Winters Stumbles on Transit Issues With Comments Bashing BRT

Eddie Winters

If you’re running for a Chicago political office and want to showcase your inadequate knowledge of local transportation issues, a great way to do it is to trash the city’s Ashland bus rapid transit plan. At a recent panel of candidates for state rep in the 10th district of Illinois’ House of Representatives, which includes neighborhoods from Garfield Park to Lincoln Park, veteran policeman Eddie Winters did just that.

According to a DNAinfo report, at the forum held Wednesday in a Wicker Park coffee shop, Winters, who is endorsed by Governor Pat Quinn, Secretary of State Jesse White, and 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack, said he advocates bringing together different communities in the diverse district. He added that he understands issues that affect Wicker Park residents, using BRT as an example. “It would affect you all here, change side streets into major thoroughfares,” he said.

In doing so, he actually showcased his lack of understanding of Wicker Parkers’ transportation needs, and those of all Chicagoans. The neighborhood is a dense, transit-friendly community where roughly a third of residents commute by buses and trains. The developers of the new 99-unit residential tower at the southwest corner of Ashland and Division were aware of this fact when they opted to include zero parking spaces for tenants. Like other folks who live along the Ashland Corridor, where one out of four households don’t own a car, Wicker Park residents stand to benefit greatly from a convenient north-south rapid transit connection to other parts of the city and a multitude of other transit lines.

The notion that converting mixed traffic lanes to bus lanes, as well as prohibiting most left turns from Ashland, for BRT will result in large amounts of traffic on residential streets is an unrealistic one. But as the map below by the Metropolitan Planning Council’s Yonah Freemark illustrates, by nearly doubling bus speeds, the system will dramatically increase the range of places one can travel on transit within a given period of time. That will have a huge positive effect on job access and real estate development.

Dark blue shows new areas that will become accessible from Ashland/Cermak within 20 minutes once BRT is implemented.

Besides being wrongheaded rhetoric, bashing BRT probably isn’t even a smart move politically. As of Tuesday, 2,937 people have registered as BRT supporters by signing an Active Transportation Alliance petition or writing their alderman – it’s likely that literally hundreds of them live in the 10th District. If Winters wants to win their votes, he’d be wise to do some research on the success of BRT in several other U.S. cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Cleveland, as well as scores of cities around the world, before sounding off on the topic again.

  • SMH @ BRT H8T3R5

    I hope he loses for the greater good of the city, and your defense of BRT is admirable, but Eddie Winters has one goal, and that’s to win the election. So whatever political stance it requires, that’s what he’s gonna do.

  • Edgewater Roadie

    Faster bus service will not get people out of their cars. There are many reasons why people drive cars instead of public transit. I’m a year-round bike commuter, but I also drive on Ashland quite often. It is unrealistic to assume that lots of people will suddenly stop driving to ride a bus. Given that, the cars have to go somewhere if Ashland car capacity is reduced. That means cars will use the grid as everyone is saying. That means more cars on bike routes such as Southport, Damen and all of the side streets in between. As a biker, I cede Ashland to cars and never ride on it. Again, if you want any type of BRT to move forward, there has to be compromise. That is what the elected officials are talking about. I’m for BRT, but with not as currently proposed.

  • kevindklein

    His statements are true and I would say that the overall sentiment towards BRT is a negative one.

  • J.B.

    If they were to build an EL down Ashland, do you think people would use that instead of driving? If BRT can achieve EL-like service on a surface street, why wouldn’t people switch? Just because it’s a bus?

    I agree on compromise, I’d rather have some form of BRT than none at all, but I think people get a little too chicken-little about losing a couple of lanes on one street.

  • oooBooo

    Do all these new developments with lots of units and no parking come with a requirement in the leases or sale of the condo units that one shall not own, lease, or rent a motor vehicle? Or alternatively does everyone at that address become ineligible for a residential parking permit for the area (if in use)? Because if not, all that means is people will park on the street. Thus placing greater pressure on the common, socialized space resource.

    Of course city zoning and such would prevent an entrepreneurial person from building a neighboring parking garage.

  • Shouldn’t the discussion focus on facts rather than sentiments? Public transportation effectively transports large quantities of people in dense urban situations, whereas private cars (with low occupancy rates) do not.

  • If our community were as forward/practical thinking regarding transportation as the one in the early part of the 20th century, an El extension might very well get built.

  • kevindklein

    Sebastian, the fact is that this project is going to cost the city hundreds of millions that it doesn’t have, inconvenience thousands of people every day, only to achieve something that could be achieved by updating our current services. This project goes too far for far to little.

  • OK—how much is congestion costing the city?

