some. What I don’t hear from the other side of the fence is even an acknowledgment that BRT will dramatically improve the lives of thousands of everyday people through shorter, more reliable commutes.

    As for delivery logistics, it seems to me that people in hundreds of cities around the globe have figured out how to deal with similar constraints. Space is much tighter in Europe and Asia. Heck, even Boston and NYC present more difficulties. The fact that some businesses are going to have to rethink their operations doesn’t seem like reason enough to keep Ashland commuters mired in congestion.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Travelers suffering excessive commute times? My understanding is that this BRT will save the average commuter 9 minutes. If that’s excessive, and people are “suffering” because of it, all I can say is you have a pretty short yard stick when in comes to measuring the meaning of suffering. All I can say is you have lived a charmed life, because your concept of suffering is amazing. What are you going to do when you have face a real challenge in your life? Where did you grow up?

    Nowhere in the Environmental Report is there a discussion of bus overcrowding on Ashland Avenue. In fact there is no statistics at all that show the number of bus boardings per mile. Can buses be crowded at times? Certainly. Do people suffer from it? Hardly. If that’s the case, the CTA would put more buses on the Lakefront lines at rush hours.

    Here’s what I want you to think about. Unintended Consequences. Once the trucks have made the delivery at my business, they have to continue on to another business. Routes have to be planned to be efficient. Now if the northbound truck stops at my business, it will need to continue on northbound. Usually I send them down to Addison, because low viaducts at Belmont, Diversey and Fullerton. Not being able to make a left turn on Addison will require the truck to make a right on Addison, left on Southport and left again to go down Irving. OK we can do that.

    Southport is a pretty little shopping precinct.

    Think about how having not just my truck but many, many more on a daily basis affect the walkability of Southport? And the bike-ability of Southport? Cars have lots of different choices because they are not weight restricted on side streets. Trucks, not so much. So while the Environment report may state Southport will only get 5% more traffic because of this proposal, that 5% is going to be more truck centric.

    And if you still can’t get a mental picture yet, I want you to imagine the morning line up of Ozinga Cement Mixers that travel the northside up Ashland every morning. That same parade of cement mixers going to the northwest side and suburbs making a detour on Southport, or Halsted, or Racine. Because they can’t make a left turn from Ashland.

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