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Citizens Taking Action Takes a Reactionary Stance on Bus Rapid Transit

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Citizens Taking Action's Charles Paidock.

If you wanted to film a hit comedy based on Chicago’s transit advocacy scene, you’d definitely need to include characters based on the grassroots group Citizens Taking Action. They’re a small circle of colorful, wisecracking guys, who are always good for memorable quotes at Chicago Transit Authority hearings. They’re passionate about local transit history, and some of them have been speaking out against cuts to rail and bus service for decades.

While some of Citizens Taking Action’s ideas are charmingly eccentric, such as their push for Chicago monorail service, some of their more misguided statements can be downright harmful to the cause of creating a better local transit system. In general, they’ve got a “hang on to what we’ve got” mentality, which can be counterproductive when they oppose sensible new transportation projects.

Recently, the group came out against the city of Chicago’s proposal for bus rapid transit on Ashland Avenue, as well as Pace’s plan for Pulse express bus service on Milwaukee Avenue. The group was featured in a Sun-Times piece on Rahm Emanuel’s August 18 announcement that express bus service will be returning to Ashland and Western Avenue, with the addition of transit-priority stoplights.

Reporter Rosalind Rossi, who has delivered consistently negative coverage of the Ashland project, prematurely danced on its grave with the headline, “Ashland BRT Seems All But Dead With Return of Ashland, Western Express Buses.” However, the Metropolitan Planning Council’s Peter Skosey said that’s not the case.

Skosey said that high-level sources at the transit authority and the Chicago Department of Transportation told him the Ashland express service is a “down payment” on BRT. “As far as I can tell, the timeline hasn't changed at all,” he said. “Once Loop Link [downtown BRT] begins operations, we will have a clear example of the benefits of BRT to help propel Ashland BRT forward.”

However, Citizens Taking Action’s Charles Paidock backed up Rossi’s thesis that Emanuel has buried the $160 million, 16-mile Ashland BRT project, and applauded this supposed decision. “It makes no sense to spend $10 million a mile on some rock candy mountain gimmick,” Paidock said. “It’s a totally unnecessary infrastructure project that doesn’t enhance service.”

That’s a pretty absurd statement to make about an initiative that would nearly double bus speeds on the city’s busiest route, from the current 8.7 mph to 15.9 mph. However, Paidock does make one good point, that the original Ashland express should never have been cut in the first place.

Most of the Pulse stops have 3/4-mile spacing.

In a recent press release, Citizens Taking Action also voiced a legitimate concern that the creation of the new Pulse express bus line shouldn't result in the elimination of local bus service on Milwaukee. While the Pulse buses will generally run every 15 minutes, the #270 Milwaukee local buses will run at 30-minute intervals, 60 minutes on weekends.

However, the release, titled “Transit Group Opposes Pace ‘Pulse’ Project” contains a few misleading, or just plain false, statements. “This is the beginning of a conversion of the entire suburban bus system to a bus rapid transit type of operation,” Paidock claims, stating that BRT stops are often spaced a mile apart.

The Ashland proposal calls for half-mile spacing, and most of the Milwaukee stops will be spaced about three-quarters of a mile apart. That means that, in most cases, Pace riders wouldn't have to travel any more than an extra three-eights of a mile, about a seven-minute walk, to catch an express bus. Most riders would have a much shorter additional walk to the nearest Pulse stop.

It is, in fact, important that some local service is preserved, so that seniors and people with disabilities don’t have to travel further to catch a bus. However, the majority of Pace riders will choose to walk a bit further to catch a bus that is significantly faster, so it makes sense to run Pulse buses more frequently than the locals.

Hilariously, the release ends with the completely erroneous statement, “In Chicago, the CTA announced… that it had made a determination to cancel plans for BRT services on two routes in the city, and will provide express bus service instead.” Someone had better tell CTA chief Dorval Carter what his agency is up to.

While it’s commendable that Citizens Taking Action wants to preserve local bus service, they shouldn’t fight progressive projects like Ashland BRT and Pulse, and they certainly shouldn't be putting out misinformation.

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