AWC’s Call to Extend Ashland Bus Distracts From Their Goal of Killing BRT

CTA rendering of Ashland BRT.

Roger Romanelli, leader of the anti-bus rapid transit group the Ashland-Western Coalition, deserves credit for ingenuity. He’s always dreaming up new ideas for derailing the CTA’s plan to create fast, reliable transit on Ashland Avenue from 95th Street to Irving Park Road.

The AWC has already attracted residents and business owners along the project area who are worried about the conversion of travel lanes on Ashland to bus-only lanes, as well as the prohibition of most left turns. Now Romanelli is trying to bring another constituency into the fold: Ravenswood, Andersonville and Edgewater residents who want to see Ashland bus service extended north of Irving Park. As reported Friday in the Gazette, the coalition is hosting a community meeting on the subject on Wednesday, Nov. 20, at 6:30 p.m. at Andies Restaurant, 5253 North Clark Street in Andersonville.

Roger Romanelli. Photo: Mike Brockway, DNAinfo

This strategy may seem counter-intuitive, since the coalition is fighting against a project to improve Ashland bus service, but Romanelli has shrewdly chosen to fight fire with fire. As an alternative to BRT, which will nearly double the current 8.7 mph average rush hour speed of the #9 Ashland bus to 15.9 mph, the AWC has floated a counter-proposal dubbed “Modern Express Bus” service.

This would essentially involve bringing back the old #X9 Ashland Express bus, which, like BRT, only stopped every half mile, but crawled along at 10.3 mph because it got stuck in car traffic. The coalition is billing MEB as a cheaper alternative to the $160 million BRT plan, but their proposal includes numerous expensive bells and whistles, like installing heated shelters at every stop and hiring onboard “bus marshals,” and Romanelli has said he has no idea how much it would cost. The kicker is that, as outlined in the chart below, MEB would be even slower than the X9 because it would make almost three times as many stops, so the service would be anything but modern.

CTA Ashland BRT comparison
MEB would likely be slower than the old express bus. Click to enlarge. Chart by Steven Vance and John Greenfield.

The one aspect of Romanelli’s proposal that may make sense is extending bus service 2.3 miles north of Irving Park to the junction of Ashland and Clark. In that respect, he’s on the same page as the forward-thinking Andersonville Development Corporation, although the ADC is advocating for expanding the BRT route, not the anemic MEB.

According to Kevin O’Malley, the CTA’s general manager of strategic planning and policy, the CTA decided not to extend the BRT north of Irving Park on Ashland because it’s a residential section that doesn’t currently have bus service. “And when you get north of Irving, Clark Street [which has a bus line] starts to get very close [to Ashland],” he said. “So it would start to get kind of redundant.”

Sign on Ashland Avenue in Ravenswood. Photo: John Greenfield

It’s also likely that any plan to add bus service to this stretch of Ashland would meet stiff resistance from some residents. Currently trucks over five tons gross weight are banned from this section due to concerns about noise, and worries about vibrations from heavy vehicles damaging building foundations. Earlier this year a Streetsblog reader who lives on this stretch posted a comment making the same arguments against introducing bus service. She didn’t seem to grasp that bus service would actually reduce noise, vibrations and pollution by getting cars off her street, or appreciate the potential convenience of having transit right outside her door.

When I recently walked this residential section around 9 p.m. on a Monday, the curbside parking spots were almost completely occupied, so there would likely be bitter opposition to eliminating spaces for curbside MEB bus stops. If these homeowners organize against the anti-BRT coalition’s proposal to add buses to their streets, it will certainly be amusing to observe the NIMBY-versus-NIMBY battle.

Ashland Avenue in Ravenswood, around 9 p.m. on a Monday. Photo: John Greenfield

That’s probably an unlikely scenario, however, since Romanelli and his coalition are obviously a lot more interested in deep-sixing the CTA’s plan than actually doing anything to improve bus service. “Regardless of whether extending the #9 into Andersonville is a good idea or not, he is distracting from the watering down of BRT by building support for other bus improvements,” commented a Streetsblog reader this morning. It’s a clever strategy, so it’s important for real transit advocates to show up to the public meeting in Andersonville to make it clear that, whether or not the Ashland route is extended, it shouldn’t be diluted from robust BRT to weak-sauce MEB.

  • Anonymous

    I looked around on their website, and one of their selling points is “thousands of new riders” that extending the #9 north of Irving Park will generate. Where do these new riders come from? Have they done any research to back that up?

    Also, does anyone have any idea how much space is used for one car parking space? On their website they state that they want to clear 60’ at bus stops. Let’s say 12’ per car. That means they will remove an estimated 70 parking spots from Irving park to Bryn Mawr alone. I am interested to see how that goes over.

  • Anonymous

    I think it’s 20′ per parking space…to account for terrible parking jobs and terribly long cars! While walking around the neighborhood this weekend, my husband and I were thinking of making fake “Parallel Parking School” fliers to put in people’s dashboards — for all the wheels that were up on the curb or cars several feet from the curb.

  • If the BRT ever came this far north I really, really hope it would be electrified. That would make it quieter. The noise from cars up there is loud enough; if CTA had quieter buses it would be better I’m sure.

