Deconstructing the Misleading Info in an Ashland-Western Coalition Flyer

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Ashland-Western Coalition flyer at a cafe in the East Village.

Here’s a flyer from the anti-bus rapid transit group the Ashland-Western Coalition, which I came across today at a café on Ashland Avenue in the East Village. The AWC is a consortium of business and community groups on the Near West Side, led by Roger Romanelli, executive director of the Randolph/Fulton Market Association. Let’s take a look at some of the information the group is putting out about the CTA’s plan to create fast reliable BRT service on Ashland.

At the top of the flyer, the AWC calls for “Modern, expanded bus [service] for first time in Chicago history.” OK, other than the fact that the Ashland bus was “modern” when it was first introduced decades ago, we’re on the same page here. By repurposing car lanes to create dedicated bus lanes, Chicago will be following the lead of dozens of forward-thinking cities around the world, from Paris to Bogota to Seoul to New York.

The flyer then lists some of the attributes of the CTA’s plan. Correct, BRT will eliminate one vehicle lane in each direction and most left turns, and it will feature “center-lane bus stops at center-streets stations every 1/2-mile.” And unlike another flyer posted on the coalition’s recently updated, but still anonymous, website, which uses the distance between BRT stops as a scare tactic, this one acknowledges that curbside, local service would be retained.

This flyer states the estimated the cost of BRT as $200 million, which is inaccurate, whether it’s referring to the first 5.5-mile phase or the entire project. The CTA has estimated the first phase, between 31st and Cortland, will cost $116 million, including purchasing new buses with left-side doors. The rest of the 16-mile corridor will cost about $10 million per mile for the street improvements and stations alone, so the entire 16-mile route will come to roughly $231 million, including the first batch of buses and excluding any additional bus purchases.

The flyer suggests that the cost of BRT is unreasonable, but it’s chicken feed compared to the $475 million Circle Interchange Expansion, which is sure to lower property values on the Near West Side. I don’t recall Romanelli speaking out against that project in his district.

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Boarding the #9 Ashland bus in the East Village. Photo: John Greenfield

Meanwhile, the flyer claims that the coalition’s “Modern Express Bus” alternative proposal would be cheaper than BRT, although that’s not necessarily the case. The proposal calls for purchasing buses with front and rear entrances, plus heated bus shelters with security cameras at every stop. There would be almost three times as many MEB stops as BRT stations, plus the coalition wants to expand service 2.3 miles north from Irving Park Road to Clark Street.  Onboard “bus marshals” would be hired, and there would be a variety of other bells and whistles. All these things aren’t free, but the coalition hasn’t provided a cost estimate. It’s entirely possible MEB would cost more than BRT.

The flyer states that MEB would feature “one modernized bus service stopping every 1/4-mile.” That might have actually been a sensible way to speed up the Ashland bus somewhat, if it wasn’t for the fact that there’s already political will to create BRT service that, at 15.9 mph during peak hours, including stops, will be comparable in speed to driving. And the MEB service wouldn’t actually only stop every quarter mile, which would eliminate 50 percent of stops. As outlined in the coalition’s “Executive Summary,” MEB would make additional stops at train stations, schools, hospitals, social services and churches, so it would only eliminate 30 percent of the stops.

The old #X9 Ashland Express buses, which stopped every half mile, eliminated 75 percent of stops but still crawled along at 10.3 mph, barely faster than the 8.7 mph locals, because it had no dedicated lane and got stuck behind the glut of private cars. Since MEB would make almost three times as many stops as the X9, it would probably be even slower but, understandably, the coalition hasn’t provided a speed estimate. That’s not “modernized bus service,” that’s a 20th Century solution to a 21st Century problem.

“We are excited to improve bus service on Ashland Avenue, Western Avenue and beyond,” the flyer promises, although it seems highly unlikely the coalition would continue to lobby for changes to bus service if the CTA dropped its BRT plan. If the AWC wants to oppose real improvements to Ashland bus service because they erroneously believe the removal of travel lanes and left turns will cause Carmaggedon, that’s their prerogative. But putting out flyers and other materials claiming MEB would be lower cost than BRT, and anywhere near as effective, when there’s no evidence to back up those claims, is deceptive. If you’re going to fight, fight fair.

