CTA seeks comments on environmental assessment for Ashland BRT

In the next phase of planning for its Ashland Avenue bus rapid transit (BRT) project, the CTA has released and is seeking public input on the environmental assessment (EA) it did over the summer.

For those unfamiliar with BRT,  the main features of the 16-mile-long project from on Ashland from Irving Park to 95th Street include:

  • Dedicated center running bus-only lane in each direction to keep buses out of general traffic
  • Limited stops: approximately every half-mile and at CTA stations
  • Transit Signal Priority intersections and longer green lights to keep traffic moving
  • Potential for paying fares at the station before boarding, similar to ‘L’ stations
  • Wide doors on left side of new, high-capacity vehicles
  • Real-time bus arrival information at stations
  • Improved lighting at stations
  • ADA ramps at stations
  • Maintains most existing medians
  • Adds more than 75 blocks of new landscaped medians
  • Retains approximately 90% of parking and loading zones on both sides of the street

In order to accommodate BRT, the following adjustments would occur, with some impacts to general traffic:

  • Dedicating two general travel lanes (one in each direction) as center-running bus-only lanes, typically leaving one in each direction. Two auto travel lanes in each direction will remain where there are currently three travel lanes (between Lake Street and Roosevelt Road).
  • Small reduction in parking; approximately 90% of parking and loading zones retained on both sides of the street.
  • Most left turns removed; left turns at highway access points retained.

Over the summer, CTA and CDOT heard from various key stakeholders about this plan, including business owners who were opposed to the removal of the left turns.  Thus, CTA and CDOT  are considering options and modifications, including the implementation of additional left turns, based on continued feedback from the public.

Now it’s your turn to give your own feedback. First read the EA. Then plan to attend one of two public hearings, or email your comments.

The public hearings are set for 6 to 8 p.m. on:

  • Dec. 10 at Benito Juarez Community Academy, 1450 W. Cermak Road
  • Dec. 11 at Pulaski Park Fieldhouse, 1419 W. Blackhawk Street


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  • Here the only point is to make a record so that the feds decide that this project is not competitive for federal funding. Sort of similar to Skokie residents coming out to say that the CTA consultant's Yellow Line extension locally preferred alternative was not preferred by the locals, thereby killing that poorly conceived plan.

    The question is whether the Emanuel administration will listen to the comments, which is very unlikely (given its past history with public comment) unless the only alternative is that the feds say no dinero because of the opposition. Compared to some places, Chicago has been relatively unable to get federal funding, for numerous reasons.

  • In reply to jack:

    Which cities have gotten more federal funding recently?

  • In reply to chris:

    I can refer you to the FTA New Starts 2013-2014 listing. You'll note that Chicago has nothing there, even though consultants have been mulling over 4 New Start projects (130th, Ford City, Circle Line, and Old Orchard) starting in 2006, or for 7 years now. I assume that from what Emanuel is saying, the last 3 are dead, and there is no identified source of funding for 130th, nor for the RPM supposedly just added to the list.

  • In reply to chris:

    The other example was the discretionary TIGER program of a couple of years ago. According to an FTA release, CTA got $20 million of the $240 million needed for the 95th St. bus terminal project. The only other grant here was for CREATE, a project that Metra immediately put into the political corruption sewer.

  • Another waste of our taxpayer's money. It would be far cheaper to bring service levels to that of 1980 9 Ashland bus frequencies.

  • In reply to ibilldavis:

    I don't know if that's necessary, but bringing back the X9 and X49 buses and putting articulated buses on 9 and 49 would certainly help, at far less cost. There could also be "street furniture" improvements, like on Jeffery and proposed about 10 years ago for Western.

    The only question is based on reports that the 74 Garage (which serves both routes) wasn't set up for artics, but it would have to be for the more costly plan described above, eventually. In fact, the acquisition of 100 artics at the beginning of this year, plus a requisition not yet awarded for 50-150 more artics seem to indicate that an expansion of garage capacity is necessary, unless CTA is going to put more buses at 77th.

