EAST VILLAGE — Residents who'd be most affected by plans to bring high-speed bus service to Ashland Avenue expressed concerns Monday about fewer left turn lanes and trucks "barreling down" in front of their homes.
In April, the city gave the official green light to the CTA's Ashland Bus Rapid Transit, a project which includes reducing Ashland to single lanes for auto and truck traffic on each side of the street to add bus lanes in the center.
The project would affect Ashland between 31st Place on the South Side and Cortland Avenue in Bucktown.
That 5-mile stretch, called the "Ashland Corridor," is part of a larger $160 million effort to eventually bring express bus service to a 16-mile route along 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.
The CTA's "preferred vision" would eliminate many left turns, said Joe Iacobucci, a strategic planner for the CTA. The concept calls for removal of left turns except at intersections that connect with the expressway, said CTA spokeswoman Lambrini Lukidis.
Speaking at a community meeting attended by 40 residents at East Village's Happy Village Tavern, 1049 N. Wolcott Ave., Iacobucci said the project is entering a final design phase in the fall. The project is contingent on available funding as well as a public "buy in," he said.
Though "7,000 hours of transformational analysis" have been completed so far, Iacobucci said it's "not a done deal" and the project will be gauged on "tech analysis and public reaction."
While the speed of cars during peak hours on Ashland under the BRT plan is projected to be one to three miles less per hour, buses would travel 83 percent faster. That would shave the current 71-minute commute to 45 minutes on Ashland between 95th Street and the Near West Side's medical district, Iacobucci said.
The city's medical district employs 20,000 people and provides more than one-quarter of the 133,800 jobs along Ashland Avenue, Iacobucci said.
In the event of an emergency, ambulances could use the center bus lane, which would be reserved for the express bus, Iacobucci said.
The buses would stop every half mile, he said.
Express buses would have longer green lights, while the No. 9 local Ashland bus, which now runs every five to seven minutes, will continue to run "for elderly and people with disabilities," though it will "probably not run at same frequency" as it currently does, Iacobucci said. The No. 9 will run in the shared car and truck lane, Iacobucci said.
Iacobucci said 31,000 people ride the Ashland bus each weekday but could not immediately say how many cars use the route daily.
Greg Nagel, a real estate broker, told Iacobucci, "You have all the stats on benefits but none on the costs." Nagel complained the express bus plan "benefits bus riders at the cost of drivers."
In addition to the medical district, the corridor is a boon for manufacturers, which provide 14,000, or nearlyt one-fifth, of the jobs along Ashland Avenue.
Iacobucci said that "the city is working on a truck corridor plan" to divert truck traffic from Ashland, but that did not assure some residents.
"Analysis is great, but reality is what we live. We see trucks barreling down on Augusta Avenue [off Ashland] already. I look at these marketing pieces [for the bus rapid transit plan] and the breadth of it is that this is a done deal," said Gladys Anselmo, an East Village resident.
After the gathering, Tom and Karen Paulsen, who live on Wood Street, just west of Ashland Avenue, expressed different opinions.
"I came here thinking [express bus] is not a good idea ,but came out generally supporting it," said Karen Paulsen, 29.
While Karen Paulsen said "we're moving from a car-centric city to moving people," her husband, Tom Paulsen questioned the need for an express bus.
"Has there been a clamoring of people saying we need [an express bus], or are we just finding a way to spend money?" Tom Paulsen said.
Chris Long, 53, an East Village resident who owns a car, said he's driving "less and less."
"We need to think differently about transportation. Just because cars are status quo, they are not more important than the people that don't drive," Long said.
For more information, visit the project's website at www.transitchicago.com/ashlandbrt.