  • You can tell they are credible when the bullet list is center-aligned.

  • Peter

    You keep saying the NIMBY Coalition hasn’t provided cost estimates, or speed estimates, or other information…Where is the traffic study that shows this plan won’t turn Ashland into a parking lot. How much traffic will be displaced? How will other neighboring streets be affected? How are commuters projected to access the kennedy between Webster and Grand? The City and CTA won’t release this info because it doesn’t support their cause? Where are THE REAL FACTS? Show us a traffic study from an INDEPENDENT (and impartial) traffic consultant. Those are the real facts that need to be seen. Then we can sing happy songs and hold hands on our super speedy bus route… LOL

  • Check out this post for a brief explanation of why BRT won’t lead to Carmageddon: http://chi.streetsblog.org/2013/08/29/why-the-anti-bus-rapid-transit-arguments-dont-make-sense/

    Left turns onto the Kennedy will be permitted. We should be posting some more info on the math behind the BRT study, as well as success stories from several other cities that made have made the bold move of repurposing car lanes to make room for better bus service, thereby reducing the amount of driving, in the near future.

  • Anonymous

    Graphic design ZING!

  • I prefer to think of the AWC materials as folksy, rather than poorly designed, even if they are put together by the executive director of a business association.

  • Anonymous

    John, you still continue to doge the frequency conundrum of local/limited branches. For short trips, a local/BRT split could easily increase OVERALL (not just in vehicle) travel times. See Jarrett Walker’s comments on Geary Blvd, a similar corridor in many ways to Ashland: http://sf.streetsblog.org/2013/08/13/jarrett-walker-new-geary-brt-option-could-provide-faster-service/

  • Traffic studies are rarely done by “impartial, independent consultants.” They’re done by the DOT. Why is there a double-standard for public transportation projects vs roadway projects? Are you also furious about the Circle interchange expansion that will shave entire seconds off of commuting times for many times the cost? Why didn’t I see an impartial analysis on why they didn’t go with tolling the Kennedy first to see how that affects roadway volumes before deciding to expand the Circle’s capacity?
    See what I mean?

  • Mcass777

    No matter what goes down, it will drastically change the approach for many drivers and commuters. Travel will not be the same and that is fearful for a shop owner.

  • Peter

    I keep hearing about comparisons like this”..but it’s chicken feed compared to the $475 million Circle Interchange Expansion,” or in regards to the 53 expansion. Once again I feel the brt supporters are comparing apples and oranges. The expansion of state and interstate highways for the purposes of increased capacity or more direct regional routing is completely unrelated to the issue hear. These other items have much to do with interstate commerce. Unless truckers will also be able to use the high speed brt lanes, there is no reason to mention these other projects in the same breath (IMO).

  • Chicagio

    The reason why those projects are used as comparisons is because they were sold as “congestion reducing” measures, although they hardly ever do (and rarely get called out as a failure for doing so). BRT is less expensive and has a great track record of ACTUALLY reducing travel times. If the anti-BRT coalition is supposedly against expensive projects that complicate travel in their immediate area, then they should also be against the circle interchange. That’s why it’s used as a comparison.

  • The curbside local bus will likely run less frequently than current service, with its primary purpose being to serve mobility-impaired folks who need or want to avoid traveling an extra block or two to catch BRT. The center-running BRT buses will likely run more frequently than the current bus, especially after the higher speed and reliability attract more riders.

    BRT will dramatically decrease overall travel times, not just because the BRT buses will be almost twice as fast as the current locals, but because they won’t have to contend with the vicissitudes of car traffic, so they will be able to be able to keep a reliable schedule. That means you will be able to plan your trip according to when the bus is scheduled to arrive, which means less waiting at the bus stop.

  • Anonymous

    As usual, the forecasts and figures selectively disclosed by CMAP and the CTA are treated as indisputable scientific fact despite virtually no transparency whatsoever. It’s just as misleading to claim that the BRT will save people 26 minutes, but proponents do it anyway.

  • Anonymous

    “The curbside local bus will likely run less frequently than current service, with its primary purpose being to serve mobility-impaired folks who need or want to avoid traveling an extra block or two to catch BRT.”
    – Translation: Who cares if seniors or the disabled unable or unwilling to walk a greater distance have to wait for 20-30 minutes.