    The Clark bus is *not* a good alternative for going far distances. As a neighborhood-to-neighborhood link it’s OK. It is far too prone to bunching to be as reliable as rail (or proposed) BRT service. CTA data proves it’s terribly bunched.

  • The parking meter lease deal specifies that 20′ is considered one parking space, as Lindsay says below. The five-year anniversary of that contract is coming up soon; only 70 more years to go!

  • david vartanoff

    Seems to me that CTA should implement the signal priority now–should NOT need an EIR for such a “small” program. Once that is in place, all door boarding–very easy w/rfid card and needs NO outside permission–on a revived 9X will demonstrate better service. Assuming that the X only makes the proposed BRT stops, it should be faster than the old version at much lower investment.

  • Jennifer

    I just want to say that Deep Six sounds like a proposal to extend the Jackson Park Express down the US 41 extension. :-)

  • Anna Schibrowsky

    The CTA would still need coordination with CDOT to implement signal prioritization, and they’d be paying for 100% out of their budget. The EIR qualifies the project for federal funding. John has said it’s typically an 80/20 federal/local split, so by doing the EIR and locally preferred alternative study, the CTA can bring us gold-standard BRT for the cost, locally, of a couple of a la carte bus-design improvements.

    As far as I know, the CTA hasn’t yet released a breakdown of the time savings of each design element of BRT, but my hunch is the dedicated lane – not signal prioritization or all-door boarding – is the linchpin to going from 10.3 mph to 15.9 mph. In John’s article about riding the #9 from end to end, he describes the bus getting stuck in heavy traffic, not delayed on the wrong side of red lights.

  • Adam Herstein

    In my opinion, we should stop giving this troll the time of day.

  • Anonymous

    ” the CTA decided not to extend the BRT north of Irving Park on Ashland because it’s a residential section that doesn’t currently have bus service. “And when you get north of Irving, Clark Street [which has a bus line] starts to get very close [to Ashland],” he said. “So it would start to get kind of redundant.””

    Subtext question: Which is more redundant (and closer!) to Ashland BRT: The 22 or the 9?

  • To whom are you referring?

  • Adam Herstein

    I was referring to Mr. Romanelli. He doesn’t seem to be proving viable alternatives, and pretty much screams NIMBY.

  • Adam Herstein

    Chicago used to have a huge network of trolleybuses. I’d love to see them make a return. Although, you can guarantee that the NIMBYs will claim that the overhead wires are ugly.

  • Adam Herstein

    The idiots who park on Dearborn in River North can’t seem to keep their wheels out of the bike lane.

  • As a sustainable transportation advocacy site, we’re closely following the BRT issue and Romanelli is the leader of the opposition, so we really don’t have any choice but write about him. Anyway, I have grudging respect for the guy. He’s a worthy opponent.

  • Anonymous

    “you can guarantee that the NIMBYs will claim that the overhead wires are ugly.”

    And they’d be correct. Doesn’t mean the benefits don’t outweigh the ugly, but they are ugly.

  • Adam Herstein

    “Ugly” is a subjective term. Have you never heard the cliché “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”?

  • Anonymous

    I just *love* sidewalks cluttered with parking regulation signs, streets full of double-parked cars (heck, cars in general, but mostly when they’re and the brown haze of smog. Think it’s be-yoo-tee-full.

    So, that would be an equally valid opinion about beauty, and you’re a NIMBY if you want to ‘take away *my* beauty’?

    Also, no, I’ve never heard “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, and I love condescension, find it the epitome of beauty. Thanks for brightening my day!

  • Adam Herstein

    Whether you think something g is ugly or beautify should not be part of a debate regarding improving transportation options for all.

  • Joseph Musco

    CTA estimated buses spent 54% of the time in motion, 22% boarding, 21% at signals, and 3% other in their first BRT proposal in 2008.

    The FTA did a study in 2010 called “Quantifying the Benefits of BRT Elements” with breakdowns of each element by time savings and cost.

    Reducing the # of stops speeds a bus and is basically free. A dedicated curbside bus lane (paint+!) like SBS costs $100K per mile. Center-running lanes cost anywhere from $500K to $10M per mile. I didn’t see how the time savings was quantified by type of dedicated bus lane. CTA repeatedly touts the time savings of a dedicated bus lane but they don’t much mention that the type of lane (center-running) they selected costs anywhere from 10x to 100x more than a simple curbside dedicated bus lane — and that modest improvements as seen in NYC’s SBS (ignoring ITDP) qualifies for the same FTA BRT grant money.

  • HF

    I’m glad to see the conversation about extending BRT north to Ashland and Clark getting a bit more notice here, albeit with the bizarre endorsement from the untenable Romanelli group. But Kevin O’Malley’s reasoning that “CTA decided not to extend the BRT north of Irving Park on Ashland because it’s a residential section that doesn’t currently have bus service” is worthy of pause: the neighborhood is under-served by transit, therefore CTA has decided to continue to under-serve it? Really?


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Roger Romanelli’s well-organized anti-bus rapid transit group the Ashland-Western Coalition is rallying their troops to oppose the CTA’s plan, so BRT supporters need to provide a show of strength as well. The transit authority recently released the long-awaited environmental assessment of their plan to create fast, efficient, ‘L’ train-like bus service on Ashland Avenue, and […]