  • It will be $160 million, 80 percent of which will almost certainly be federal grants. Bus speeds will be increased by 83 percent, versus 15 percent for the old #X9 Ashland Express. The Ashland-Western Coalition’s Modern Express Bus proposal would be even slower than the X9, since it would make almost three times as many stops:

  • Allan Mellis

    The Ashland and Division project is directly adjacent to the Blue Line CTA station.

    The issue of increased traffic on residential streets has not been directly addressed.

  • kevindklein

    Sebastian, because this bus route is there people are going to magically abandon their cars? Ashland is one of the main routes north and south in this city. Taking away half the lanes(this whole counting the parking area as a lane is ludicrous) will cause incredible amounts of congestion.

    Let’s consider another option. Let’s take away stops, the X9 made around 1/3 of the stops the current bus does. That is in line with the BRT, let’s take away those stops and then let’s further update the bus route, light transponders, move the stops to the far side of the lights.

  • The #X9 made 1/4 of the stops as the X9, with half-mile spacing rather than eighth-mile. However, it still crawled along at 10.3 mph because it got stuck in car traffic. Traffic signal prioritization, which the BRT plan includes, will help bus speeds, but the dedicated lanes are the main factor that will allow the BRT buses to travel 15.9 mph, comparably as fast as driving. That’s what’s needed if we want to make the bus an attractive alternative.

  • tooter turtle

    Why not let the free market determine how little car parking a builder provides? If they provide none, they will attract few residents who travel mainly by car, and existing street traffic and parking will not be much affected. OTOH, when a building is provided with a lot of parking, it attracts driving residents, who put a bigger burden on the streets. This makes too much parking a legitimate concern for the community as a whole.

  • tooter turtle

    If I could take fast public transit instead of driving to work, it would get ME out of my car. Public transit (including Divvy) already determines where I go for shopping, eating and entertainment. I rarely choose to patronize a business that is only accessible by car, because driving is expensive and no fun at all.

  • We have to rely on calculated predictions here. But you are right, people are not going to suddenly abandon their cars, after all, driving is highly addictive, and seemingly cheap. So, any BRT or transport option needs to be paired with publicity. I abandoned my car in 2003, but recovered from withdrawal symptoms quickly when in subsequent years I had circa 5 to 6000 dollars annually extra to save or spend locally. Chicago needs to invest in a transit system that is capable of reliably and economically moving large amounts of people across the city in many directions in order to stay competitive with other cities (that ARE investing). Its current system ceased to be adequate a long time ago, and so far the only thing that the private one-person-per-automobile system proves is that it stops us dead in our tracks.

  • I hope your comment gets noticed by many!

  • oooBooo

    As you already know tooter, as I have commented before, I am fine with the market providing or not providing parking. However, so long as street parking is allowed at the common expense, there is a problem that must be resolved one way or another. One government interference, providing street parking for free, begets another, off street parking requirements for new developments.

    The requirement for off street parking is an attempt to resolve the problem that resulted from the prior interference. If that requirement is removed and nothing else done, all it does is make that problem worse. Thus my question, is there prohibition on parking motor vehicles on the street, by one means or another, by residents of these new buildings?

    There are other ways to resolve the problem of the parking commons, so I am asking if any other solution was implemented in place of the off street parking requirement?

    If this were a free market based system there would be no residential storage of automobiles on the public way. Workable exceptions for visitors or shoppers for a few hours or days would be needed, also to park the car while cleaning out the garage or shoveling snow, but not every day of the year for people who lived nearby. A market based system would require people have a normal place to park their cars off the public way if for more than a few hours. It would also of course allow people to build parking garages and lots to serve the neighborhood in open competition.

    Instead what the city has done is just the opposite, reserving free parking on the public way for residents (via RPP) while making things more difficult for those who visit areas to shop or see friends/relatives.

    So I ask again, is there a mechanism to forbid residents of these no off street parking developments from adding pressure the commons?

  • WestLooper

    I drive basically only on the weekends and not a lot at that, but Ashland is a frequent route for me given where I live when I do get in the car. Saturday I had a series of errands for which really only a car makes sense — 3 different stops in different parts of the city and I needed to get it all done quick with a kid in the back seat. I am a big supporter of transit, but these kinds of car trips I think will always be part of living in a spread out city like Chicago.

    My route included a lot of time on Ashland, and here is what I noticed that gives me pause about Ashland BRT.

    Several times cars needed to parallel park. Two lanes, no problem. With one lane, car traffic grinds to a halt while the car parks.

    People needed to make right turns, but needed to yield to pedestrians and there was no right turn lane. Two lanes, no problem. With one lane, car traffic grinds to a halt.

