Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Ashland BRT and the Performance Culture of Opposition

There is a very defined and well understood culture of opposition. If you look at the recent community presentation for submitting comments to the Ashland BRT, and the stark dis-settlement of the opposition to the BRT by the format of that meeting then you can see what I mean. (See this article )They came to the meeting prepared to "raise a ruckus." That I can even describe their tactic with that colloquialism illustrates what I mean by culture of opposition. When instead of a traditional town hall format they expected, they were presented with a tables and placards open ended presentation of the plan with presenters ready to answer questions, they were dumb-founded.

Suddenly they were floundering. There was no platform for them to perform upon. There were no microphones attached to a sound amplification system at the ready for their performance. And especially vexing effect of this loss was that even were there television cameras at the ready, their performance depended upon the missing amplified stage.

In ones imagination it is easy to walk through the way they imagined it would play out. They would arrive at the event with at least five or six of them ready to play a set-piece role. When their turn to speak came, with their first speaker, an electric buzz of expectation would grip the room as their forces would draw the focus to the moment with shushes of those around each of the six, with shushed whispers of "listen to this" to those around, and a reverent payment of attention to the first of their speakers.

Their speaker would then begin, and like a preacher in a church would rouse their forces to righteous anger. An anger that would elicit confirming responses from the rest of them. Anger over a list of offensives that would rain on the entire community should the proposed changes come to pass. And when the first speaker was done the other five would await their turn to repeat the same performance over again. Each of them would be competing against the others of their group for the grand prize to be awarded to the winner; the prize of appearing on the evening news.

This is a performance much more difficult for the people supporting the changes to mount. Especially if the supporting side is organized solely by a government entity which by definition is not allowed righteous anger. And without righteous anger media are left bereft of attention grabbing drama for their audiences. Indeed the media are dependent upon the calm rational proponents to provide the unemotional background that will so highlight the righteous anger foregrounded by the opposition.

And you know quite well that the CTA knew very well what it was they were doing when they denied the opposition this opportunity of media attention. That fact, that the CTA knew what it was doing and knew to do it, was what first began to tell me that the fix was in. In this case a good fix of a dense urban environment that needs a denser transit in the form in this case of BRT. But a fix too in the sense that the mayor, not someone I particularly support, was likely going to stand behind this project to the end. A mayor who knows that he runs the aldermanic show and can allow individual alderman their luxury of appearing to be independent of the mayor and oppose the BRT. A mayor who knows that he may very well gain as many CTA rider votes as he loses from Ashland car drivers and business owners. Votes that he can well afford to lose anyway.

Add to that the fact that, as I have only learned in the last few months, that his hand picked head for the CDOT (Chicago Dept. of Trans.), Gabe Klein (recently having moved on) was picked because of his success in setting up bicycle sharing in DC. It begins to suggest that Rahm has bought into the urbanist ideological agenda of mass transit over individual transit in the densest parts of the city.

All this strongly suggests to me that the Ashland BRT is most definitely going to happen.

Friday, December 20, 2013

My Comments to Ashland BRT Environmental Assessments

Heres my comment to the Ashland BRT assessment team. The numbers in parentheses refer to the location on the Appendex G location numbers. Some of it is pure wish list, but what the hey?

Ashland BRT Assessment Team,

Please consider the following comments:

1) The station placement for stations at or near el stops should allow for as direct a connection as possible.

