Today’s Headlines

  • Bixi, Which Makes the Equipment for Divvy, Files for Bankruptcy (Tribune, Sun-Times)
  • Ex-CDOT Engineer’s Says BRT Won’t Work Due to Chicago Exceptionalism (Sun-Times)
  • Lake-Effect Snow Likely to Cause Transportation Headaches Today (Sun-Times, DNA)
  • Nonprofits Say $3 Ventra Cards Make It More Expensive to Help Clients (Tribune)
  • City Extends RedFlex Red Light Cam Contract Another 3 Months (DNA)
  • Advocates Push for Creating New South Shore Rail Lines (NWI.com)
  • New Active Trans Intern Will Help Stage Women Bike Chicago Conference
  • Driver Crashes Through Front Door of School in Belmont-Cragin (DNA)
  • Harsh Weather Causes More People to Use ‘L’ Cars as Bathrooms (RedEye)
  • Is It Always Illegal to Park Near a Crosswalk? (DNA)
  • Clark in Andersonville Could Use a Street Remix (HuffPo)
  • Contest: Identify Bridgeport’s Largest Pothole (DNA)

Get national headlines at Streetsblog Capitol Hill

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    I imagine the air is thick down at CDOT. Most likely there are three types of employees at CDOT right now.
    1) Those that are looking outside for a safe place to land before the BRT explodes in their faces.
    2) Those that are looking for a position of deniability (Hey’ this is all Metropolitan Chicago Planning Commission’s idea not mine).
    3) Those that will say that they told you so, and bring out the long knives for anyone in a senior position that supported BRT so as to better their own future position with the department.

    It’s going to be ugly.

  • CL

    I actually think the engineer who trashed BRT has a few reasonable points. I am worried about the local 9 bus traveling in the cars-only lane, so I hope they decide to allow it to use the center lane or figure something else out.

    I also think a ton of cars will be diverted, especially to Western, and that it will be more than what you’d expect based on the modest decline in speed. People who want to go fast can’t stand being on a 2-lane road where they can’t pass slower traffic (except by pulling up to the right at intersections and then gunning it, which they will start doing). That plus the feeling that “Ashland is slow now” and the lack of left turns will cause a lot of people to choose Western. But like he says, Western is fairly far away.

    So he has a couple of good points. However, the flaw in his thinking is that he doesn’t seem to care about the experience of transit riders. He’s thinking, “Car traffic will be diverted, we’ll have more congestion, people will be stuck in traffic, it will be a disaster!” — but he’s not thinking about the fact that being stuck on the local 9 bus is ALREADY a disaster. People who depend on local busses are stuck with something so inefficient that if you forced most drivers to use it, they wouldn’t survive. People take for granted that the current system prioritizes cars while making bus riders waste hours of their day in slow traffic with constant stops — so they’re upset about a little more traffic for cars, but they don’t get upset that their fellow Chicagoans have 90 minute commute on transit.

    This is also the direction we need to move in, to finally make it feasible to get around on transit when you don’t live next to the L. Imagine that 20 years from now, gas costs $12 a gallon. We’re going to wish we had BRT on Ashland.

  • Mishellie

    “so they’re upset about a little more traffic for cars, but they don’t get upset that their fellow Chicagoans have 90 minute commute on transit.” — Amen – a key one for me is the Chicago Ave. bus. When I can get a ride to work, it takes mayyyybe 10 min to get from Milwaukee to Michigan. On the bus it often takes more than 20.

  • BlueFairlane

    The anti-car narrative (to which I partially subscribe) has long depended on the $12 gas argument, but technology has changed, and here’s as good a place as any to point it out. Long before gas hits $12 a gallon–and very likely within the next decade–auto manufacturers and fossil fuel companies will shift from gasoline to compressed natural gas, which advances in drilling technology has suddenly made abundant. There’s enough natural gas to keep the car culture going at least another fifty years. Expect congestion to just keep increasing … which will make the successful development of things like the Ashland BRT even more important.

    Also, a fun game you can play with names: Ashland Ave. was named after the estate of Henry Clay in Lexington, KY. The town of Ashland, KY was also named after Clay’s estate, as was the oil company founded there in 1924. This leads to a fun dichotomy.

