What will whole-picture impact really be if the Ashland-BRT is created as recommended?


Rendering of the configuration the proposed Ashland-BRT

What will the impact really be for hundreds of thousands of people not only along the route but also commercial and residential sites east and west of the route, if the Ashland-BRT goes in as recommended? Is that addressed in the 1,600-page Environmental Assessment report? 

The only two public meetings in the area to connect with officials about the Ashland Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), a project of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) will be at Benito Juarez Community Academy, 1450 W. Cermak Rd., from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tues., Dec. 10 and the Pulaski Park Field House, 1419 W. Blackhawk St., from 6 to 8 p.m. on Wed., Dec. 11. 

According to the conclusion of the Environmental Assessment Summary, "Based on the results of the Environmental (EA) evaluation, the Ashland Avenue BRT Project is expected to have positive impacts on air quality, land use, economic development, neighborhoods and communities, transit service, and the bicycle and pedestrian environment. Potential negative impacts of the project include noise and vibration, vehicular traffic, parking, energy, and temporary construction impacts. Proposed mitigation measures identified in the EA would render these impacts not adverse." 

With the deadline to make comment being Dec. 20, it is important that people in the area review the long awaited Environmental Assessment, which was released on Nov. 19. Several objections from many people to date about the assessment include:

  • timing of the release in the middle of multiple holidays
  • the 30-day deadline for comments by mail and email, which ends on Dec. 20
  • length, clarity and scope of the report

Suzanne Wahl and Neal McKnight at a previous EVA meeting

Timing of the release
"This is yet ANOTHER failed roll-out from the CTA," said Ukrainian Village resident Suzanne Wahl in a letter to the Ashland BRT. "It is completely inappropriate and greatly concerning to hold a 'public comment' period during the ,public’s' holiday season.  

"Only 2 'public' meetings for a 200M project during aforementioned Holiday Season? That is insufficient and not enough notice for the 'public' that has Holiday Plans.

"On Oct. 9, Mayor Emanuel was quoted as stating, 'We are nowhere close to making decisions about BRT on Ashland.  

"With that in mind, I am shocked and appalled that instead of 'talking to families and businesses,' as the Mayor promised in the above article,  you are trying to disrupt our holiday season and have us analyze a 113-page EA by 12/20/13? This is NOT the correct way to garner public support for the BRT. 

"The correct way is to reschedule the meetings and extend the public comment deadline until well after 1/1/14, so our community has time to digest the EA,  respond to it appropriately and intelligently and plan to attend your meetings. "


Catherine Graypie reads from the "Environmental Assessment"

Time limit of 30 days
According to East Village Association's (EVA) President, Neal McKnight at their Dec. 9 meeting, CTA has indicated that there will be no extension on the Dec. 20 deadline. He encouraged everyone to get their comments in on the 19th because the deadline on the 20th may be 4 p.m. 

Catherine Graypie, East Village resident, said that really there is no Federal requirement for public input. 

The report*
The conclusion in the EA is that the Ashland-BRT will have no negative impact in the area, as stated above. Several residents at the December EVA meeting questioned that statement. They have spent time with the report and find it not only lengthy but also unclear to confusing as they can not find information for which they are looking. 

"Determine the areas of the report that are of specific interest to you and dig down into the details," advised Graypie who professionally works for the United States Environmental Protection Agency. "Take a hard look at whether you think they have done all the proper analysis. 

"Since they have determined that there is no significant impact, you are going to want to think about whether you agree with that." 

As a comment about things that one may want to look at, Graypie explained that because 13 [corrected from 7] intersections have been identified as causing significant impact, the impact of that mitigation is not included in the analysis. 

"One of the points that I am personally interested in is why the alternative of express buses was not analyzed. At their first public meeting there were only 100 people present and they made the exclusion decision on results from that meeting. " 

Other questions and possible impact
Other questions about impact and cost are numerous including the questioning about whether the scope is broad enough. Here is a listing of just some of those questions that have surfaced so far at meetings and in conversations.

In saying that pollution will be diminished, where does it show that more idling from cars is not going to increase pollution? 

On what vehicle will passengers continue north and south after Phase I is completed? Will they have to transfer to another bus at both ends of Phase I? Will that bus be the one that is going to be running in the one lane of traffic in Phase I? 