  • Bringing back the express buses would make more sense.

  • I simply don't understand how they can remove left turn lanes without completely bullocking up the traffic. Ashland is a major north-south thoroughfare. Anyone wishing to turn "left" is going to have to make 3 right turns, which of course will likely occur in residential side streets. Are the locals going to be happy when drivers start zipping through the side streets, when they need to make a "left" turn?

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    That seems obvious, which means that I can't understand some consultant saying that there would not be an adverse environmental effect, unless Emanuel told him not to kill the project at this early stage, while there was some federal consultancy money still left to spend.

    Of course, if they allow more left turns, it won't be sufficiently separated from traffic or otherwise like light rail to meet the definition of BRT under 49 U.S.C. 5309, and hence won't get funded, at least under that program.

  • Increasing the frequency of buses will do NOTHING to solve the bus bunching problems that occur due to the constraints of running in mixed traffic. The X9 was stuck in traffic just as much as the 9 during rush hour, and bringing it back would not create a noticeable improvement in service. A dedicated bus lane is the ONLY way to deliver faster, reliable, uninterrupted bus service on Ashland.

    Limiting the number of left hand turns on Ashland will simply lead to changes in trips. If I were to travel from Fulton and Ogden to North and Paulina, currently I might travel up Ashland and turn left at North. Without left hand turns, I would probably take Ogden to Milwaukee, Milwaukee to Paulina, and up Paulina to North. Or I could take Lake to Damen, Damen to North, and North to Paulina. Trucks will not make multiple right turns on side streets, because of turning radius constraints, and because they cannot be certain that the roads will be clear for reliable passage as through streets.

    "Zipping" down side streets will not be a common occurrence, if someone is coming into a foreign landscape, because they didn't know about the left turn restrictions, they won't be flying down side streets, they will be looking for a way back to a major street. Not many people start speeding as soon as they are lost, and those who aren't lost will have the common sense to take a route that doesn't require a left hand turn on Ashland.

    The proposal for "MEB" has no cost estimate, and no study to show that it will do anything other than waste money on incremental adjustments that cannot enact real service improvement. Ashland BRT is merely an outline right now, there is no design, there was only a framework so that an Environmental Assessment could be made in keeping with federal guidelines.

    The study shows that parking is underutilized on the corridor, and taking any trip down Ashland at a speed slower than 40 mph reveals that there are high vacancy rates. Ashland is not working currently for ANYONE except for private automobile owners during non rush hour, not shop owners, not pedestrians, not commuters during rush hour, and certainly not for anyone on a bus that is stuck behind everyone else who is using the road freely.

    REAL improvement needs to be achieved, and the way to do that is to get INVOLVED in the participatory aspect of this step of the process as Kevin has provided the information for doing so. Constructive comments about how to make this project work are needed. Suggest intersections where left hand turns could be accommodated through inventive solutions that improve both transit and commercial experiences, or point out where a station could be situated to cause fewer bottlenecks, or any other suggestion. More is needed than simply more buses.

    More people are trying to move themselves along Ashland everyday, and the status quo can't accommodate them, only by thinking big can we start to move more people, not simply more cars and trucks up and down Ashland. It is precisely BECAUSE "Ashland is a major north-south thoroughfare" that we need BRT on Ashland, it is a major travel route, and NEEDS major transit capacity to fill its role within the city in the future.

  • In reply to ArchiJake:

    Then why don't you comment there in support of the environmental report? I'm sure Streetsblog Chicago with its constant :"opponents are just NIMBYs" approach will join you, but it appears that the resifdents, businesses and industries do not.

    And I am sure that something less than a $160 million project that forces through traffic onto Halsted and Western would speed up the express buses.

  • In reply to ArchiJake:

    Lol. So, if drivers use common sense, it won't be a problem. I assume you don't drive in Chicago, do you? If you did, then you'd know that common sense is sorely lacking.

