PILSEN — The lack of left turns along Ashland Avenue and increased congestion on surrounding streets were top concerns for residents taking in an environmental report on a plan to add a high-speed bus route in dedicated lanes along Ashland.
As residents walked through an open house-style presentation on the CTA's "bus rapid transit" proposal Tuesday evening at Benito Juarez Community Academy, many still had concerns.
“The facts are there, it’s gonna affect Western and Damen," said John Dillon, a 27-year-old who lives in Ravenswood. “But also, I’ve been on Western sometimes and people go way too fast. So maybe slowing traffic down wouldn’t be the worst thing.”
“It just blows me away how they don’t think closing one lane of traffic in each direction on Ashland is gonna lead to nothing but utter chaos,” said John Hermanek, a 56-year-old salesman.
The $160 million CTA project eventually would cover a 16-mile stretch of Ashland Avenue between Irving Park Road and 95th Street, but would start in a 5.4-mile corridor from 31st Street on the South Side to Cortland Avenue on the North Side.
Under the proposal, cars would be prohibited from making left turns off Ashland except at intersections with streets leading directly to the Stevenson, Eisenhower and Kennedy expressways. A recent CTA environmental assessment indicates that the proposed express bus would increase congestion along both Western and Damen avenues, as well as increase rush-hour traffic at the Diversey Parkway intersection.
As a solution to that congestion, the study recommends removing parking on Diversey and widening Ashland at the intersection to add another traffic lane in each direction.
The plan also calls for keeping the local No. 9 Ashland bus, which would run in the regular traffic lanes and stop more frequently than the proposed express bus.
According to transit group Citizens Taking Action, fitting traffic through the city’s narrow train viaducts is also an issue that hasn’t been taken into consideration.
“The amount of traffic you’re trying to shove into that small area by taking out the extra two lanes, it’s not going to work right,” said Kevin Karl Peterson of Citizens Taking Action.
CTA Planner Joe Iacobucci said the consistent concern he’d heard from residents is how the express bus would affect their neighborhoods.
In Pilsen for instance, Iacobucci said, though many of the schools are on side streets, students still cross Ashland Avenue to access the school.
“It’s about existing safety concerns on Ashland. So there are concerns about how this project can help improve those as well,” he said.
Others Tuesday night were excited by the proposal.
Toby Schwartz, 26, lives in Hyde Park and uses her bike and public transportation to get around.
“We’re in Pilsen right now. Why don’t we visit Pilsen more? Because it takes an hour to get from Hyde Park to Pilsen. So something that can make that faster and help connect the city more, I think will enable people to really explore all the things that are around here,” Schwartz said.
Supporters of the new express bus plan — many of them members of the public-transportation friendly Active Transportation Alliance — gathered at Dusek’s in Pilsen prior to Tuesday’s meeting at Juarez.
Brenna Conway, campaign manager for Active Transportation Alliance, said the lack of left turns and increased congestion — while not ideal — might make drivers more conscious of the bikers they share the road with.
A second public open house will take place at the Pulaski Park Fieldhouse, 1419 W. Blackhawk St., from 6-8 p.m. Wednesday.