Transpo Professionals: We Need Ashland BRT to Improve Access to Jobs

CTA rendering of Ashland BRT.

After old-school traffic engineer Tom Kaeser was featured in the Sun-Times for his ten-page letter to the CTA predicting the Ashland BRT plan could be “a dagger in the heart of Chicago,” we deconstructed his arguments, as did City Pages’ Daniel Hertz. Earlier this week, a quartet of heavy-hitters from the local transportation scene got in on the action.

The group — Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning chief Randy Blankenhorn, Depaul’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development director Joseph Schwieterman, UIC Urban Transportation Center head Steve Schlickman, and Active Transportation Alliance director Ron Burke — sent a letter to the newspaper titled “We need Ashland rapid bus plan.”

After noting that Kaeser exaggerates the relatively minor negative effect BRT will have on car traffic flow, the transportation professionals argue we need to plan for a future where there are more people and jobs in the city, and fast, reliable buses are part of the solution:

Forecasts show that thousands more people each year will need to move through the Ashland corridor, yet because the streets are not getting wider, traffic problems will ensue. Transit is the only way to add more people in the same amount of space while managing congestion and improving mobility. The new Ashland line will be more reliable and move passengers nearly twice as fast as the current Ashland bus. It also creates a crucial north-south connection that circumvents downtown and connects to 37 bus lines, seven CTA stations and two Metra stations.

Read the full letter on the Sun-Times website.

  • CL

    I like the point about how this will make thousands of jobs accessible to people who can’t afford cars — something that should be a planning priority. If you have a car, you can drive to work anywhere, and a slight increase in congestion won’t change that. But the BRT line could be the difference between being able to reach a new job at all for some people, who currently have to rule out much of the city because the commute by local bus would take hours.

  • alexfrancisburchard

    I’m just going to throw this out there, but as a supporter of BRT, I don’t see their arguments, which are correct, but lacking in any sort of data to back them up, as something that will convince those in opposition in any way. The people opposed to it have been asking for data, explanations, exactly how it will work, how 75,000 trips or whatever it is diverted off of ashland won’t cause a nightmare, and this letter does exactly zero to address any of that.

    Just Saying.

  • cjlane


    The data provided show that there will be ~70,000 fewer trips on Ashland, assume 25% evaporation, that leaves about 50k trips (x1.5 people/trip) or 75,000 *people* who need to move thru “someplace else” who are being completely ignored (or actively disdained, by a few).

    I admit that I have not read *every last word* about this, so may have missed it. Is there anything out there other than the (magical, mystery) grid that deal with them?

    That said, their arguments are far better than the AWC folks.

  • alexfrancisburchard

    If the project is 15 miles long (which I think it is, though I could be wrong) that’s 3,300 displaced trips per mile, If you split it in half and send 1500/mile to Western and 1500/mile to Halsted or the ryan or something, I really don’t think you’ll see total gridlock.

    But that’s just my intuition. Plus, on parts of Ashland (like through IMD where it is 6 lanes now) I don’t even think it will cause anyone to reroute, it will just civilize existing traffic.

  • cjlane

    “I really don’t think you’ll see total gridlock”

    I’ve never suggested gridlock. I’ve never said “carmaggedon”, except to point out that it’s always a strawman.

    “If the project is 15 miles long …that’s 3,300 displaced trips per mile”

    It’s 16, I think. 5 from IPR to Madison, 3 to 31st, 8 to 95th. But there is *no way* that the lumpy existing traffic will be displaced evenly–there will be some sections where the post-BRT flow will barely change (there are sections with under 24k daily, which would be pretty smooth), and others where it will be worse. I’d expect the worst miles to be north of 6,000 trips.

    “If you split it in half and send 1500/mile to Western and 1500/mile to Halsted or the ryan or something”

    If I’m at Lake View HS, and going to Bridgeport, I’m (1) not going to Western, (2) not going to Halsted, and (3) not using the Ryan north of the north end. Sure, I’m *probably* going to get on the Kennedy at Armitage, but I don’t *have* an alternative. Yes, yes, yes, I realize that that just means I’m one of the ~65% who only lose 10% (thank you, signal priority), but if it’s not that obvious that I should just suck it up, then I lose the time of the .75 over to Western, and back from Western, on a 4 mile trip and, at the best (assuming zero lost time bc of congestion), I have a 40% longer trip. That (somehow–probably bc hard to model) doesn’t ‘count’.

    “on parts of Ashland (like through IMD where it is 6 lanes now) I don’t even think it will cause anyone to reroute”

    Awesome. Do it. As I’ve repeated, I’ll take everyone here at their word that, south of Grand, it’s the bestest idea ever.

    Of course, if 0% of the the displaced trips are coming from the most heavily traveled mile, that means *more* of the displaced trips are coming from the almost as heavily traveled, but fewer-good-alternates, section north of Division.