    “The center-running BRT buses will likely run more frequently than the current bus, especially after the higher speed and reliability attract more riders.”

    – Additional frequency (or buses assigned to a route) requires more financial resources. Do you have proof that the CTA will likely dedicate more operational financial resources to this one route after BRT construction, in addition to the resources needed to operate the infrequent “coverage” route?

    “That means you will be able to plan your trip according to when the bus is scheduled to arrive, which means less waiting at the bus stop.”

    – Schedule adherence is independent to stop patterns, and can be maintained through BRT improvements, but with 1/4 mile stop spacing.

    John, I certainly hope you never end up disabled, but take comfort that if you do, I will be the first to defend your ability to access usable public transportation.

  • Chicago Motorist

    If you want to talk about fighting fair, why don’t you say anywhere in your blogs that ALL of the benefits that you list for BRT are ONLY attainable when the bus-only lanes are completely separated from the rest of the street traffic?

    Further, by what reasoning did you determine that the presence of BRT on either Ashland or Western would automatically reduce car traffic because the car drivers could now take a bus instead of their cars? Has any GOOD study been done to determine how many car drivers use those streets simply because they are end-to-end through routes?

  • Alex Oconnor

    Because that is what the BRT plan calls for. Look up “implicit” in the dictionary.

    And yes there have been studies dealing with traffic dissipation an d modal choice and their respective demand elasticity.

    Now it is your turn to be honest and try and do some research yourself instead of sitting on your duff and barking at people.

  • Alex Oconnor

    When I take the Ashland bus to buy coffee imported from Burundi I am engaging in Interstate Commerce.

  • Alex Oconnor

    Exactly

  • Alex Oconnor

    Ashland already is a parking lot much of the day. The BRT, outside of a subway, is the best alternative to alleviate that.

  • Anonymous

    As someone who regularly travels along Ashland on the north side and lives right off it, it’s absolutely NOT a parking lot much of the day. Actually, it’s the opposite – it’s one of the most convenient ways to travel north/south in a car without getting on LSD or the Kennedy, which is partly why so many people like me are strongly opposed to it. If it was always a “parking lot” I doubt anyone like me would care about the BRT. It’s the closest four lane, n/s street to LSD on the north side and the only other four lane road nearby is Western. Is it congested during rush hour? Certainly, but so are most streets…it’s a big city.

  • Anna Schibrowsky

    You keep demanding that John provide frequency information, but that’s not information that the CTA has released. Ask the CTA for this information.

    It’s also likely the frequency will change based on demand. Once BRT is in place, then the CTA will be able to gauge BRT and local bus usage and adjust frequency accordingly.

    You’re pretending to advocate for people with disabilities. First, you’re making the mistake of calling them “the disabled,” while a disability advocate would say “people with disabilities.” (I’m going to assume we’re talking about people with mobility problems, not people with hidden or cognitive disabilities here.) Then you’re claiming that stops at 1/4 mile spacing would serve them better than the current 1/8 mile spacing.

    You’re ignoring that people who can’t or don’t want to travel to the nearest 1/2-mile BRT stop can take the 1/8-mile local bus to the BRT stop and transfer, just as we take a local bus to a faster train and transfer.

    In your comments on the “Why the Anti-Bus Rapid Transit Arguments Don’t Make Sense” post, you wrote about taking a bus-to-Metra-to-‘L’-to-bus route being faster than riding the proposed BRT end-to-end. But you ignore that all those transfers require a lot of movement and increase the risk of a missed connection, making the trip longer than the BRT-only trip. For a person using a wheelchair, you’re also talking about a lot of time waiting for kneeling buses to get lined up with the curb and open and close their ramps, waiting for Metra personnel to recognize the need for a wheelchair ramp and put it in place, waiting for ramps on certain ‘L’ lines, and changing one’s route to avoid broken elevators. Compare all that to rolling aboard a BRT bus with level boarding.

    The data from the Chicago Chamber says people with disabilities have lower-than-average rates of tardiness, from which I infer people with mobility disabilities are used to leaving early, dealing with 20 to 30 minute waits, and working around the issues I outlined above. People with disabilities also have the option of scheduling door-to-door service via PACE Paratransit, which is more expensive than the CTA but still a low flat rate. I think people with mobility problems will be better served by BRT than by any watered-down option.

