CHICAGO — A Southwest Side alderman has come out swinging against the city’s plans for Bus Rapid Transit on Ashland Avenue, saying the plan to run express buses down the center of the road would hurt businesses and stifle development.
“I don’t want my community to be bypassed. We want traffic to stop. We want to develop retail so people can stop and not just kind of wave [at the neighborhood] as they go by, “ said Ald. George Cardenas (12th).
Designed to improve travel times and boost the reliability of public transportation, the estimated $160 million project would put boarding stations and dedicated buses in the center lanes of Ashland Avenue between Irving Park Road and 95th Street, beginning with a first phase from 31st Street to Cortland Avenue.
But critics have blasted parts of the plan, especially one scenario that bans most left turns off Ashland, a move that could force traffic into the surrounding neighborhoods.
Cardenas put it this way:
“Say you’re driving and want to stop and get a cup of coffee. It’s going to be difficult to do that. You can’t stop. [This plan] pushes you into the side streets and you’ll say ‘Screw it, I’m not going to do it.'"
Supporters of the plan say that’s misguided criticism.
They say unclogging traffic along the busy north-south thoroughfare and speeding up public transportation would actually help local businesses — shoppers would arrive by bus and by foot, leading to a pedestrian-friendly corridor ripe for future investment and attractive to developers.
“Not all businesses and business leaders are against this ... and I think sometimes that gets missed,” said Brenna Conway, a spokeswoman for the Active Transportation Alliance.
“If it was easier for people to arrive by bus and on foot, [businesses] would get a lot more traffic. Not to mention it would be much easier and cost-effective for their employees to come and go,” she said.
Earlier this week, newly installed city transportation department commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld said the agency is considering a revised plan that would allow the left turns.
The Active Transportation Alliance opposes the change, saying allowing left-hand turns would be bad for traffic safety.
Cardenas said a better option for the bus rapid transit system would be the wider Western Avenue corridor, where commuters could connect with the buses from Ogden and Archer avenues.
“Ashland is now highly developed," Cardenas said. "A lot of businesses depend on that traffic. That’s going to change dramatically and for what reason? We’re going to move people quicker and more efficient, but the businesses and retail will be significantly impacted.”
Calling the vision for Ashland bus rapid transit "not final and very much a work in progress," city leaders say they're still inviting feedback from residents on the proposed project, which can be offered online.
According to the CTA website, "there will be additional public input solicited as part of the next design phase, scheduled to occur in 2014."