CHICAGO — The CTA and the city officially announced plans for a 16-mile-long express bus route along Ashland Avenue Friday.
The buses would run along a dedicated center lane from 95th Street to Irving Park Road, with stops every half-mile, the agency said. The buses would also get traffic-signal priority at intersections.
The announcement comes after a yearlong study of bus rapid transit options on Ashland and Western avenues, the CTA said Friday.
“Ashland Avenue has the highest CTA bus ridership, with more than 30,000 riders per weekday,” said CTA President Forrest Claypool. “By introducing [bus rapid transit], we will be providing 1 in 10 Chicagoans with access to faster and more reliable transit, allowing a rail-like experience at a lower cost.”
Business owners had been critical of the plan, with concerns that street parking would be lost. But 90 percent of the street parking on Ashland would be preserved, according to the CTA.
Rick Wojcik, owner of Dusty Groove, a record shop at 1120 N. Ashland Ave. in East Village, said he was "relieved" to hear that 90 percent of the parking on Ashland Ave. will stay, though he is unsure of where the 10 percent will be removed.
Wojcik said he uses public transportation so the bus route is a "great idea."
"However, since the city has been so draconian in neighborhood parking it means it's difficult for customers to find parking other than on a main thoroughfare like Ashland," Wojcik said.
"We picked Ashland Ave specifically because we're a destination business. Our local customers shop online and come to pick up records in their cars. If they took away our parking we would have to move. What business opens on a street with no parking?" he said. "Hopefully the city is going to listen to the the little guys."
The lunch crew at BBQ Patio, a classic Chicago beef, hot dog and gyro stand at 3256 S. Ashland Ave., hadn't heard about the BRT plan. Shown clips from a conceptual video, they said they didn't share North Siders concerns about street parking — the stretch of Ashland running through Bridgeport and McKinley Park is filled with warehouses and strip malls with parking lots and doesn't get much foot traffic.
Still, employees like Lori Beauchamp worried the reconfiguration would limit the amount of motor traffic pulling into the restaurant parking lot and hurt business. She also worried about stalled business during the project's construction phase.
"A lot of people only have a half hour for lunch so that extra five minutes getting around will be a big deal," she said.
The announcement drew praise from local transit advocates.
The express bus route "will make transit service along Ashland faster and more reliable, which is a critical need for residents, businesses and institutions, such as hospitals and community centers," Peter Skosey, executive vice president of the Metropolitan Planning Council said.
The plan would save bus commuters eight minutes of travel time on a 2.5-mile trip, the agency said.
Design is slated to be completed by next spring, according to the agency.