    BRT offers additional benefits for everyone. In terms of end-to-end transportation, BRT will be cheaper than rides with transfers (unless you’re using an unlimited-ride pass) and much cheaper than CTA-plus-Metra options, which is better for people with more time than money. BRT will offer people without mobility problems the same benefits compared to multiple-transfer routes (less hiking, lower risk of missed transfers), plus fewer transfers are better when carrying a bike, luggage, shopping bags, etc. and when trying to read, work, or otherwise be productive during the ride. A bus-only ride also reduces the chances of losing connectivity on your mobile phone or tablet. At least for me, it’s easier to think about errand chaining when I’m taking a straight bus route rather than when I’m going from my residential community through the Loop and then into another residential community, often completely bypassing the sites of frequent errands like grocery stores, drugstores, banks and the library.

    You keep citing the Streetsblog SF post about “Human Transit” author Jarrett Walker saying a compromise service would be faster than express plus local. Reading Streetsblog SF’s other post about the compromise service, Jarrett is comparing center-running express BRT plus local BRT with BRT passing lanes versus a compromise BRT with no passing lanes needed. On Ashland we’re talking about center-running express BRT plus local curb-loading buses versus compromise BRT or MEB or whatever other cockeyed plans someone can concoct. Jarrett is also quoted as saying, “Rapid stopping patterns need to be much much faster than the local to justify having both,” and BRT is predicted to be nearly twice as fast as the local bus – 15.9 mph versus 8.7 mph.

    I see from Disqus you’ve commented on Streetsblog posts from around the country. I don’t know where you’ve lived, but I urge you and anyone else who doesn’t get why BRT is right for Ashland to come visit Chicago and try taking the #9 bus a few miles. Imagine you’re trying to get to work, school or a doctor’s appointment on time – as most #9 riders are – and, during your ride, think about how frustrating it is for the buses to be overcrowded, late, bunched up, stuck in traffic, pulling in just right and lowering a ramp for a wheelchair user, and all the other problems that BRT can help address.

  • HJ

    So by the same logic we should have L trains and Metra Lines stop every 1/4 mile for seniors and disabled?

  • HJ

    “Is it congested during rush hour? Certainly, but so are most streets…it’s a big city.”

    And yet here you are, complaining about potential increased congestion to an already congested road because of the implementation of cheap, high speed, reliable mass transit.

  • Chicago Motorist

    I do understand the definition of implicit…perhaps you should look up the definition of separate…and also BRT. If you look at the BRT concept, you will see that there are basically two kinds of systems.

    One is the type of system being proposed for Ashland Avenue, where we take a traffic lane, call it a bus only lane, and it SHARES the roadway with other traffic.

    The other type of BRT system actually BUILDS for BRT by widening streets and building completely SEPARATE (physically separated) bus lanes…in effect, two completely different, side-by-side roadways.

    It is the second type of system that enjoys all of the benefits we are being told about. Some of those benefits are lost when you set up the kind of BRT we will have with this current plan.

  • peter

    ” cheap, high speed, reliable mass transit.” … your comment is in regard ONLY to those who will use this bus service. So we it has been stated on this blog that left turn access will remain for expressway access. We have also been told that the standard bus service will continue to run in addition to the new BRT service. In addition, we are reducing the travel lanes from 2 in each nb/sb direction to 1… And then we are to believe there will be no significant impact to traffic on Ashland? Sorry folks but it doesn’t add up.

    How frequent will the BRT run? So we are going to de-construct and reconstruct Ashland to have an extra lane that will sit empty for say 85% of the day while conditions on the rest of the street… I guess are yet to bee seen. Maybe the BRT lane could be a combo HOV lane or something too?

    I predict an uptick in the ridership of the Ashland bus. But this will not come from drivers becoming bus travelers, but from commuters who currently bus east to the brown or red lines changing their route. Most people who drive Ashland (or drive in general) do so because they have too. Family and job constraints are sometimes not conducive to public trans. I would have to believe there exists a compromise somewhere here between the lines.