  • Peter

    I would be interested in seeing Mr. Kaeser’s 10 page letter to CDOT providing comment on the project. Anyway Streetsblog would be able to get a copy of that. Considering Mr. Kaeser’s background, I’m sure there is some valuable insight for the public eyes.

  • CL

    My understanding (which is probably pretty poor, so feel free to correct me) is that natural gas contributes to global warming, so it’s not going to make driving sustainable long-term. There’s the idea that we’ll be forced to charge $12 (maybe that won’t happen) but also the possibility that we’ll decide to charge $12 as the consequences of carbon emissions become more and more apparent over the next couple of decades.

  • Jim Mitchell

    The Sun-Times article provides a link to a pdf of Mr. Kaeser’s full letter under the sub-heading “RELATED DOCUMENTS.”

  • bedhead1

    I’m still absolutely baffled by this logic, or lack thereof…insinuating that even if all of the design flaws are true, it’s worth all of the disruption anyway so that 10-15% of commuters can go from having a terrible commute to merely an ordinarily bad one.

  • Voltaire

    My understanding (which is probably pretty poor, so feel free to correct me) is that natural gas contributes to global warming but less than gasoline/oil/whatever the proper term is. So as long as the infrastructure changover doesn’t negate the improvement, there would actually be an improvement.

  • BlueFairlane

    Compressed natural gas does emit global warming gases when used in internal combustion engines, but at a lower rate than gasoline. You’ll see a reduction somewhere between a third and a half by a CNG car traveling the same distance of a gasoline car.

    As for the pricing, I suppose this depends on your level of optimism or pessimism. I’m more pessimistic, so I tend to think the only factors that will ever play a role in automobile fuel pricing are supply and demand. I have strong doubts we’d ever see some form of government mandating significantly high prices in response to climate change, especially when you consider the howls of protest for even tiny increases in gas taxes in the past. In fact, as climate change becomes more pronounced and the consequences more dire, government will be even less likely to impose pricing they believe will hurt the economy. I think the opposite is more likely. We’ll see ourselves in the throes of disaster, and we’ll want every economic advantage we can find to weather it, no matter how far in the wrong direction that might take us.

  • cjlane

    “BRT Won’t Work Due to Chicago Exceptionalism”

    So, he’s wrong that none of the active BRTs have the same combination of challenges that Ashland does? I thought that your research, John (and, again, thanks for it), showed that that was, in fact, true.

    The Ashland route can be fairly described as ‘exceptional’, when the comparison is ‘existing BRT routes’. Did that become false recently?

  • cjlane

    So, better if it takes 15 minutes for everyone?

  • cjlane

    “Imagine that 20 years from now, gas costs $12 a gallon. We’re going to wish we had BRT on Ashland.”

    If gas is $12 (in 2014 dollars)/gallon, then there will most likely be enough less auto traffic that the poor-old 9 would be able to run basically freely, and the speed gain could be fully accomplished with just limited stops.

  • bedhead1

    To many people, yes. It reminds me of this great Margaret Thatcher clip…”so long as the gap is smaller, they’d rather have the poor poorer”

  • Peter

    Thanks, Missed that

  • BlueFairlane

    I often find that you make points better than the majority of the site’s readership accepts, but I find the tactic of embracing the increasingly pervasive tactic of misapplying socialism to the conversation silly. You have to really stretch to connect Thatcher’s statements to BRT, and even then you have to believe Thatcher was right to accept it.

  • This is what I was referring to: “Everybody says in these other cities they never had any traffic problems, even though naysayers said there would be,” Kaeser said. “Well, they are not like Chicago.” That’s basically the argument that’s used whenever locals oppose implementing a good transportation idea from another city in Chicago.

  • bedhead1

    Fair point, and I agree I realized the imperfect analogy when I posted it, so you’re right to call this out. But the thought process reminded me of this clip nonetheless, and sometimes I really do think that the anti-car folks would gladly have everyone be worse off as long as drivers were disproportionately so.

    EDIT: Mishellie’s latest response above…see what I mean?

  • rohmen

    To be fair to his point, though, he then goes on to present reasons why Chicago’s BRT proposal is presumably different–rather than just rely on the often used troop that Chicago is just different.