    How on earth are people going to take Damen as an alternate NS route? It's one lane in each direction, and can't handle the traffic on it now? Ashland is the *only* four lane thoroughfare in that area. Western is a mile to the west, and Halsted is basically 2 lanes as well.

    I don't disagree that we need to think outside the box. I generally like the idea of a BRT, but you can't significantly alter auto traffic without having serious impact elsewhere.

    I would look at building flyover bridges for the bus only lanes at the major intersections, allowing for left turn lanes under the bridges.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    Your "I assume you don't drive in Chicago" seems to be the point, although I don't downtown.

    All of these plans have a decided anti-vehicle bias, from the $193 million BRT grant that was lost when the city council didn't raise parking taxes in time, to outgoing Gabe Klein indicating that thoroughfares should be converted into bike lanes and malls.

    Like I said, I don't, but I previously said to someone who claimed that only sturdy city residents should drive trucks, don't complain when a loaf of bread at Whole Checkbook Market is $2 more than the same loaf at their store in Hinsdale or Naperville, for instance. The main complaints come from those in the business and industrial districts adjoining Ashland.

  • In reply to ArchiJake:

    Actually, what Ashland or Western needs is not a half-baked BRT, but an elevated light rail or El, or preferably subway. Speeding up buses at the expense of traffic will not help. If you squeeze a balloon, the air goes elsewhere in the balloon. We need a bigger balloon. As far as I'm aware, Chicago is the only major city with a vast public transportation system that doesn't have a ring/bypass route. The traffic patterns are based on 1890 traffic patterns, with all rail heading downtown. Instead of wasting money on BRT, let's get serious about a north-south subway.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    Problem with that is the cost would be in the magnitude of $100 million a mile as opposed to the $10 million a mile for the BRT "solution."

    Mayor Daley II supposedly was real serious about a north-south subway in the 4600 W. corridor, but somehow the Circle Line consultants took 3 years to shoot that down.

    The facts are that Emanuel doesn't have a funding source for the approx. $1 billion south extension of the Red Line, the approx. $1 billion RPM, nor the $160 million for this. Thus, he certainly doesn't have a source for a $1.6 billion Ashland subway.

    And, as I mentioned before, this isn't about construction, but that Durbin can announce some planning grant to keep consultants off the unemployment line. In that sense, these consultants did their job.

  • In reply to jack:

    So, basically you're saying that they want cheap fixes that won't work, as opposed to expensive solutions that will work, so they can say, "Well, at least we're trying something".

    Look, just about every attempt around the country to improve transit that involves creating dedicated lanes, e.g. HOV lanes, ends up being a waste. We need additional capacity, not reduced capacity. The BRT is going to reduce traffic capacity by 1/3 to 1/2, with no viable alternate route.

    They should look at an elevated light rail line. Phoenix built the 1.7 mile first stage of the Sky Harbor extension for $644 million, or roughly $378 million per mile. That's a third of the cost of a subway. Honolulu's light rail system is currently budgeted for roughly $265 million a mile, and even if the costs double, it'll still be far cheaper than a subway.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    "So, basically you're saying that they want cheap fixes that won't work, as opposed to expensive solutions..."

    That's how CTA usually operates, except that its expensive solutions don't work either.

    Like I said above, you come up with the $2.16 billion Rahm says is needed, and then increase that to do what you want to do.

    Didn't you realize that your Phoenix number, multiplied by the 16 miles of the Ashland project comes out to $6 billion, or 4 times more than I estimated? It probably would be higher in Chicago, given the the need to obtain easements from adjoining property owners and the like.

    Dick Durbin may come out for small grants, but I don't recall him offering $6 billion for Ashland. All you are now saying is that I vastly underestimated the cost of a subway, since I am sure that Cheryl does not have a source for the $18 billion.

    Especially read this in light to my response to Chris that Chicago has struck out on current New Starts grants.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    I agree with you, but that's years down the line, even if they started digging tomorrow. Instead of wasting money on the BRT, bring back ALL of the X buses. That's the cheaper way to get things moving while we work on getting another subway.

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