    There was a pickup carrying a precarious-looking load on a flatbed trailer. Wisely, he was taking it slow. Two lanes, no problem. With one lane, car traffic slows to his speed. (Ditto this for grandma poking along.)

    Seeing these things on an early morning trip makes me think the speed modeling is all completely wrong. With BRT an easy trip on Ashland would have been a frustrating crawl, and that was during a light-traffic time.

    I am still on the fence on BRT, but the proponents ought to think about whether Ashland is the right test case. If this causes the kind of traffic problems detractors envision, BRT in Chicago is dead for a generation.

  • The issues you’re describing currently occur on two-lane streets like Damen and California. While traffic moves somewhat slower on those streets than four-lane roads, things function reasonably well. It’s possible it will be legal to briefly enter the bus lane to pass stopped vehicles, as is the case in some other cities, and there may be some dedicated right-turn lanes in the final Ashland design.

  • WestLooper

    I think turning Ashland in to Damen is exactly the concern.

  • That’s the basic concept of the project: Ashland will become a different type of street. For drivers it will function less as a high-speed route across the city and more as a local business street. There are plenty of other options if you need to drive a long distance north-south: Lake Shore Drive, the Dan Ryan/Kennedy, Western, Pulaski, Cicero, etc. For transit riders it will become both an express route and a way to access local businesses. And everyone will get to enjoy a safer, more pleasant walking environment.

  • Jeff

    TED Talks: Enrique Peñalosa: Why buses represent democracy in action

    In this spirited talk, the former mayor of Bogotá shares some of the tactics he used to change the transportation dynamic in the Colombian capital… and suggests ways to think about building smart cities of the future.

  • Free Public Transit

    The success of the Bogotá BRT is largely due to free feeder buses and bike paths.

  • MarytM

    Seeing as how only one alderman (Pawar) has actually been supportive of the BRT so far, I have a feeling that Winters isn’t exactly losing any sleep over your insistence that he’s risking his career.

  • Winters tweeted the following shortly after I posted this: “@greenfieldjohn thanks for the comments, I’m not opposed to BRT, just concerned as to the residential impact on streets in the n’hoods.”

  • MarytM

    So has he endorsed the BRT?

  • Far from it, but he does seem aware that opposing BRT might not be the smartest thing to do politically.

  • EZ

    I am also a year round biker and transit rider, and I also find myself on Ashland in cars (riding, not driving, but nevertheless) pretty often because I play soccer twice a week at the facility at 39th/Ashland. Most of my teammates find a way to carpool down Ashland or Damen to get there, even though almost all of us use bike or transit to get to work and would prefer to do the same to get to games. Unfortunately, the Orange line doesn’t quite get there, and the current #9 bus just isn’t quite dependable enough to ensure that I’ll arrive at game time. I think BRT will absolutely change this and make transit a viable option for the many of us living near Ashland that prefer not to drive but are forced to do so now. And I doubt it’s just my teammates and I that would make this choice.

  • jeff wegerson

    I don’t see the stop signs on Ashland like Damen. Ashland will still be faster than Damen.

  • jeff wegerson

    Then let me directly address it for you. This is the city. If you are looking for a quiet residential street to live on then choose the suburbs. The geometries of city living preclude having it both ways.

  • jeff wegerson

    Car ownership is a privilege that the commons licenses to car owners. The right of way is pedestrian. The license does not necessarily include free parking as you note.

    In order to preserve the choice of dense city living the license of car use can be restricted further than it already is restricted. The universal solution to car use problems in the city is to choose to live in the suburbs.

  • jeff wegerson

    And there are places where the people who cannot get out of there cars can go. The suburbs. There will be fewer cars on Ashland and the surrounding streets as the people who really don’t care for city living get in their cars and take them to where they are welcome.

  • jeff wegerson

    I can see the BRT evolving into a surface tram line.

  • Al Lux

    Technical question: is the modeling of traffic impacts based only on the CMAP travel demand model or does the analysis use software like Vissim which allows microsimulation? Because the microsimulation approach is the only way understand the effects of the scenarios you mention to traffic on both Ashland and surrounding streets.

  • Peter

    Or he’s just being a politician….

  • The Environmental Assessment (EA) says that a local impacts analysis using intersection-level capacity analysis was conducted using SYNCHRO software.

    You can read about this on page 28 of the EA.

    Another question to ask about the CMAP travel demand model is if it incorporates random agents (to represent what @WestLooper:disqus described) and what are their attributes?

  • Probably not, but there’s a relevant example to provide. Renting an apartment in the Ashland/Division 99-unit, no-parking building (which should have a catchy name but doesn’t) comes with the understanding – a promise from Alderman Moreno, I believe – that residents will not be issued a residential parking permit.