    Are his points where he explains why the Ashland BRT is different than the other BRT systems (such as far fewer left turn bans as to Cleveland, and four-lane parallel arterials within a block or two of other BRT systems) already in place false??

    Not saying he’s right, or that BRT isn’t worth pursuing even if he is right, but I disagree with the idea that he isn’t backing up his theory that Chicago is actually different than some of the other BRT examples often cited in support of the plan.

  • Ben

    the big picture beyond the grouchy drivers:

    the only truly sustainable scenarios for Chicago’s future all look like it will be much more inconvenient to drive a personal car than to take public transit or walk/bike. So the worst criticism of the BRT plan is that it is ahead of its time.

    However, looking at the data on climate change, air pollution, commute times across economic classes, quality of life, and automobile associated deaths, BRT is scheduled to arrive not a minute too soon.

    Some people are always going to grouch their way into the future. So let’s listen carefully to critiques and improve the way we approach the future of the city, but let’s not get too distracted by the emotional reactivity of those who are trying to prolong the life of the old gas-guzzling age.

  • Mishellie

    Yes. I do not believe that car traffic should be prioritized over public trans.

  • Joseph Musco

    So CTA saying “Chicago’s grid system is renowned throughout the world for its ability to handle diversion” isn’t exceptionalism?

  • Chicagio

    Disrupting people who use a less desirable form of transportation will grow the 10-15% of commuters

  • mhls

    Look at the data. There are ~ 30,000 bus passenger trips per day on Ashland and ~ 35,000 vehicle trips per day on Ashland. That’s improving travel for 45% and impacting travel for 55%.

  • Chicago is a unique place, as is just about every major city.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    What’s not being considered by the proponents of the Ashland BRT is how the spill over of traffic to north/south and east/west streets will impact other bus routes and those CTA riders.

    For those who say this will relieve being stuck on the #9 Ashland bus for “hours” may not realize that they will be causing passengers of other bus routes to be “stuck” longer on their bus ride.

    Simple physics tells you that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

    Will someone please tell me how having 30% more traffic on Western Avenue during rush hours will improve these CTA riders travel experience?

    Also there was a nice piece on the BBC web site last week about new electric buses in London recharging wirelessly thru plates in the road. This may be the way of the future.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-25621426

  • cjlane

    Either the (alleged) uniqueness of Chicago is applicable for both side of the argument, or neither. It seems to me that you are trying to have it both ways, John.

    And, to be clear, I have never maintained that Chicago is unique, just that saying “this is great on Street X” in City whatever isn’t directly comparable to **Ashland**, bc the width of the RoW, expected retained uses, and availability of alternate thru routes were not *in fact* similar enough to draw a dependable conclusion.

  • cjlane

    “disagree with the idea that he isn’t backing up his theory that Chicago is actually different than some of the other BRT examples often cited in support of the plan.”

    Very polite way of putting it. Anyone asserting that Kaeser didn’t support his assertion is wrong. Whether that is because s/he didn’t read the whole letter, just made a mistake, or is being intentionally misleading is certainly up for interpretation.

  • cjlane

    False conclusion that the vehicle trips average one passenger per vehicle.

  • cjlane

    “Will someone please tell me how having 30% more traffic on Western Avenue during rush hours will improve these CTA riders travel experience?”

    They will have the option to transfer to an E-W route, and go over to Ashland.

    The expectation is that BRT on Ashland will be so universally beloved that BRT on Western will (relatively) quickly follow. Which will result in huge drops in Western Bus travel times, and a decrease in Western Ave auto traffic as all of *those* cars shift over to the equally convenient Pulaski and Cicero.

  • Peter

    Why does Chicago contract with a Canadian Company for Divvy Bikes and technology? Are there no American companies who can provide bikes and this technology. Way to support the American worker Chicago….

  • I guess we better not tell you where the CTA gets their train cars from.

  • Jim Mitchell

    Bombardier makes them in New York State; why is that a problem?

    EDIT: Nevermind; I see they are ASSEMBLED in Plattsburgh from shells sourced from Quebec and other parts sourced from Mexico.

  • duppie

    Are the bikes actually made in Canada?
    I would expect that they are made in China.