  • Fred

    “but if it’s not that obvious that I should just suck it up”

    If its a one off trip and you make a bad route choice, that happens. I make bad route choices all the time; just observe my choice of checkout line at the grocery store! If you take that route every day and don’t take the time to explore all of your options, including the suck-it-up option, then you are an idiot and deserve to sit in traffic.

  • alexfrancisburchard

    But as we’ve already discussed a significant portion of the traffic that uses ashland now does not use it to go from or to destinations on ashland (or necessarily adjacent to it) So while you will (and should) still use ashland, the person going from kedzie and irving to UIC has plenty of good alternatives to ashland. Or the person going from IIT to maybe the best buy off of elston – there’s other ways than just taking ashland that will hardly be slower. (canal->jefferson->milwaukee->Elston perhaps. Rather than say, 31st to Ashland to Elston.

  • cjlane

    “the person going from kedzie and irving to UIC has plenty of good alternatives to ashland. Or the person going from IIT to maybe the best buy off of elston”

    Do people driving those pairs actually take Ashland now? No wonder it’s such a disaster.

    And you’re telling me they’ll be trying to use their gps to figure out how to use the alternates *I* use? Making it sound worse by the minute.

  • Or the CTA could simply bring back the #X9 Ashland Avenue limited-stop express bus whose cancellation several years ago due to budget cuts is what worsened bus travel along the Ashland corridor in the first place. Trips along Ashland were much speedier on the former service. If the CTA doesn’t think the X9 is worth running, why does it–or City Hall–think we should spend so much more to rip the avenue apart and build BRT stations? Wouldn’t reinstituting the X9 be a lot cheaper? The answer is yes, but an express bus service isn’t as sexy as BRT–and that’s why City Hall wants BRT. That’s bad planning.

  • cjlane

    “If its a one off trip and you make a bad route choice, that happens. … don’t take the time to explore all of your options, including the suck-it-up option, then you are an idiot and deserve to sit in traffic”

    Fair enough.

  • JacobEPeters

    after traveling in Mexico City, Medellin and Bogota, I came away more convinced then ever that an #X9 which utilizes the BRT infrastructure would be a great complimentary service to an articulated BRT route between the Clybourn Metra and Ashland Orange Line stations. However, the #X9 alone would not serve the growing demand for travel along Ashland because it would be stuck in the growing traffic on Ashland. There needs to be an alternative to sitting in traffic, and BRT from 31st to Cortland is the best answer to that call.

  • Chicago drivers rarely follow rules. Unless that BRT is completely grade separated and signal timed, it won’t do much good.

  • Fred

    Drivers on Ashland can be categorized into 2 groups:

    A) People for whom the only realistic route is Ashland (their start and end points are on or near Ashland)
    B) People who use Ashland as part of a greater route

    Does anyone have any statistics on what the current usage split is? If its 90% A, then expecting 50k trips to displace is a pipe dream. If its closer to 50/50 it doesn’t seem so far fetched. I assume that its group B that will use the alternative routes and will be minimally impacted by doing so, while group A is slowed down 10%. No one is expecting group A to double the length of their trip to use Western.

  • Duh

    Camera enforcement.

  • duppie

    The old X9 bus was not much speedier than the current #9 bus. BRT should be a lot faster than the X9 ever was.

  • JacobEPeters

    In my opinion it has to be camera enforced, paint separated (to allow for flexibility in case of accidents in the main roadway) and include pre-boarding fare payment as well as high level platforms. These are necessary to address both lane and fare truants.

  • cjlane

    “Does anyone have any statistics on what the current usage split is?”

    Haven’t seen ’em. Would love to. Would be able to guesstimate if there were even an estimate of the average trip distance for private passenger vehicles, but haven’t seen that, either. I have not seen a lot of fine grain data on Ashland traffic–big picture stuff is pretty well documented (except AADT, which was based on single day of data collection).

  • cjlane

    Get on the lobbying of your state reps, then.

  • Fbfree

    People (but not trucks) in category A) will likely switch to transit when it becomes a more convenient alternative than it is now. Those are the trips that this project is designed for and will have vastly increased capacity for.

  • Anna Schibrowsky

    For your hypothetical trip, why wouldn’t you go east on Irving Park and take LSD to 31st?

  • Anna Schibrowsky

    I don’t understand all these hypotheticals where motorists insist on using the surface streets. There are basically “car lanes” that are exclusively for the use of motorists – no cyclist, pedestrians, or stopping buses allowed – and we call them expressways.

    The easiest way to that Best Buy from IIT is to jump on 90/94 and exit at Fullerton. But IIT people can now go to the Best Buy at Canal and Roosevelt, so I don’t see why anyone would even make that trip.

  • cjlane

    “why wouldn’t you go east on Irving Park and take LSD to 31st?”

