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WBEZ Reports CTA/CDOT Have Chosen Center-Running BRT on Ashland

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The proposed 4.5-mile BRT route along Ashland Avenue, according to the WBEZ report.

Bus riders woke up to good news this morning. Citing anonymous sources, WBEZ reports that CTA and Chicago Department of Transportation officials have chosen the “preferred alternative” from the four proposed bus rapid transit configurations, and it’s the one advocates were hoping for. The agencies aren’t ready to go public with their choice yet but, assuming the radio story is accurate, the decision to go with center-running buses with parking and medians retained could lead to much faster bus service and a safer, more pleasant walking environment.

For starters, CTA and CDOT will be pushing to build BRT on a 4.5-mile stretch of Ashland Avenue between Archer and Milwaukee avenues, the locations of the Ashland Orange Line and Division Blue Line stops, respectively, WBEZ reports. The agencies were considering building routes for most of the lengths of both Ashland and Western avenues, so it’s slightly disappointing that the project is starting small. But a successful pilot on this relatively short stretch will make it easier to expand the route in the future and build BRT on other streets as well.

If they had to pick a single 4.5-mile stretch anywhere in Chicago, this part of Ashland is an excellent choice. It runs through the heart of the city and areas with high traffic congestion, where dedicated bus lanes can do the most good. And in addition to linking ‘L’ stations along the Orange, Pink, Green and Blue lines, this route will serve the Illinois Medical District, which has several hospitals. These are important destinations for low-income residents, seniors and people with disabilities, groups that disproportionately rely on buses to get around.

According to the radio piece, the proposal still needs to be vetted by Mayor’s Emanuel’s office, which might object to the removal of travel lanes and left turns on Ashland to make way for the dedicated bus lanes. Since Rahm is an outspoken BRT advocate, that seems unlikely. A bigger challenge will be educating business owners and residents about its benefits: much faster bus service for tens of thousands of Chicagoans with minimal impact on car traffic speeds, plus increased economic development along the corridor. We’ll provide more details on the plan and reactions to it in a future post.

Update: According to CTA spokeswoman Lambrini Lukidis, via email, “All potential options for BRT on Western and Ashland avenues are still under review. CTA is on track with its previously announced schedule for choosing a preferred alternative, which is winter 2012/2013.”

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