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City officials, CTA propose Bus Rapid Transit on Ashland

Artist's conceptiproposed Bus Rapid Transit route Ashland. | Image from CTA

Artist's conception of the proposed Bus Rapid Transit route on Ashland. | Image from CTA

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Updated: May 21, 2013 6:29AM



Sixteen miles of Ashland Avenue would have a whole new look ­­— with a CTA station or landscaping in the middle, a dedicated bus lane on either side, and one lane of car traffic in each direction — under a “Bus Rapid Transit’’ plan unveiled Friday.

City officials announced they have decided to debut their BRT initiative along Ashland Avenue, rather than Western, and have settled on a configuration featuring dedicated center bus lanes.

The new look would initially run from Cortland [1800 North] to 31st Street but eventually expand as far north as Irving Park and as far south as 95th Street.

The dedicated center bus lanes — with signal priority, fewer stops and what should be faster boarding ­— would mean buses could travel more than 80 percent faster during peak travel time, city officials said.

That should shave about eight minutes from the average 2.5-mile #9 Ashland Bus trip, according to a joint news release by the mayor’s office, the CTA and the Chicago Department of Transportation.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel called BRT “an important component of my plan to create a world-class transit system.’’

“Bus rapid transit is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to expand and modernize our city’s transit network for the 21st century,’’ Emanuel said via news release.

Car lanes would be reduced from two each way to one, and left-turn lanes would be removed under the plan, according to city documents.

However, 92 percent of existing parking would be retained.

The parking component possible with the center bus lanes was one of the reasons the Active Transportation Alliance preferred that model, said the group’s spokesman, Ethan Spotts.

New buses will have to be purchased that allow entrance and exit on the left side, Spotts said. But on the whole, he said, the Ashland BRT should be a more “train-like’’ experience that will spur increased ridership and persuade more drivers to take public transportation.

“When people go other places and experience BRT . . . they start talking about a bus like it’s a train because it’s acting more like a train. There are stations and it’s going faster because it has signal prioritization,’’ Spotts said.

“It’s a smarter way to move people around.’’

However, Charles Paidock of Citizens Taking Action for Transit Dependent Riders wasn’t buying it.

At $10 million a mile, BRT “is not cheap,’’ Paidock said.

“We just lost 12 [bus] routes,” Paidock said. “You have service that’s cutting off earlier and earlier and then you’re going for this gimmicky stuff?”

Ashland was chosen to debut BRT over Western because it produces the highest bus ridership of all CTA routes, serves an area where one in four households within walking distance do not have a car, and will provide access to nearly 134,000 jobs.

The Ashland BRT will service the Illinois Medical District, which was a big supporter of the plan, as well as the University of Illinois at Chicago, the United Center, Malcolm X, seven CTA L stations, two Metra stations and 37 bus routes.

Buses would only stop every half-mile, where the center median would house “amenity-filled” bus-boarding stations, city officials said. Some 75 blocks of new landscaping would be added as part of the plan.



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