If the BRT buses do not turn around at the end of a Phase I route, how will the schedule be maintained for the dedicated route? 

According to the discussions during the EVA meeting, there is a lot of data in the report about east-west streets but that is not true about north-south streets in the area that will be impacted. Some of the possibilities in dealing with this traffic would include re-configuring streets. Some would be turned from one-way streets into two-way streets. Speed bumps would be added. There would be more traffic. For those changes there would be costs for the physical change but would also require expenditures for such things as signage, maps, etc. 

The EA acknowledges potential negative impact that includes noise and vibration, vehicular traffic, parking, energy, and temporary construction impacts on 7 intersections, but what about those same issues for the residential streets? The same questions are for the commercial streets such as Damen, Western and California Avenues. What will those costs be? 

The Active Transportation Alliance (ATA) is one of the big supporters of the Ashland-BRT plan as proposed yet this will further congest streets where efforts have been made to improve bike traffic. 

When costs are discussed for the project, the costs to make changes on other streets and the costs residents and commercial establishments will have to spend are not included. Where will that money come from? 

Have people been talked to along the streets that will be impacted, not just the people on Ashland and 100 feet beyond but also the residential streets that may have more traffic? 

Show me the money
Federal funding will require matching funds. Where will that come from? Will TIF dollars be used? If that is true, then other needs will not get funded. 

What is the value proposition of the 16-mile route? Several people are beginning to ask if all those costs are worth saving 8-minutes for each rider along Ashland Ave. 

Next Steps
According to the CTA, the next steps are:

  • Comments on the Environmental Assessment (EA) are being taken over a 30-day period that began with publication of the EA.
  • Comments will inform the next phase of design.
  • Comments and responses will become part of the final EA, which will be available on CTA’s website.
  • Detailed design will begin on the first 5.4-mile segment (Phase 1). Concept designs will be refined based on additional technical analysis and community input.
  • CTA and CDOT will hold additional public meetings as part of the next phase of design

Scott Waguespack

Parking Meter Deal similarity 
"Many of the people who supported the parking meter deal are supporting this project," explained Scott Waguespack, 32nd Ward Alderman. "They are the same people who, a few years ago, while we were about to have agreement to remove parking along Halsted St. during rush hour and use dedicated curb service for buses, suddenly realized that the meter deal would make that impossible. 

"They focus on one thing and they do not and will not look at the whole picture. 

"In this case, it is not just that possibly 8 minutes will be reduced on the travel time for  someone, it is many other issues. Issues like problems on side streets, due to the impact of Ashland-BRT, will be something we alderman have to figure out and residents will have to cope with. 

"It is the issue that congestion will not just be a problem in rush hour but probably throughout the day because traffic will be reduced to one lane and it will be like the other two-lane streets. 

"It is the issue that developers want to develop along high-traffic streets, this plan will reduce the three high-traffic north south streets that go from one end of the city to the other to two. They will not look at these type of issues as part of the project." 

For those who can not attend the two public meetings, it is important to call or write and express your opinions about the proposed Ashland BRT.


*History...In 2008, DOT chose Chicago as a potential location for a demonstration project for bus system enhancements with elements similar to BRT. The City was to receive $153.6 million in grant funds to reduce traffic congestion.  But the opportunity for Federal funding was lost, according to the CTA Tattler in 2009. 

In August 2011, the Metropolitan Planning Council produced a 189 page report, Integrating Livability Principles Into Transit Planning: An Assessment of Bus Rapid Transit Opportunities in Chicago In that they listed hypothetical stations for demand modeling. 

In 2010, Halsted St., between Lake St. and North Ave., was scheduled to be the north south route which was to use curbside operations.




BRT with alterations

I think rapid buses are a good idea but not if there is only one lane for cars and trucks. That seems like a disaster scenario. Two lanes plus a bus yes. One lane and bus, no. I agree with the commentator above. Not everyone uses Ashland to commute for work arriving in the morning and leaving in the evening. Many people, and I include myself, have businesses that demand cargo and moving things from place to place all day, or going to appointments, or carting kids after school or during school or a myriad of reasons. Unfortunately bus travel is not viable for every purpose. Why should car drivers with businesses, families, and others who must use cars to get around be penalized? This seems unfair. How about a BOTH situation. This will be hard on Ashland, retrofitting it when the width is not available.

