Aldermen, activists say buses to stay off Ashland, Western medians
August 3, 2018

Photo courtesy CTA
Local transit activists are happy with the Western Avenue and Ashland Avenue express buses, but voiced
concern about the City resurrecting its BRT plan.

By Susan S. Stevens

Shoppers, shopkeepers, and residents can rest assured that the middles of Ashland and Western Avenues will not become dedicated to buses any time in the foreseeable future, according to anti-Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) activists, Ald. Daniel Solis (25th), and Ald. Jason Ervin (28th).

Officials put on hold a five-year-old City plan to install BRT down the two busy streets’ centers in order to increase bus speeds, following community opposition. There it stays, according to the leaders and the aldermen.

“We haven’t heard anything changing on this issue or at these locations,” Solis said. The Chicago Department of Transportation “has also indicated that it’s off the table for now,” he added.

“As far as I know, it is a dead issue,” Ervin said, noting the BRT has been “off the table for two or more years.”

“I have not heard anything recently, nor did I find any reference to plans for BRT in the budget” for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), said Charles Paidock, secretary of Citizens Taking Action for Transit Dependent Riders and a member of the Ashland-Western Avenue Coalition. The plan has no federal funding either, he said.

“I do not see anything moving on the BRT at the moment,” said Roger Romanelli, executive director of the Fulton Market Association and a coalition member. “It took a ton of hard work to win that issue.”

Romanelli is not complacent about the possibility under Mayor Rahm Emanuel, however. “I would not call it dead as long as Rahm is mayor.”

Activists and others voiced concerns about BRT’s future after Emanuel on June 22 announced a
plan to expand the City’s transit development policy to include high ridership, high frequency CTA bus routes. Emanuel said City and CTA officials will, in the next six months, study ways to implement the plan, focusing first on Western, Ashland, and Chicago Avenues and 79th Street. The mayor’s office, CTA officials, and several other leaders declined further comment.

Express buses resumed operation on Western and Ashland after officials eliminated the BRT plan. CTA figures for the past year indicate Ashland buses delivered more than 1.5 million riders while Western had 1.2 million; express buses accounted for about another half-million.

“Resumption of express bus service is good,” said Romanelli, who added that he believes express bus service should expand to Roosevelt Road, Madison Street, and other major thoroughfares. He expressed concern that Ashland “is not reaching its potential.”

CTA also should improve express bus amenities, Romanelli said. “We need to be installing better bus shelters,” he explained, noting shelters should be heated, cleaner, and safer, with improved sidewalks. He also recommended emergency call boxes at all major intersections.

“Just focus on reliable service,” Paidock said. He noted cutting bus routes and service hours has reduced bus ridership while rapid transit trains gained riders.

The coalition opposed BRT because it would have eliminated much of the parking along Ashland and Western and prohibited left turns at many intersections. Business owners said it would drive away many of their customers. Local residents worried BRT would drive traffic off Ashland and Western and onto residential side streets.

Emanuel said the CTA wants to use “smart” traffic signals, timing green lights on Ashland and Western to speed along the buses.

Paidock, a Bridgeport resident, also commented on the 31st Street bus route, which the City has reinstated without deciding whether to keep it permanently. The route operates from roughly King Drive to the Orange Line station at Ashland. Paidock noted it formerly extended miles further west and that officials should expand the current route, which had about 35,000 riders last year.

The number of riders does not concern Paidock, who believes having the route is important for the community. “There is no need to pack buses,” Paidock said. “It is a public service.”

One candidate running against Emanuel for mayor, Garry McCarthy, said through a spokesperson that Emanuel “is just rolling out shining objects … at the expense of taxpayers.” The aide said, “We haven’t really released or fleshed out our transportation policy” but that McCarthy wants it to be one that “truly enriches” people’s “lives and livelihoods.”

Log on to www.saveashland.com for the Ashland-Western Coalition. For the CTA, log on to www.transitchicago.com. Log on to fultonmarketchicago.org for the Fulton Market Association. Contact Ervin’s office at (773) 533-0900.  Contact Solis’s office at (773) 523-4100.