  • The CTA’s environmental assessment (EA) addresses the impact on neighborhood streets directly.

    “Some traffic is anticipated to divert to other major thoroughfares nearby, and sufficient traffic calming measures would be implemented to address concerns raised about possible cut-through traffic on residential streets and no adverse impacts are expected.” page 87

    “The Build Alternative would result in a traffic shift from Ashland Avenue to other roadways in the surrounding roadway network. However, the results of the analysis indicate that the robust Chicago grid network is sufficient to absorb the traffic shifts across multiple parallel roadways, resulting in minor VMT increases (two percent to 12 percent) along any one facility within the study area. The grid network provides many different traffic routing options for drivers between origins and destinations within the city.” page 27

  • MarytM

    :) I went with the more subtle approach

  • J

    He isn’t the only one that doesn’t want BRT. 2,900 people is nothing. Many more oppose it, including people whose job it is to analyze these projects

  • I’d provide the numbers for how many registered BRT opponents therr are, but the Ashland-Western Coalition won’t tell reporters how many signatures they’ve collected on their petition.

  • oooBooo

    Car ownership is not a government granted privilege of any sort. For it to be one would be incompatible with a free society. Government and other control freaks would like to make it into one and thus think by repeating lies over and over again they can get most people to believe it. sadly it has been largely successful. However it has not yet extended into private garages, although the intrusion has made it on to private property.

    Those who wish to have power over how people may use vehicles used the invention of the automobile as an excuse to gain powers that would not have been granted over horses and carriages. They have leveraged that power on to private property but have been so far stymied at the garage door. Prey that this remains, for if they breach the garage door they have effectively entered the home and from there nothing is sacred.

    “The universal solution to car use problems in the city is to choose to live in the suburbs.”

    You know as well as I do that political control freaks once they have established the principle of having such power will not limit themselves to big city limits. People with utopian visions don’t stop until everyone is subjected to it.

  • oooBooo

    A promise from a politician has no meaning or value. Sounds like something said to placate objecting neighbors who park on the street presently.

  • Call up the rental center and see what they say when you ask if they have room for your car.


  • oooBooo

    This: is a better link.

    The city will have to rely on B3 zoning and the edges of zones 154 and 204 not to issue permits. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be additional pressure on non-zoned or metered parking.

  • jeff wegerson

    Sorry for the late reply. You may not see this.

    You need not limit the scope of control freaks, they exist out side of politics. Indeed it is the very nature of Capitalism, especially of the so-called “free market” version.

    It comes down to this: you can choose to go it alone or you can choose to live with others. If you choose to live with others then you will have to deal with control freaks. The best way is for non-control freaks to gang up on the control freaks and control the control freaks. Doesn’t that make them control freaks? It could but not usually.

    Your vision of a world without people with utopian visions is … well utopian.

    As for the notion that owning a car is a privilege what you are missing is that private property is the first rule that control freaks created. Once they can control where you can go on foot by keeping you out of “private” property then it is a logical extension of controlling where you can go on horse and car.

    Now if your utopia of no control extends to no private property and if your idea of freedom extends to removing the boundaries placed on freedom by the privatization of reality then I might find some common ground with you.

  • oooBooo

    Free market capitalism, the real kind, not the republican and democrat kind is the very opposite of control, it’s anarchy. (not the kind we are told of in school)

    Control freaks need institutions of power to exercise control. Ultimately they need an institution with a monopoly on legal violence. Without such an institution they are really quite powerless.Anything short of a government or something that works with the government is just a suggestion.

    Without private property, there is no reason to build or work except out of one’s own sense of duty or charity. I am not purchasing a car and taking care of it so the neighborhood teenagers can hoon it, nor would I maintain a piece of land so the neighbors could dump their garbage upon it and take the resources from it. Furthermore I am not going to maintain a home just so someone can wonder in off the street and sleep in the bed. A commons will be pillaged and fouled because there is no ownership.

    If you want to argue our bedrooms are not private property, then we can entertain this world where ownership of things and property is all one giant commons, but once we accept the human need for the ownership of things, then the whole view against private property collapses.

    I don’t have a utopia without control freaks. I have learned of a way to strip them of the power to act on their desires to control. The control freaks spend their time figuring out how to control others, individuals have better things to do. Thus the idea that individuals can organize to keep control freaks from taking over government, from wielding its power just isn’t what I call probable. It’s better not to have a government that gives control freaks the power they seek.

  • jeff wegerson

    Thanks for the insights into your personal philosophy.

  • Guest

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