Myths about the Ashland BRT project

Having heard these lines from a bunch of people – including, just now, a thread on Everyblock – I submit, for the record:

1. The project is about “punishing” drivers.

Right now, the Ashland bus – which carries 30,000 people a day, roughly tied with Western for the most in the city – travels at about 8 mph, or less than *half* the speed of private cars. That’s ridiculous, and if drivers had to deal with that, they would raise hell – rightly. BRT will increase bus speeds by 80% while reducing driving speeds by only 10%. The project is about replacing the unacceptable current service with something decent for the tens of thousands of people who use it daily.

2. Devoting two lanes to buses is disproportionate, given how many people use them.

The BRT project would devote 33% of Ashland’s lanes to buses – there will still be two lanes for moving cars and two lanes for parked cars. About 30% of people who live near Ashland don’t even *own* a car. Moreover, every other street in the city – again, a city where over 25% of people don’t even have access to a car – is prioritized for automobiles. One-third of one street isn’t disproportionate.

3. BRT is expensive.

BRT will cost about $10 million per mile, 80% of which will be paid for by the federal government. Light rail costs about 50 times more; a subway would actually cost about $1 billion per mile. In other words, we can get 16 miles of BRT for roughly the cost of a single subway station. BRT is by far the most cost-effective, fiscally responsible public transit investment we can make.

4. The Ashland-Western Coalition’s MEB proposal would be cheaper and just as good.

Since the MEB wouldn’t have its own lanes, it would get stuck in traffic just like the current #9. The only thing that would speed it up would be having half as many stops – but the old 9 express, which had 1/4 as many stops, only went 10% faster than the regular #9. BRT would increase speeds by 8 times as much. Moreover, the improvements the MEB calls for – like heated stations – would easily cost as much or more than BRT.

5. There are other good options for moving more people, faster, along Ashland.

We’re close to the limit of moving people efficiently along Ashland in its current configuration. We’re not likely to widen the street – or any others near it – because that would involve bulldozing tens of thousands of homes and businesses. The only way to make the street more efficient is to use more efficient modes – and buses can carry way more people per hour in the same amount of space than can private cars.

I don’t think everyone has to be excited about this – if you drive on Ashland, you probably will go about 10% slower – but you should know how much this project will mean to many, many of your neighbors, and to the economic vitality of the city as a whole, as a result of more efficient, faster transportation.

8 thoughts on “Myths about the Ashland BRT project

  1. Good piece, Daniel. You can look forward to septuagenarian cranks turngin their confusion and willful-ignorance into arguments in the comments below.

    1. Eric, I’m glad you liked the post – spread it far and wide!

      That said, I’d like it if we could have these conversations without insulting the people who are not yet on board. Most people in Chicago have never seen BRT in person before, and so are understandably skeptical about how amazing a service it can be. Plus, if they really do have to drive – and plenty of them do – they will be slowed down some by the project. Not that much, of course, and the benefits to tens of thousands of bus riders outweight that – but it’s understandable that they’d be a little miffed.

      That said, I obviously think BRT should happen, and I’m glad to link up with some of its many supporters. We need to make sure our voices get heard.

  2. Is light rail really $500 million per mile? I don’t think I’ve seen a figure that high.

    In any case I wish we had lower construction costs in the US. Then we may actually have the money for a subway! However, I think BRT is a good start.

    1. So according to Yonah’s site, the average cost of a current light rail project is about $300 million/mile, although it goes up to $800 million, and I would guess Chicago would be above average. But yeah, let’s be safe and say that LRT would cost 30 times what Ashland BRT will cost.

      1. That cost would certainly be in line if utility relocation or new right of way had to be included in the project. If an LRT was run down the Ashland corridor as the bus is to be, I’d expect the cost to be towards the lower end, but still higher than BRT and with the only added benefit of it being on rails and slightly higher capacity.

    2. It’s a shame, because light rail vehicles are much less expensive to buy and maintain, and last over twice as long, as busses. :-/

  3. Great summary! Here are a couple of suggested tweaks. Since the current left-turn lanes on Ashland will be eliminated for the median bus stations, it’s more accurate to say buses will use three out of the six lanes on the street.
    The AWC’s proposal would actually only eliminate 30 percent of bus stops because it would retain extra stops at transit stations, schools, hospitals, senior centers, churches, etc. Therefore it would make almost three times as many stops as the old express bus, which eliminated 70 percent of the stops.

    1. Sorry, BRT buses will get three out of seven lanes. The breakdown will be two parking lanes (also used for bus stops for the infrequent, curbside local bus service), two mixed traffic lanes (also used by the locals), two BRT travel lanes, and the median with BRT stations.

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