  • Anonymous

    I am not complaining about “cheap, high speed, reliable mass transit”, even though the BRT is neither cheap nor high speed. I am complaining about the obvious downsides of ripping apart an important thoroughfare, the parking lot Ashland will become, the busier side streets will get, the adverse affect on businesses on Ashland, and the increased traffic on east/west streets that intersect Ashland due to signal priority.

  • Alex Oconnor

    We are discussing Ashland BRT? No? Nuff’ said.

  • Alex Oconnor

    As someone who daily travels via Ashland and has lived near it for 40 years I disagree.

  • Alex Oconnor

    All conjecture illustrating your explicitly stated bias not based on any data versus the data driven analysis of BRT implementation

  • Anonymous

    I’d be happy to throw in some cash for copying and some time for distributing pro-BRT flyers, if someone else will write one up.

  • Mcass777

    I wonder what a bus only line that ran along the rail lines from around the Irving Park and Kolmar to the Midway Airport Terminal would cost. I think the original mayor Daley wanted to build the crosstown xway here. I think it would be great to have a N/S route that would give a lot of access to much of the city. There are many above grade crossing already in place. This thing would be fast!

  • bedhead1, you’re right that it’s misleading that BRT will save people 26 minutes compare to existing bus service. Riders will save about 50 minutes on the 16-mile trip from 95th to Irving Park.

  • Anonymous

    Here’s every Alex Oconnor post ever: “You’re stupid and wrong, because I say so.”

    Flaming response along these lines in 3…2…

  • Great idea!

  • Alex Oconnor

    3, 2, 1……wrong, again

  • Chicago Motorist

    Yes Ashland. So lets compare apples with apples and stop dragging in the benefits of systems that we are not going to build and so will not enjoy.

    Or here’s a thought…maybe if we want all of those benefits, we should stop considering Ashland and explore constructing a separate right-of-way busway system.

    I’d be all for that!

  • Anonymous

    Actually, you said I’m wrong. You cant even get that joke right.

  • Anonymous

    L trains and Metra trains serve a regional mobility purpose, while bus routes serve an access purpose. The vehicular equivalent would be freeways v. local streets. Just as those ubiquitous 45 mph, 6 lane wide with dual turning lanes at each intersection, road/street hybrids that attempt to combine mobility and access, but fail to effectively provide either, BRT and limited stop bus routes attempt to do both but fail to provide either good mobility or access.

  • Anonymous

    Separate Right of Way system is AS expensive as the L, and has much higher operating costs, thus completely pointless. Ashland’s proposal speeds up busses to near-car speed by allowing busses to change traffic signals, giving them unobstructed lanes, and changing the payment system.

  • Chicago Motorist

    OK…cost benefit time.

    CTA Ridership stats:

    On the average weekday last year, CTA had 974,297 bus boardings system-wide.

    The #9 Ashland bus accounted for 30,947 of those, or only 3%.

    gridchicago.com lists a best-case #9 ridership increase projection of 64% or 50,753 rides, equaling only 5% of all bus rides system-wide.

    When factoring in the disruption to non-bus traffic, I do not feel that the cost to improve only 5% of the system is worth it…3% is certainly not.

  • Either we’re talking just about Ashland or we’re talking about the whole city.

    And if we’re talking about the whole city, the total amount of traffic disruption involved in doing the Ashland BRT isn’t anywhere NEAR 3%, it’s probably more like a rounding error …

    So please to be comparing apples to apples, not oranges. It’s going to be a massive improvement to transit on Ashland, for a maybe-annoying level of effect on Ashland’s motorists … and massive knock-on benefits throughout the transit system. No other big system right now is trying something that might add that big a percentage of riders, barring New York and London (who are digging new subways, and more power to them).

    This is a game-changer, and will almost certainly not lead to carmageddon — and for anything short of actual carmageddon, its benefits far outweigh its downsides.

