EAST VILLAGE — Promises of a faster and more reliable CTA bus commute did not reassure some of those living near Ashland Avenue at a meeting Monday night, with residents wondering if a dramatic plan to add center bus lanes and stations was necessary.
In April, the city gave the official green light to Ashland Bus Rapid Transit, which includes reducing Ashland to single lanes for auto and truck traffic on each side of the street in order to add bus lanes in the center between 31st Place on the South Side to Cortland Avenue in Bucktown.
That 5-mile stretch, called the "Ashland Corridor," is part of a larger effort to bring express bus service to Ashland from 95th Street to Irving Park Road by 2016.
Residents in East Village, West Town, Bucktown, University Village, Pilsen and Noble Square would be most affected by the lane reductions.
In addition to reducing car and truck travel lanes on Ashland Avenue by half, the new bus stations would replace some left turn lanes, raising concern from residents, manufacturers and small businesses at the East Village meeting at the Happy Village Tavern, 1049 N. Wolcott Ave.
While previous plans have discussed eliminating as much as 50 percent of parking along the corridor, the majority of parking and loading zones along Ashland Avenue would be preserved under a new plan, a member of the CTA's Bus Rapid Transit Steering Committee said.
A CTA representative scheduled to speak canceled, but Brenna Conway, a member of the steering committee, addressed the gathering of about 40 people.
"I know a lot of you have heard opposition [to the Ashland bus proposal], and that's too bad. This a great idea for the city of Chicago to make the bus easier, faster and more reliable, like the train," said Conway.
Conway, a member of the Active Transportation Alliance, a nonprofit that promotes alternatives to driving, said she was not speaking on behalf of the CTA or the city's Transportation Department. But she touted the project as increasing bus ridership and one that would serve the 1-in-4 residents who live within a half-mile of Ashland Avenue and don't own cars.
Conway said that more than 30,000 people ride the CTA No. 9 Ashland bus daily and "that's a lot of people to only be going 9 miles an hour."
Officials from the Metropolitan Planning Council said that the express buses, which would receive "signal priority" and longer green lights, would shave about 8 minutes of travel time from a 2½-mile commute.
Ultimately, buses would travel 80 percent faster, while cars are expected to be slowed only 1 to 2 miles per hour, Conway said.
Conway said emergency vehicles would travel in the dedicated center bus lane, and the express bus would move to the car lane to allow them to pass.
Greg Nagel, a local real estate agent, said Ashland is "one of the few north-south streets that really moves" and asked, "What will happen to traffic flow if [lanes are] taken away?"
Neal McKnight, president of the East Village Association, which sponsored the community meeting, told Conway it would be helpful to "understand where these 30,000 [bus] rides are happening and how will it make a difference to me?"
Conway told McKnight the project is still in its planning phases, with large community forums expected to happen "later this summer."
After the meeting, Mark Buban, a Lincoln Square resident, said his biggest concern is, "Where is the need for [the Ashland express proposal]?"
"Where did it come from? Because shouldn't there be a real need for it in order for it to happen? It seems like there's an undeclared war on cars in the city," Buban said.
Residents wishing to learn more about the Ashland bus proposal can visit the Ashland Corridor plan on the CTA's website or the Metropolitan Planning Council. Additionally, the West Town Chamber of Commerce, 1819 W. Chicago Ave., is soliciting feedback from local businesses, according to its latest e-newsletter.