You want bad BRT? I’ll give you bad BRT

While the Sun-Times continues its policy of acting shocked that anyone would consider it worth it to invest in a form of transit used by half a million people in Chicago (whose experiences and opinions she has scrupulously avoided covering), I went to visit my brother in St. Paul over the weekend, where I read this article about the Twin Cities’ newest version of highway-going BRT, called the Red Line.

The Red Line goes from the end of the Twin Cities’ first light rail line, way out in the suburbs, to a destination 11 miles even further out into the suburbs. (The Ashland BRT would be about 16 miles long, in the middle of the city.) Its full cost was about $110 million. (Ashland’s would be about $160 million.)

And the Red Line provides – it pains me even to type this – 800 rides per day.

This is an especially ludicrous number – a number so low that it would have been better, as far as social welfare goes, for the local transit agency to just have divvied up their $110 million and distributed it in envelopes sent out to random addresses in the Twin Cities – but it is much less atypical of contemporary American commuter transit projects than one would hope. In fact, many of the country’s new lines carry a ridiculously small number of people at a cost comparable (or greater than) Ashland’s.

The CTA, in contrast, is proposing upgrading a line that already has 30,000 trips per day, and which would carry something like 45,000 after the BRT transformation. That is a lot of people. It is hard to appreciate, I think, without understanding the current flavor of transit projects around the country, just how reasonable and good this is. Unfortunately, one of our main transit reporters seems not only to be unaware of that context, but to be uninterested in learning anything about it, let alone communicating any of her hard-won (Googled) education to the people she is paid to inform.

Thus we get sentences like this:

On Monday, Scheinfeld was asked [by the author] whether it was worth all of that trouble to shave just 7.5 minutes off round-trip bus travel across the Loop.

Right! It’s not like the entire point of the paper’s anti-BRT campaign has been to save Ashland drivers a similar amount of time. (Driving times on Ashland are predicted to increase about 10%, meaning a half-hour trip – which is almost certainly longer than the median driver spends on Ashland – would take about 3 minutes longer, or 6 minutes roundtrip.) Or that there’s another driver-friendly project costing four times as much as Ashland BRT without a proportional time benefit, which the Sun-Times seems to think is just fine.

You can do better than that, guys. Try harder.

EDIT: I should point out that this particular article was written by Fran Spielman, the Sun-Times‘ City Hall reporter, rather than Rosalind Rossi, the transportation reporter. But on this subject, Spielman seems to have taken Rossi’s lead hook, line and sinker.

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