Ashland BRT Gets Some Pushback At Wednesday’s Open House
CTA and city transportation officials faced a large crowd armed with many questions and healthy doses of skepticism at an open house for the Ashland Bus Rapid Transit project Wednesday night.
Officials and staff members from the CTA and Chicago Department of Transportation enjoyed a relatively smaller, friendlier and supportive turnout the previous night at a south side open house.
But this time around 120 people showed up at the Pulaski Park Fieldhouse last night and many attendees came out to voice criticism and concern over the proposed $160 million project–and in some instances, tempers flared between supporters and detractors of the plan.
The BRT plan calls for center running express CTA buses running from 31st Street to Cortland Avenue in its first phase, with it ultimately being stretched from 95th Street to Irving Park Road. With stops every half mile, boarding from the middle of the street, traffic signal prioritization which would extend green lights for the buses, speeds for BRT riders would dramatically increase.
But with the current plan to remove a lane of traffic in each direction, a prohibition of most left turns, retention of local bus service and the possible elimination of the ability for cars to cross Ashland at many side streets has many residents, business owners and community organizations concerned and even angry about the project.
Despite some uncomfortable and heated moments during the two hour event, most of the discussions were civil as people moved about the room viewing posters, videos and a scaled satellite map of Ashland from 95th to Irving Park Road. Many took time to leave written comments on the plan or verbalize their thoughts to a court reporter who was on hand.
Steve Jensen, President of the Bucktown Community Organization says his neighborhood group is against the plan because they believes the proposed prohibition of most left turns will bring more traffic to neighborhood streets.
“We are opposed to this flawed plan first and foremost for the ban on left turns,” said Jensen. “We definitely don’t want traffic forced onto our neighborhood streets to get around the intersections.”
Suzi Wahl, a member of the Asland-Western Coalition a group on the forefront of the anti-BRT fight, shares many of the same concerns as the BCO.
“The CTA has admitted 9,450 cars will be diverted at 755 N. Ashland daily,” says Wahl. “Where are these cars going to go and how will this traffic be mitigated? The CTA hasn’t answered these questions.”
Joe Iacoubucci, the CTA’s manager of strategic planning explained to a highly skeptical group of residents from the Ashland corridor that approximately 34,000 cars currently travel Ashland every day according to traffic studies. He estimates Ashland will have a 35%-50% decline in vehicular traffic after the project is completed explaining drivers will move onto parallel streets like Western, Damen, California, Kedzie and Halsted.
But some people loudly scoffed at Iacoubucci’s explanation of the decline in vehicle traffic.
“I think it’s going to be a heckuva lot higher than 50%!” exclaimed taxi driver Mike Stoll. “It’s going to be more like 70%. Why didn’t they talk to people who drive 12 hours a day like me? They’re crazy if they think it will divert only 35% of traffic.”
Ashland-Western Coalition member Ernie Orlando, owner of Orlando Glass & Trim located at 641 N. Ashland, also questioned the validity of the traffic reduction estimates from the CTA’s environmental assessment report.
“If you cut traffic lanes in half and take out left turns you’re going to have a big impact,” Orlando said.
Property Manager William Dahms said he understands transit has to be improved on Ashland but thinks the CTA should improve the bus service that currently exists on Ashland Avenue first.
“First of all they need to improve the current #9 bus,” said Dahms. “They should scrap this idea its just a waste of money. This is going to kill a lot of businesses along Ashland Avenue.”
But others like Jacob Peters, believes BRT could invigorate economic development along Ashland much the way areas around CTA train stops flourish.
“There are horrible vacancy rates for businesses along Ashland,” said Peters. “I’m supportive of BRT because it could revive business on Ashland.”
Jessica Wobbekind, a member of SSA #33 says her group is generally supportive of the concept of BRT but has some concerns about this proposed plan.
“We’d like to see BRT in our neighborhood,” said Wobbekind. “We’re not against this plan be we have some questions about it.”
Currently, the Ashland bus route sees 31,00 weekday boardings. The CTA estimates an additional 5000 boardings will be added per day when BRT is fully implemented and says the demand for transit is growing along the Ashland corridor.
Despite having a brief verbal altercation with a BRT opponent near the end of the open house, Peters hoped the event will lead to some compromise on both sides of the BRT debate.
“Being completely anti-BRT is counter productive,” said Peters. “It doesn’t have to be all or nothing–we can find a middle ground.”