WICKER PARK — A grassroots coalition of businesses and residents is appealing to the public to push back against a plan to dramatically turn Ashland Avenue into a center-lane, express bus route, saying it would cause "extreme and unacceptable hardships."
One sticking point: All left-turn lanes between 31st Place on the South Side and Cortland Avenue on the North Side, except for five turns connecting to the Stevenson, Eisenhower and Kennedy expressways, would be eliminated under the idea.
There are 71 northbound and southbound left turn lanes on the 16-mile Ashland corridor targeted for the CTA's proposed Ashland Bus Rapid Transit plan.
"You guys are in the red zone, this is really going to impact your lives," Roger Romanelli, executive director of the Randolph/Fulton Market Association, told a group of 20 Wicker Park residents at a community meeting earlier this month.
Romanelli is a member of the Ashland-Western Coalition, a grassroots group that wants the CTA to halt its plans to construct high-speed express bus service and modernize the existing No. 9 Ashland bus instead.
Some residents fear lack of left turns will bring more traffic on side streets, with trucks "barreling down" in front of their homes as they try to navigate ways to turn. The coalition's alternative plan would not remove any left turns.
Romanelli said his coalition has been unfairly portrayed as being "Not in my Backyarders."
"We are not anti-BRT as a system. We're not here to berate the CTA officials. We're here to offer an alternative," Romanelli said.
In April, the city gave the official green light to the project, which includes reducing Ashland Avenue to single lanes for auto and truck traffic on each side of the street to add bus lanes in the center and eliminating many left turns on the street.
Residents in East Village, West Town, Bucktown, University Village, Pilsen and Noble Square would be most affected by the lane reductions during the first phase of the project, which would install center bus lanes on Ashland between 31st Place and Cortland Avenue.
That five-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.
Benefits of the plan include a bus that would travel 80 percent faster than the current local bus, shave commute times and perhaps inspire more people to take public transit.
Lambrini Lukidis, CTA spokeswoman, said left turns at Armitage Avenue, Van Buren Street, Robinson Street, Congress Parkway and 31st Street are the only lefts allowed in "the current vision" but that "as CTA and CDOT continue to gather feedback and comments from stakeholders and community members, that number may be updated."
Lukidis said she didn't have data on how many people would be affected by the elimination of lefts on Ashland, saying "that's part of the analysis we're doing."
Romanelli's group is proposing a "Modern Express Bus," which would allow for left turns and not remove any traffic lanes. Under its plan, the current Ashland Avenue No. 9 bus would share existing lanes with other traffic. Additional bus shelters would be built and the bus would stop every quarter-mile rather than the every half-mile under the BRT plan.
Lukidis said the CTA considered a similar approach early on in the process but it was eliminated because it "did not meet the project's purpose and need."
Trucks are another worry of the coalition.
Michael Giza, 26, manager of customer service for Mike's Furniture at 1259 N. Ashland Ave. and a member of the Ashland-Western Coalition, said that under the proposed BRT plan, "big semi trucks" loading and delivering furniture would tie up the only lane of traffic while attempting to parallel park in a loading zone.
"They can't just throw this out at us and expect us to take it," Giza said of the city's Express Bus plan.
Romanelli said there are six industrial corridors (Stockyards, Pilsen, Western-Ogden, Kinzie, North Branch, Ravenswood) located along Ashland Avenue between 91st St. and Irving Park Road. The corridors house 1,200 businesses, which provide 65,000 jobs.
Romanelli questioned, "Where will the trucks go?"
Lukidis said the CTA is analyzing truck movements and truck access and working with the Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago, 18th Street Development Corporation in Pilsen, and "other industrial stakeholders to ensure access for business needs in these corridors."
In addition to an online petition calling on Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the CTA to halt the construction of BRT on Ashland Avenue, the coalition's website also includes a four-page “Executive Summary” and an eight-page “Official Statement."
Romanelli was unable to provide DNAinfo Chicago the number of those who've signed the coalition's petition or the names of the coalition members but said "there's 100 plus" members.
In addition to the Ashland-Western Coalition, another advocacy group, Citizens Taking Action, has put out a formal position against the plan, calling it "a cheap L train."