A Progressive No More, Waguespack Compares BRT to the Parking Meter Deal

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32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack

Even when I’ve disagreed with him over his recent comments on transportation and public space issues, I’ve always used the word “progressive” to describe 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack, but it might be time to drop that adjective. He has been an important independent voice at City Hall, most notably in his opposition to Richard M. Daley’s disastrous parking meter deal and Rahm Emanuel’s fishy reboot of the contract. He’s a nice person and a regular bike commuter. But Waguespack’s statements in a recent article on bus rapid transit in Our Urban Times community newspaper reveal a strange hostility to building an effective, equitable surface transit system.

“Many of the people who supported the parking meter deal are supporting this project,” Waguespack told the paper. “They focus on one thing and they do not and will not look at the whole picture. In this case, it is not just that possibly eight minutes will be reduced on the travel time for someone, it is many other issues.” Here Waguespack is trying to tarnish good policy, a new bus route that will provide fast, reliable transit for tens of thousands of residents, by linking it to bad policy, a privatization contract that potentially cost the city billions and will negatively impact transportation for decades.

“Problems on side streets, due to the impact of Ashland BRT, will be something we alderman have to figure out and residents will have to cope with,” Waguespack said. “Congestion will not just be a problem in rush hour but probably throughout the day because traffic will be reduced to one lane and it will be like the other two-lane streets.” As we’ve discussed here, despite the conversion of two of the four travel lanes to dedicated bus lanes and the prohibition of most left turns, it’s unlikely there will be a major increase in traffic on any one particular side street, since Chicago’s robust street grid offers many alternatives to Ashland. The Chicago Department of Transportation can address any problems with excessive car traffic or speeding that may arise on a particular residential block with traffic calming infrastructure.

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In this map by Yonah Freemark from the Metropolitan Planning Council, the dark blue shows new areas that will become accessible from Ashland/Cermak by transit within 20 minutes once BRT is implemented.

The CTA’s environmental assessment does project that car traffic will see a relatively minor reduction in speed on Ashland from the current 18.3 mph to 16.47 mph, as well as small increases in traffic volume and congestion on parallel routes like Western Avenue. However, since bus speeds will be nearly doubled, from an 8.7 mph average to 15.9 mph, and reliability will increase by 50 percent, the share of people taking the bus on Ashland is projected to increase by 46 percent. That means thousands more people will opt to ride transit, and thousands of cars will be left at home, freeing up more space on the road.

“Developers want to develop along high-traffic streets,” Waguespack said. “This plan will reduce the three high-traffic north-south streets that go from one end of the city to the other to two.” This is probably the most wrongheaded of his comments. Whether he’s complaining that Divvy stations, People Spots, and on-street parking corrals will hurt businesses or grousing over the BRT plan, the alderman doesn’t seem to get that cars are not the most efficient way to bring shoppers and employees to commercial streets.

BRT will enhance access to Ashland. With a high-capacity bus route, more people will be able to reach destinations on Ashland compared to the status quo. They’ll just be coming on transit instead of making car trips. That will make the street more attractive to developers because good transit availability increases the desirability of housing, and the better access and enhanced pedestrian environment will bring more shoppers to the street’s retail districts.

Waguespack’s recent statements once again miss the big picture. BRT is not about saving eight minutes per trip. It’s about giving people the freedom to get around without driving, improving access to jobs, and helping Chicago grow without adding more traffic and congestion to the streets.

  • Coolebra

    Most 21st century road projects don’t offer any real benefits – the benefits are illusory and the impacts concrete.

    We need better transportation investments and Ashland BRT is one of them. At the same time, it is still a road project so the road construction lobby can continue to feed.

  • PB

    Scott Waguespack is right to point out that, despite a CTA study that reads like a hardcore sales pitch, nobody in favor of this project is considering all the realistic possible impacts. How about spending $200 million when our city and Federal governments are in financial straights. How about pulling out beautiful mature trees in the medians that we all paid to build all up and down Ashland and which we have paid millions to maintain? How about all the havoc that will be created on neighborhood side streets when trucks cannot turn left? How about the horrific traffic that will be created on a street that many drivers use effectively to get North and South in this city? Study schmudy. Did you drive on North Avenue during the year or so that they were replacing the bridge?? Do we really want to create that kind of misery permanently on Ashland? Better bus technology? Great. Express buses? Sure! Ashland BRT? No! Call Scott Waguespack a “progressive no more” if you want but that is nonsense. He’s just pointing out that the pro BRT folks are completely unfocused on all the negative side effects that will come from this project and people like him will be left to pick up the pieces when the CTA has finished the project and gone on their merry way, patting themselves on the back for doing something “big.”

  • BRTis BAD

    Look at the endless procession of empty double-length white whales clogging up traffic in the loop. “Buses carry more people in a smaller space” is true only when they’re reasonably full. Much of the time, they are not.

  • Even an articulated bus takes up as much road space as maybe four cars, which are usually single-occupancy in the Loop. So if there are more than four passengers on the bus that’s a win space-wise, and downtown buses usually have dozens of passengers. I feel kind of silly having to point this out but, obviously it’s cars that are clogging up traffic in the Loop – buses are the solution to congestion, not the cause.

  • Adam Herstein

    The same could be said about cars. Most people who drive drive alone.

  • bedhead1

    Words like “big” and “small” are always relative. When I say “a small group” I mean small in relation to the people who are adversely impacted by the BRT (yeah yeah, there will be no externalities and it will be a giant utopia, so my point is moot because nobody will ever be negatively affected). I forget the the data but it’s something like 13% of all commuters on Ashland are riding the bus. CMAP is assuming ridership increases once the BRT goes in (I have no doubt it will) and the bus share will be more like 20%. Again, these numbers aren’t exact but they’re ballpark…sorry I dont recall the specifics…they’re just assumptions anyway. So for every 100 people using Ashland, the BRT will help out maybe 6 or 7. But on the flipside there are ~85 drivers who now have the pleasure of dealing with the increased traffic. 7 vs 85 = small.

    And that’s just the people who are *directly* impacted by the BRT. Then there are the side streets, the cross streets, etc.

  • bedhead1

    I believe you about the lack of benefits for a road project these days. I also agree 100% about better transportation investments, but that’s exactly why I’m against the BRT, because I see something that’s not “better”. Rather, I see something that’s being done to satisfy some idealistic folks who just sorta want ANY sort of alternative transportation “investment”.

    I want better bang-for-the-buck if it’s going to be so potentially disruptive. I dont see it here. I see a pretty weak payoff and a ton of things that can and probably will go wrong.

  • Coolebra

    The risk is low – things are already all wrong. It’s all up from the status quo low.

    Change isn’t comfortable, but at the same time it is inevitable. Get too far ahead and you get crushed, fall too far behind and become irrelevant.

    It’s time to paddle hard to catch-up.

    Ashland BRT is a step in the right direction. With demonstrated success it can open the door for similar or more ambitious improvements that endeavor to move the city and region into the 21st century, albeit a decade or two late by the time we arrive.

    Aren’t we tired of arriving late, or taking forever to get there? That is what Modern Era Bus does.

    We deserve better, and Ashland BRT delivers.

  • FG

    I wonder if there would be as much objection to LRT as there is to BRT?

  • If LRT were being discussed at all, it wouldn’t be Toronto-style streetcars that use up lanes, it would be elevated or subway lines, which would (once construction ceased) leave Ashland’s car use largely unchanged. So you’d get DIFFERENT objection (including people whining about how expensive it is to install and ignoring how much cheaper trains are to RUN; after about an 18-20 year window post-installation LRT runs away from BRT on cost savings).

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