Last week I was enjoying a glass of hot spiced wine in a cozy Andersonville tavern, when I came across a stack of flyers that killed my holiday buzz. In perhaps their most dishonest strategy to deep-six the CTA’s Ashland bus rapid transit plan, Roger Romanelli’s opposition group the Ashland-Western Coalition has been distributing handbills in the neighborhood painting the AWC as a transit advocacy organization. They’re hoping that their call to extend Ashland bus service north to Andersonville, as part of their watered-down Modern Express Bus counter-proposal, will attract local transit riders to their cause.
MEB, billed as a cheaper, less-disruptive alternative to BRT, would really just be bringing back the old 10.3 mph #X9 Ashland Express, but it would actually run even slower because it would make almost three times as many stops. The proposal includes various expensive bells and whistles, like installing heated shelters at every stop and hiring onboard “bus marshals” to assist passengers, but the coalition hasn’t provided a cost estimate.
The chief virtue of the proposal to the AWC members is that it eliminates the dedicated bus lanes and left-turn prohibitions of the BRT plan. However, those are key elements that will allow for nearly doubling bus speeds to 15.9 mph, including stops, comparably fast as driving. That’s what’s necessary if we want to make the bus so appealing that people will leave their cars at home. The purpose of MEB is not to speed up buses, but to prevent the city from making real improvements to bus service, so that some people don’t have to adjust their driving habits.
In its new flyer, the AWC tries to recruit more members with the promise of extending Ashland bus service north 2.3 miles to Clark. While many residents of progressive, transit-friendly Andersonville would likely support extending the bus line, the flyer designed to win them over is a Trojan horse. It’s an extreme example of the basic dishonesty of the AWC, an anti-transit group posing as bus advocates.
Almost all of the language on the handbill is about the benefits of extended service. “Easy, fast & reliable service to Ravenswood, Uptown and Andersonville,” “Less vehicles & traffic congestion,” and “New economic & community development” are all, in fact, valid arguments for extending the route north. Of course, any Andersonville resident who is drawn in by the cheerful, pro-transit copy on the flyer and visits the AWC’s website will get a rude awakening when they see the group is really about blocking better bus service.
Whether or not you live in a neighborhood that will be served by the Ashland BRT, if you want fast, efficient bus transit to be an option for your community in the future, it makes sense to support the plan. Despite what this deceptive handbill would have you believe, Romanelli and his followers are basically trying to prevent fast buses from ever becoming a reality by killing the first demonstration of how BRT would work.