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CTA ‘nowhere close’ on Bus Rapid Transit on Ashland: Mayor Emanuel

An artist's rendering proposed Bus Rapid Transit line Ashland.

An artist's rendering of the proposed Bus Rapid Transit line on Ashland.

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Updated: November 11, 2013 12:25PM

Chicago is “nowhere close to making decisions” about bringing Bus Rapid Transit lanes to a 16-mile stretch of Ashland Avenue, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Wednesday, arguing that downtown may get express bus lanes first.

“Before we do it, we’re going to do exactly the right thing to do, which is talk to families and businesses there,” the mayor said.

“We’re looking at rapid transit as it relates to downtown — before we even get to Ashland. This is a discussion phase. But, we have to expand and continue to modernize our infrastructure so people can get from home to work efficiently ... or to another neighborhood. We’re going to ... consult with all affected communities. But prior to even getting to Ashland — it’s downtown. It’s the central business area where we have traffic jams.”

Pressed on the city’s proposal to ban almost all left turns on Ashland, Emanuel said, “We’re nowhere close to making a decision. That’s where consultants come” in.

The CTA has announced plans to bring Bus Rapid Transit to a 16-mile stretch of Ashland, complete with a dedicated bus lane on either side, one lane of traffic in each direction and a landscaped median that may include a CTA station.

The BRT would launch along the 5.4-mile stretch from Cortland to 31st Street, but ultimately run all the way from Irving Park to 95th Street.

The goal is to use fewer stops, faster boarding and technology that turns traffic lights green for approaching buses to shave eight minutes off the average 2.5 miles bus trip and make trips 80 percent faster during rush periods.

During a CTA briefing last month, even some supporters of the plan criticized the city’s decision to ban almost all left turns on an arterial street.

Steve DeBretto, executive director of the Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago, echoed those concerns after joining Emanuel Tuesday at a small business roundtable.

“For our industrial corridor, the most important thing is maintaining the left-turn lanes for shipping and receiving,” DeBretto said.

“We have a lot of semi-trucks that go either northbound from [Interstate] 290 or southbound from 90-94. It’s important that when they’re going down Ashland they be able to access the rest of the industrial corridor to drop off or pick up their goods.”

DeBretto said he was relieved to hear the mayor say that Ashland bus lanes were “nowhere close” to happening and that businesses will be consulted before it does.

“The CTA has been telling us that from the beginning, but it’s good to hear the mayor say it as well,” he said.

“The way the plan is written, semi-trucks would be making three right turns to go left. If you did that at either the north or south end of our industrial corridor, you’d be sending those tractor trailers through residential neighborhoods and past elementary schools.”

Earlier this year, Chicago spent $5.9 million to acquire a surface parking lot near Union Station to build a $7.3 million “intermodal transportation center” needed to bring Bus Rapid Transit to the Loop.

Emanuel has talked about using revenue from the $2-a-day “congestion fee” imposed last year on downtown parkers to finance express bus lanes linking commuter rail stations to Michigan Avenue and Navy Pier.

The transportation center is viewed as a key component of that downtown system.


Twitter: @fspielman

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