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Study predicts no environmental impact from dedicated bus lanes down Ashland

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: December 21, 2013 6:42AM

Federal officials expect to find “no significant impacts” from running special dedicated bus lanes down the center of Ashland Avenue for 16 miles, an environmental assessment released Tuesday indicated.

Chicago Transit Authority officials posted the massive study with 22 appendices on its website Tuesday and announced it would accept public comment on it over the next 30 days.

The move immediately triggered complaints from critics who called the plan for installing Ashland Bus Rapid Transit from Irving Park to 95th Street a “done deal.’’

Noting that the 30-day comment period falls over Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, opponent Suzanne Wahl of Ukrainian Village said she was “appalled” and “disgusted” that the CTA would give the public so little time to digest and comment on a project that will “affect anyone who lives within two miles of Ashland — it will change their lives.’’

CTA officials insisted the environmental assessment is “just another step in a long process” and “does not reflect” the final design, which is “an evolving process.’’

“There will be continued public feedback and dialogue as we move into the design phase,’’ CTA spokeswoman Lambrini Lukidis said in an emailed statement.

The CTA will continue to solicit comment past the 30-day period in determining the final project design, said another CTA spokeswoman, Tammy Chase.

Public hearings are scheduled for 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Dec. 10 at Juarez Community Academy, 1450 W. Cermak Rd., and on Dec. 11 at Pulaski Park Fieldhouse, 1419 W. Blackhawk St. Plus, written comments can be emailed to or mailed to the attention of Joe Iacobucci at the CTA, 567 W. Lake St., Chicago IL 60661 by 4:30 p.m. Dec. 20.

Thus far, the most controversial element of the plan is its proposal to eliminate all left turns on Ashland for 16 miles, except a handful that would lead directly onto expressway ramps. Critics charged the idea would hurt business along Ashland and send cars and trucks barrelling through neighborhoods, making three right turns to access businesses they couldn’t reach with one left turn.

Asked to comment on that beef earlier this month, Mayor Rahm Emanuel insisted that the city was “nowhere close to making a decision’’ on the Ashland BRT.

However, the last page of the environmental study made clear at least one federal green light was expected. It found that “While subject to final comments received during the 30-day comment period and at the public hearing, [the Federal Transportation Administration] expects to find that there would be no significant impacts from the project and to issue a Finding of No Significant Impact.”

The environmental assessment conceded that the Ashland BRT plan “would result in a traffic shift from Ashland Avenue to other roadways” but contended that “the robust Chicago grid network is sufficient to absorb the traffic shifts across multiple parallel roadways.’’

So far, CTA and Chicago Department of Transportation officials have proposed running a dedicated bus lane in each direction down the center of Ashland and giving those buses traffic signal priority and fewer stops. Boarding stations would be located in the center of the street, leaving one lane of traffic in either direction for the regular No. 9 Ashland bus and car and truck traffic to share.

Overall, the assessment by CDM Smith found that the Ashland BRT would “create a new and upgraded, faster and more efficient transit service” along Ashland. By BRT, the typical 2.5 mile trip should last only 9.4 minutes — a 45 percent travel time savings, the analysis said.

The study expected car traffic to decrease due to the availability of speedy bus transportation. Cars that continued to venture on Ashland would face a 10 percent decrease in their travel speed, according to the study.

Thirteen intersections would face unacceptably long waits during the morning or evening or both — but six of them are already problematic, the study found. Problems at those intersections could be alleviated by, among other things, eliminating some parking, the assessment said.


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