  • Joseph Musco

    CTA is the one who published this info in the Environmental Assessment in Appendix B-1: Regional Traffic Diversion Analysis. It’s hardly an unfair attack on CTA to ask them to explain their own findings.

    The two biggest gains in CTA’s Environmental Assessment are the transit service gains on the Ashland corridor and a 1% decrease in vehicle miles travelled in the study area.

    The two biggest drawbacks are the 5% increase in congested vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and 6% increase in the congested hours traveled (VHT) in the same area.

    If you replace “Chicago’s grid system is renowned throughout the world for its ability to handle diversion” with names of streets (Western, Damen, Fullerton, Racine, Chicago, Southport, North, Monroe) in the study area and the findings these streets will see more congestion according to the CTA’s own analysis — you are going to have a lot more people asking why improving conditions on Ashland is more important than improving conditions in the city as a whole.

  • Joseph Musco

    Argentina had a BRT system once…until Margaret Thatcher sent the Royal Navy to take it back. Maybe it was a SheepRT system they were running in the Falklands. The shepherds had a tough commute. It’s been a long time so I may have some details wrong. I think Roger Waters wrote a song about it.

  • Jim Mitchell

    Yes; they are manufactured in Quebec by Cycles Devinci using aluminum produced in Canada by the Canadian mining and metals company Alcan Rio Tinto: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cycles_Devinci

  • bedhead1

    And what about the added travel time of the extra E/W commute? Many of those streets get incredibly backed up during rush hour. Who knows how much of the BRT travel time gain will be lost here, but I would argue it’s not insignificant, and during rush hour maybe even completely offset. This is always ignored.

    Btw, I realize those aren’t your expectations, but geez, how many additional improbable 5-10 year out assumptions need to be made here to justify this?

  • Jim Mitchell

    In the meantime, it’s possible to encourage mode shift from cars to public transportation by providing incentives to make it more appealing to the one group whose minds need to be changed. It’s not always and only about whacking drivers with the stick (“make driving more troublesome than using public transportation until they grudgingly give up their cars”) but rather, sometimes it can be about offering drivers some carrots (“make using public transportation more appealing”). Here are some examples I was able to Google up from the Sustainable Cities Collective: http://sustainablecitiescollective.com/urban-times/134251/incentives-make-public-transportation-more-appealing

  • Chicagio

    US average is about 1.5 people per car. More for vans. Changes the ratios a little bit from mhls’s post but, I think the point still stands that even at current levels, bus passengers are under-served. The goal of BRT is to grow bus ridership.
    https://www1.eere.energy.gov/vehiclesandfuels/facts/2010_fotw613.html

  • Ben

    No argument against carrots: an 83% increase in bus speeds is a pretty substantial carrot. And BRT doesn’t rule out initiating many other carrots (getting the public transit commute tax benefit back up to where it belongs is a good first step).

    But eventually it will simply *need* to be prohibitively inconvenient and expensive to drive a personal car around a big city as an everyday activity. I think we’re far behind schedule on reaching that goal. So if the argument against 83% improvement in bus speeds is that cars are somewhat inconvenienced, my response is: “we should have done this 50 years ago, but better late than never.”

  • cjlane

    It’s also false to say that there are 35,000 vehicle trips per day on Ashland.

    The traffic counts on Ashland are around 25,000 to 45,000 *everywhere* from 95th to IPR, but I doubt that even 1% of those trips cover more than 5 miles. The total vehicle count for the entire project area is likely more like 250,000+ per day (it is doubtful that we can confirm this, as counting individual vehicles is challenging). Times 1.5/car, that’s 375,000 people per day traveling one direction on Ashland for some distance. And 30,000 bus users doing the same.

    I was somewhat dubious that the bus ridership was as low as 15% of users until I ran through that. Now I think that the 30,000 bus riders is at most 15% of users.

  • cjlane

    I suspect more than a few readers would take it that I was a proponent of those “expectations”; need to remember to use sarcasm tags.

  • bedhead1

    Oh no, I knew these were not yours and that you were perhaps partially sarcastic. What frightens me is that there are folks who genuinely think this way.

  • cjlane

    The “option” to add two transfers, and two miles, to your trip was certainly intended sarcastically. As well as the ‘convenient’ alternatives of Pulaski and Cicero.

    But yeah, some people do think that way.