NEAR WEST SIDE — Local business owners were less than excited about a city proposal that would create express bus lanes along Western and Ashland Avenues, in some cases cutting parking on the streets by more than half.
The Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) proposals, a collaboration between the Chicago Transit Authority and the Chicago Department of Transportation, would alter both the layout of the streets and the frequency with which the buses would stop.
The express buses would run from Irving Park Road to 95th Street on Ashland Avenue and along Western Ave from the Berwyn Avenue to 79th Street.
The proposal, with an estimated $300 million price tag, includes four different design options with various modifications affecting parking, street medians, and travel lanes.
Around 40 business owners and community group members gathered Thursday afternoon at First Baptist Congregational Church to hear the presentation and offer feedback.
Louis Rago, who owns the “oldest funeral home ever built in the city of Chicago,” at 624 N. Western Ave., said parking is crucial to local businesses like his.
"In those days my grandfather didn’t have to worry about parking lots because nobody had a car,” he said. “We [business owners] depend upon the parking that’s available on the side streets and on Western and Ashland avenues.”
Heather Egan, whose brother-in-law owns Rickard Circular Folding Co. at 325 N. Ashland Ave., said she worries that a decrease in street parking would mean trouble for trucks making regular deliveries to businesses.
“If we can’t get [trucks] in, we go out of business,” she said.
One business owner asked why the CTA did not simply reinstate the express routes at Western and Ashland that were eliminated two years ago due to budget cuts.
CTA Planning Manager Joe Iacobucci said that while CTA had seen an increase in ridership on the old express routes, the proposed modified express lanes would allow buses to bypass traffic and be more consistently on time.
But not all voices at the meeting were opposed to the proposed bus lanes.
The Active Transportation Alliance, a non-profit that supports alternatives to driving, has started a petition in support of the express bus lanes and has already collected 1,300 signatures, according to Director of Campaigns Lee Crandall.
But Crandall said his organization is also concerned about parking, stressing that a lack of it could negatively affect pedestrian safety on a busy street.
Both Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) and Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) were present at the meeting and both voiced reservations about the proposals.
Ervin questioned the need for two bus express routes when Ashland and Western avenues are only a mile apart.
“Instead of doing both, maybe just doing one and figuring out which one of those would be best,” he said.
Waguespack said he was concerned for the full-grown trees in several of the medians along Ashland and said he also had doubts as to whether adequate parking solutions could be found with regard to the proposals.
“Where do all the parking meters go? And if they go somewhere else, I certainly don’t want them back in my ward,” he said.