    Cubs game. Bears game. Rush hour. BC IPR east of Broadway is an absolute disaster about 12 hours a day, because of bus volume + stupid parking lane. Or that it’s 3+ miles out of the way, making an 8 mile trip an 11 mile trip–38% longer. Like I said, *probably* I would stick with Ashland to the Kennedy, and am one of those with a only minor slow down on the first 2.5 miles–which would be ok, really.

    I’m honestly surprised at the thoughts that a meaningful number of Ashland users are bc of the suggested travel pairs (not doubting, just surprised), but that may be my anti-Ashland bias–I try hard to avoid it south of IPR except b/t Clybourn and Elston and thats to avoid the Elston/Damen intersection.

    For private vehicle traffic, it’s the (as far as I can tell) unanalyzed diverted traffic and its effect on the neighborhood streets and alternate routes and the bus routes on those alternates and the E-W traffic (which I find to be *much* more congested, east of Pulaski, north of Madison) affected by both the diverted traffic and the likelihood (hope I’m wrong! CDOT has a bad track record in applying for and then properly using signal modernization funds) that the signal prioritization will NOT be accompanied by any E-W or diagonal street signal upgrades.

  • In other words, building new reliable/frequent/high capacity transit makes the parts of the city it goes through no longer “you completely need a car to live here”.

  • If you’re talking rush hour, nobody who has any other alternative AT ALL takes the Kennedy or the northest part of the Dan Ryan anywhere between 3:30 and 6PM. I don’t know what the morning Hell Times are, I don’t drive that early. Midday or at night, sure; take the highway and avoid the surface streets.

  • Speaking as someone who thinks all the X routes should come back RIGHT NOW TODAY PLEASE … the real delay for the X routes is having to merge back into traffic every damn time they stop. They stop less, yes, so they get a chance to actually get going, unlike the locals; but the drivers (especially in rush hour or congestion) are really rough about letting busses back in, and that slows everything down.

  • I just don’t think you’re going to be able to assure everyone of where trips are going to go. The government isn’t telling people, “OK, if you currently turn left at X, you will now turn at Y.” We don’t always know why people are driving on Ashland vs another street, etc… I share the same thirst for more data, but unless the city put a GPS in every car (good luck!), estimates are as good as it’ll get.

    The issue from opponents is likely that they can’t imagine themselves making their trip any other way. That’s fine, because others will.

  • alexfrancisburchard

    INRIX and others use GPS data straight from your car that is fed via their nav GPS machines that almost everyone has(for traffic reportS), Apple maps uses GPS data from your phone to generate traffic reports, why can’t the city ask for that data (without names attached to trips) and use that?

    Or Like Seattle has a miunicipal network of license plate readers over its busiest streets it uses to generate its travel time billboards.

    In various places in Seattle you’ll be driving along and the signs will say 22 minutes to woodland park Zoo or something, and that’s calculated by catching a license plate on say, Rainier and 23rd, and then say on Aurora and 56th later, and claculating the time between.

    There’s easy ways to get this kind of data.

  • david vartanoff

    and the relatively cheap solution which could probably dodge an EIR is to give buses at a “nearside” stop a queue jump bus only green 15-20 secs ahead of traffic. The bus, then, is across the street and moving before the autos. That + signal priority (green light extension on approaching bus), to access far side stops will ease some of these issues without mega millions in Fed money to line contractor pockets. Restoring the 9X with these enhancements will get much of the advantages touted for BRT at pennies on the $ much sooner. As to off bus fare collection, CTA could easily implement POP/all door boarding on a route by route basis. The major cost would be secondary Ventra readers at the rear doors and a few fare checkers. The speed up in loading at heavy ridership stops should be well worth the costs.


Ashland Bus Rapid Transit NIMBYs Try to Win Over Aldermen

The BRT NIMBYs are at it again. In January, the Ashland-Western Coalition, a consortium of chambers of commerce and community development groups on the Near West Side, hosted a public meeting where business owners panicked that the CTA’s plan to build bus rapid transit on Ashland would ruin them. Earlier this month the coalition announced […]

Daniel Hertz Sets the Record Straight on BRT

A recent Sun-Times piece gave airtime to old-school Chicago Department of Transportation traffic engineer Tom Kaeser, gloomily predicting that the CTA’s Ashland bus rapid transit plan will cause carmageddon. Last week, in the wake of that article, University of Chicago public policy grad student Daniel Hertz cleverly debunked some of the arguments against creating fast, […]

Chicago to Pursue Center-Running Bus Rapid Transit on Ashland Avenue

After a year of study and outreach, today Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago Transit Authority, and the Chicago Department of Transportation announced plans for center-running Bus Rapid Transit on Ashland Avenue. Once implemented, the project could set a national precedent for high-quality BRT, improving transit speeds as much as 80 percent during rush hour, according […]