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Ashland Express Bus: Critics Complain of Congestion, Side Street Traffic

By Alisa Hauser | December 12, 2013 11:30am | Updated on December 12, 2013 11:45am
 130 people attended a two hour public open house Wednesday to give their feedback on a plan to bring a bus with a center running bus lane to Ashland Avenue.
Ashland Express Bus Open House, Dec. 11, 2013
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NOBLE SQUARE — The CTA's plan to bring a dedicated center-running express bus to Ashland Avenue didn't appear to sit well with most of the people who shared their concerns during an  "Open House" Wednesday.

The Bus Rapid Transit plan would ban most left turns, relegate cars and trucks to a single lane of traffic and, transit experts acknowledge, would increase traffic on other streets — as high as 50 percent during rush hours — as motorists change their routes to avoid Ashland.

However, the CTA says the plan would make buses move quicker and perhaps increase public transit use.

During a gathering hosted by the CTA at Pulaski Park field house, 1419 W. Blackhawk St., businessman Ernie Orlando told officials: "It seems to me like they're displacing 95 percent of the people's feelings to provide for 5 percent of the people's needs."

 A rendering of proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).
A rendering of proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).
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DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser

Orlando called the plan, "One of the worst ideas I've ever heard."

Orlando, owner of Orlando Glass and Trim at 641 N. Ashland Ave. is among dozens of residents and business owners who live or work along the "Ashland Corridor" — a 5.4 mile stretch from 31st Street on the South Side to Cortland Avenue in Bucktown that would be among the first to be affected by a the high-speed bus plan.

The $160 million CTA project, which would eventually cover a 16-mile stretch of Ashland Avenue between Irving Park Road and 95th Street, includes the banning of most left-hand turns except at intersections with streets leading directly to the Stevenson, Eisenhower and Kennedy expressways.

A CTA environmental assessment released last month indicates that the proposed express bus would increase congestion along both Western and Damen avenues, as well as divert a daily average of 35 percent of traffic off of Ashland and onto other north-south streets.

By the CTA's analysis, the streets that would receive the most diverted car and truck traffic would be Racine/Southport, which would see 12 percent increase in traffic, followed by Western (6 percent), Halsted (4 percent), Kedzie (3 percent) and Damen and California (both 2 percent) and "other," (5 percent).

Resident Suzi Wahl pressed CTA planner Joe Iacobucci to share how much of the traffic would be diverted during morning and evening rush hours, Wahl estimated perhaps 50 percent.

Wahl called the possible 50 percent diversion "unacceptable to those of us who live on side streets and/or dare to drive, live on, or have a business on or near Ashland."

For Wahl, who lives on a side street five blocks west of Ashland between Damen and Western, the possibility of several thousand vehicles traveling down her street daily and pollution from idling cars and trucks was enough for her to consider selling her family's home "if [the plan] goes through."

Held nine days before a 30-day "comment period" window on the Environmental Assessment closes, Wednesday's meeting was the second of two open houses.

For some residents, though, the possibility of having a faster bus would make them ride the Ashland bus more often and drive less frequently.

Lincoln Park resident Andrew Herman, 29, said that he used a high-speed express bus in New York City for nearly two years before moving to Chicago.

Herman said taking a bus from his home on 14th Street to his job at 42nd Street shaved 15 minutes off his daily commute, reducing it from 35 to 20 minutes.

"I think [Ashland Express bus] is great because of my experience in New York," Herman said, adding that he currently takes the Ashland Avenue bus "only as a last resort."

Herman said he came out to the open house because, "I think it's important to support this thing."

Silvia Espinoza, who owns La Pasadita at 1130 N. Ashland Ave. with her husband Daniel Espinoza, said  "It will be a nightmare if they bring Ashland down to one lane."

Espinoza said she believes it will be harder or customers to get to her restaurant and for suppliers to make deliveries. She plans to put signs up in her restaurant warning citizens about the bus plan.

Feedback from the open houses as well as emails received online and in writing will be used in the next phase of the process, when the CTA will enter "a detailed design period" expected to be introduced in early 2014, first or second quarter, the CTA's Iacobucci said.

CTA spokeswoman Lambrini Lukidis said that the proposal is "not by any means a final plan," adding that the input will allow the agency to more closelyt examine the BRT's potential impact on various intersections.

"We know how strong Chicago neighborhoods are and we want [BRT] this to be an alternative to congestion on Ashland and what's coming," she said.

Though 230,000 currently live along the Ashland Corridor, by the year 2040, there will be an additional 55,000 people living along Ashland, or close to a 25 percent increase, Iacobucci said.

To learn more about the proposed plan, visit the CTA website, transitchicago.com/ashlandbrt/. Comments can be emailed to the CTA at AshlandBRT@transitchicago.com.

The comment period on the Environmental Assessment ends Dec. 20, 2013.