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Opposition Grows To Ashland Avenue Bus Rapid Transit Project

By Chuck Sudo in News on Jun 11, 2013 7:30PM

Image credit: Chicago Department of Transportation

Business owners and chambers of commerce located near Ashland Avenue are pushing back against the proposed bus rapid transit project for the street that was announced in April. But their counterproposal for alleviating congestion on Ashland involves resurrecting a ghost of CTA’s past.

The so-called Ashland-Western Bus Service Coalition is worried that losing a lane for cars on Ashland and Instead of surrendering dedicated lane space to BRT, they want to bring back the X9 Ashland Avenue express, which hasn’t been in service in years. Like BRT, the X9 route only made limited stops, but had to negotiate the same lanes as cars, bicycles, double-parked vehicles and other traffic hazards buses in a BRT lane wouldn’t. As Streetsblog Chicago’s John Greenfield notes, the average speed of the X9 was 10.3 mph, the average speed of the local Ashland Avenue bus is 8.7 mph. CTA is projecting speeds of up to 16 mph with the Ashland Avenue BRT project. Other expected advantages of the project include saving riders about 8 minutes per trip based on the current average trip length on the #9 Ashland bus of 2.5 miles, preserve approximately 90 percent of parking on both sides of the street and 95 percent of loading zones for delivery trucks, faster boarding and enhanced streetscape designs including medians, lighting and greenery along 75 blocks of Ashland.

The Ashland-Western Bus Service Coalition says their own research indicates otherwise, while an editorial published in the Chicago Gazette—apparently written in a bubble—reads the lasting legacies of BRT would be more congestion and less parking.

So if the CTA has its way, sixteen miles of Ashland will have dedicated center bus lanes in each direction—eliminating two lanes of traffic, one each way—on one of Chicago’s busiest streets. Yes, that’s right. Ashland will have only one lane of traffic in each direction.

That’s not all that will be eliminated. Left turns will become a thing of the past on stretches of Ashland. The CTA says eight percent of street parking will be eliminated, as will four percent of loading zones. That may not sound like much, but with not enough parking and loading zones already, is anybody looking forward to reduction of either?

There will be longer green lights on Ashland, forcing east-west drivers to fume sitting at long stoplights. And with traffic on Ashland sharply curtailed due to elimination of two traffic lanes, congestion is bound to increase on Western, Damen, Halsted, and other north-south streets. What did those nice people living and working on those streets do to deserve this?

All this within the Illinois Medical District on the Near West Side — the largest, busiest medical district in the world, with the most traffic, which will be backed up even more than it is now.

The Gazette editorial proposes more public hearings are needed on the plan, even though the city held numerous hearings last year and an Active Transportation Alliance petition has gathered more than 1,700 signatures. Streetsblog Chi’s Greenfield writes, “The Illinois Medical District Commission is registered as an official supporter of the city’s plan because they realize that better bus service will make it much easier for employees, patients, and students to commute to the medical complex.”