  • Anonymous

    With that logic why should we ever repave any single road. We should never improve Ashland for busses, then we should also never ever repave it. There’s a street every half mile running north south in Chicago, and Chicago goes on average about 6 miles wide, and 25 long, so Ashland is 1 of 12 north south routes, and the drive. Ashland thus is 7% of the north-south system (Not including the kennedy/ryan of course.) Add in E-W roads which are part of the road transport system of Chicago and you’re down to like 1% of the city’s Primary (Forget streets overall-which if I was going to use a parallel to the comparison you made (The whole bus system) – I’d use the sidestreets and alleys too in my calculation for ashland’s road percent… roadways. It’s not ever worth it to repave ashland. why would we spend money to improve 1% of the roads???? I’ll tell you why. Network effect. Same reason we should improve it to a BRT line.

  • Anonymous

    Did you talk to the cafe owner about the proposed investment and why the flyer is not accurate?

  • Anonymous

    Get the info into the hands of businesses along Ashland, side-by-side (or replacing) anti-Ashland BRT propaganda.

  • No, I didn’t want to drag them into the debate at the time, which is also why I left the name of the cafe out of the article. However, maybe I’ll visit specifically to get the owner’s thoughts in the future. It may be the case that they were simply being polite by accepting Roger’s flyer, and perhaps they would also be willing to post a pro-BRT flyer.

  • carabara07

    I’m curious about this “great track record” you speak of. (and I want some good examples in the US, not international examples)

  • Anonymous

    A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes – Mark Twain.

    In the Internet age, a lie can circle the globe many times over and gain credibility while the truth is putting on its shoes. It is a strategic error to allow misinformation to go unchecked.

    Counterpropaganda ops:

    http://www.au.af.mil/info-ops/influence.htm

  • If we only used domestic best practices as models, we’d never catch up with what the rest of the world is doing for smart transportation. Ashland would be the first example of full-blown, “gold-standard” BRT in this country, which is why this is such an exciting opportunity.

    That said, in the U.S., NYC’s Select bus service on First Avenue, part of a redesign that converted two of the five travel lanes to a bus lane and a protected bike lane, has resulted in faster bus speeds, higher ridership and less crashes. Cleveland’s Health Line has resulted in huge economic investment along the Euclid Street corridor.

    Several other American cities from Eugene to Las Vegas to Pittsburgh have implemented BRT-like bus service. Chicago’s own Jeffery Jump, which incorporates some BRT-like elements, with more to come this year, is already a modest success.

  • Chicagio

    Knock yourself out:
    http://www.fta.dot.gov/documents/CBRT.pdf

    I like the whole “not international examples” requirement. Why stop there? Why not say BRT supporters can’t use examples from states that don’t begin with “I” and cities that don’t end in “-ago”.

  • Anonymous

    Typical auto-oriented analysis that doesn’t even rise to the level of critical thought displayed by my children when they were in fifth grade.

    Most importantly, it:

    * Uses weak analysis to lead to an erroneous conclusion.

    * Fails to consider the benefits and impacts of both alternatives, including both indirect and direct ones accruing to or harming public heath, environmental health, and the economy.

    * Labels the analysis something that it is not, i.e., “OK – cost benefit time”, when the analysis includes neither, yet concludes the investment is not worth it.

    OK – elementary math and science time, Chicago Motorist.

  • Anonymous

    That’s an important observation: “Gold Standard” BRT does not exist in the United States, so there is no domestic example.

    Ashland is a great route to implement it on and we should concern ourselves with the modeled benefits of Ashland BRT rather than the demonstrated failure of lesser schemes across the U.S.

    The failure of lesser-quality systems across the U.S. is not and indictment of BRT in Chicago, but rather a strong argument against lesser quality service, such as the so-called “Modern Express Bus” the ill-informed Ashland opposition advocates for. They are calling for a failed investment, and the fact that it will fail has been proven on BRT-light projects all across the U.S.

    The Modern Era was roughly between 1620 and 1945. The “Ashland Coalition” seeks “Modern” bus service in a Post-Modern Era. We need 21st century transportation solutions, not more of the same solutions as existed prior to 1945.

    “Save Ashland”? Absolutely. Save it from the Ashland Coalition that would have the Ashland corridor stuck in a perpetual time warp of out-dated and ill-advised 1940s transit service levels and technologies.

    2:05 in the following clip appears to be Save Ashland’s vision of success – a throwback to Modern Era Bus:

    If you watch closely, you’ll even see the Save Ashland call to arms lady on one of the buses in the clip.

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