Yesterday Blue Cross spokesman Michael Deering told me about how the Central Loop Bus Rapid Transit project will make it faster and easier for hundreds of the corporation’s employees to access it downtown headquarters. This morning I spoke with Peter Vilim, co-chair of the real estate investment firm Waterton Associates, about why his company supports BRT.
Waterton owns 56 buildings, including many rental properties and nine hotels, located in transit-friendly locations near city centers across the country. In Chicago, the company owns 4,500 apartments, including the four high rises of the Presidential Towers development, which sit kitty-corner from the Ogilvie Transportation Center.
John Greenfield: Why is Waterton supporting BRT?
Peter Vilim: We’re partisans for BRT because high-density urban housing is our specialty. All of our Chicago buildings are clustered around the Loop and the Near North Side. The Loop BRT will literally run past two or three of our properties, including Presidential Towers, which has about 2,400 apartments. But the whole BRT concept is good, including Ashland and beyond.
We have roughly 10,000 residents in the city of Chicago, and no more than 30 percent of them have cars. They mostly get around on foot, on transit and by bicycle — that’s a preference. They could live in the suburbs and own cars, but they want to live downtown near their jobs and where the action is and do something with their time other than driving home. Networking with transit is a big benefit of living in and around the downtown core.
The current BRT plan represents what I call the “Europeanization” of America. Any comparable city in Europe has a fixed-rail tram system. During the time the U.S. was building highways, Europe was building rails. We had streetcars in Chicago but we tore up the tracks during the last century. The dominance of the automobile in the U.S. suppressed our ability to expand mass transit. The result is an overburdened transportation system where it’s difficult to move anything through a city during rush hour.