Bravo, alderman--and more supporting arguments

The data presented by proponents of the BRT is a big part of the problem here. They cite the data showing the savings in time over long distances; for example, a ride on the ol' #9 will take you 82 minutes to travel between Ashland & Fullerton and Ashland and 79th; but with the spiffy BRT you can make that trip in just 43 minutes. Such a deal!! But does anyone know anybody who travels regularly between Ashland and Fullerton and Ashland and 95th? Fact is that most riders of public transportation on Ashland use it for short- to intermediate distances--major destinations for masses of people within a quarter mile of the line are very few. On the CTA's own map of "Points of Interest" it is remarkable that over the stretch of nearly 17 miles along the proposed BRT Ashland line, there are only 3 sites (U. of I. Med Center, Nat. Museum of Mexican Art, and Polish Museum of America) that are not more than 1/3 mile away from the nearest bus stop--and each of those sites is currently served by a nearby r.t. stop. Nor does the Ashland corridor possess a major concentration of locations where people work. It's safe, then, to say that very few riders take the Ashland bus for long distances (more than 3 miles). The most common use of the bus is not to reach a destination along Ashland, but to reach a transfer point--another bus line or r.t. stop; and those trips are not going to be long-distance, for the most part. The savings in time to riders with a BRT line in place compared to the old Ashland Express are simply not that great: 2 min./1 mile; 4 min/ 2 miles/6 min./3 miles. The "car-free" vision of BRT proponents displays insensitivity to the reality of many Chicagoans' everyday lives: families who have to ferry children around to scattered destinations; working people who commute to suburban workplaces in locations that are not accessible by mass transit; small business-owners who depend on local routes for deliveries and services; the elderly and people with disabilities who cannot get around easily other than by car, especially in wintry weather. These folks are long-time residents and they do not want to be forced out of the city by the utopian dreams of young bicyclists and city planners.

"One of the points that I am

"One of the points that I am personally interested in is why the alternative of express buses was not analyzed. At their first public meeting there were only 100 people present and they made the exclusion decision on results from that meeting. " Most likely because there is no money for express bus service from a federal grant. Money is being put up from the federal government with the expectation that BRT will be the option considered. Groups framing this as an argument for getting express buses back in service are muddying the waters - this is a build or no-build scenario right now. Nothing - nothing - is going to get the express bus back, especially the awful "Modern Express" service touted by Roger Romanelli's group.

BRT no thanks

The comparisons of Ashland and the BRT on Euclid Ave. in Cleveland are not accurate. On Euclid thousands of people have to get to one place, the Cleveland Clinic, and know also that getting off early puts your life at risk. Ashland Ave. is nothing like Euclid and is already developed pretty well. There is not a lot of space for new development like that Cleveland may be seeing. I drive Ashland Ave. almost daily. It's going to be a nightmare if this happens. One lane of traffic in each direction is just insane. Ashland Ave. was built for cars and trucks. It is the only major north-south corridor close to the lakefront that encourages commercial truck traffic. How long will it take a semi to get in and out of those congested lakefront communities? How are you going to bring the food and supplies into those areas? On Halsted St.? What happens when emergency vehicles come down the street? Where are cars supposed to pull over to? And when somebody gets pulled over by the police and the cop blocks the one and only lane - as they always do - are we all just to back up for miles and wait for the guy to get his ticket? What about the beer and Coke truck drivers, Teamsters one and all, they're always double parked in the street? You think they're going to care about blocking traffic? Or how about when a car breaks down or a few bikers block that one lane as they frequently do? Ashland already has huge backups for a good part of the day, shut it down to one lane and we will screw things up but good for a long long time. If this happens it is just going to drive all those aggravated drivers and traffic onto the side streets like Southport. Many BRT supporters I see are connected to City Hall or from organizations which get a great deal of their funds from government grants and foundations with ulterior agendas. Some have connections to Unions and contractors who expect the high paying jobs. I don't trust their motives or impartiality. People always change their behavior based on government actions. This city has never been known for much forethought [want to buy a parking meter?]... this is just one more of those short-sighted efforts brought to us by people who claim to be so smarter than everyone else.

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