  • (911+00 Location number on AppendexG) For example for the Roscoe Street stop should be north of Roscoe. That would save crossing of Roscoe Street for BRT users transferring to the Paulina/Lincoln Brown Line Station. In the future a stop-lighted crosswalk under the el tracks and a direct paved and roofed path to the station could be built with a new set of stairs at the eastern end of the platform installed to further reduce the walking connection to the brown line.
  • (765+00) At the Blue Line at Milwaukee-Division a station with direct stairs down to the subway station would be the Gold Standard.
  • (697+00)  At the Green/Pink Line connection at Randolf? it would behoove us to have a direct stairway connection from the BRT station directly into the station with no street crossing required.
  • (662+00)  At the Blue line Eisenhower place the BRT station on the bridge over the highway with long covered walks to one or both of  the stations in either direction?
  • (529+00) At the Orange line you seem to have that one covered.
  • (310+00) At the 63rd Green line the BRT aligns exactly with the station. Again direct stairs would be the Gold Standard.
  • ·    The experience should be as close to an el to el connection as is possible. But perhaps we are trying to save money in the beginning stages and are saving these kinds of treatments for later. Fine as long as we do not step on ourselves later.
2). To accommodate left turners, should that become absolutely necessary, I would recommend a solution where both left and right turns are done from the same current right turn lane. Lefts allowed only on a left arrow. I realize that it is several compromises of normal practice.

3) I have seen concerns about costs of a “failed” project where we might have to tear out stations. Perhaps prefabricated stations that are built in functional units to be combined in various combinations that are towed to the site for quick installation on simple concrete pads could be considered. Then when the BRT is a great success the pre-fab stations could be replaced with concrete and then towed to the next BRT “trial” at Western Avenue.

4) It would be best if the BRT were to extend to a point where it could connect directly to the north Red Line, either at Howard or Loyola and Devon.

5) For sure the Western BRT should extend to Howard Red line either via Howard or special pavement along the Yellow line.

(EDIT 12/22/2013: And here as an FYI is their reply email (standard, canned, but expected and works for me.)

Thank you for your interest in the Ashland Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project.  November 19, 2013 to December 20, 2013 is the official 30-day comment period to collect formal comments on the Environmental Assessment (EA) for the project.  This comment period is part of a process established by the federal government.  As such, any comments in your email will become part of the formal record for the EA and the project.
At the end of the comment period, responses to comments will be issued as an appendix to the final EA.  These responses will be available through CTA’s website.  You will receive an email when they are posted, as well as any other email updates that are sent regarding the Ashland BRT project.
Comments will inform the next phase of design.  Comments received before or after the formal comment period will also be taken into account and help inform the next phase of design, but may not be included in the official record for the Environmental Assessment.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Ashland BRT Left Turn Accomodation

Currently there is some controversy about the potential elimination of left turns in the Ashland BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) proposal by the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority.) Let me say at the outset that I support the Ashland BRT no matter the specific design. I would, of course, prefer the design that meets all the current gold standards of BRT design. The primary ones are: 1) an exclusive dedicated bus lane, 2) fare collection before boarding, 3) bus driver control of stop light signals. It is worth getting it right on Ashland as Ashland paves the way for other BRTs such as Western Avenue.

However, I do feel that it is important that as many stake-holders as possible sign on to all critical design elements. Therefore, in order to appease demands of left turner lobby, I would support such outside-the-box approaches as the one I present here:

It is not to scale. Everything is eye-balled. When push comes to shove there may well be some element that simply will not fit.

The out-of-the-box element that makes this design work is the combination of both left and right turns from a single lane (orange in the diagram.)  Left turns would be allowed only during signals. Right turns would be allowed anytime but would be constrained by the presence of left turners. I get that combining the turning lanes into one would be less than ideal. But transit riders have lived with less than ideal design for a long time. My argument is that for 50 years automobiles have been catered and deferred to with street design, even where they don't deserve it in urban settings. I say it is now time to defer to transit needs over car needs in those settings.

The major drawback with this design is that it costs more because two BRT loading stations are required instead of one. That means all feature elements for transit use, fare collection, turnstiles, roofing, signage and the like must be duplicated. However, a major additional feature with this placement of the two stations is that it can be shared by the local bus allowing for easy off / easy on transfers from a local bus to a BRT bus going the same direction.

Since the local bus would pull into the car lane for loading and unloading, the BRT bus could pull ahead. Indeed such a design would make it practical to place the BRT stations at one mile separations as users could easily change buses.

It is my contention that the extra costs of additional stations should come from the streets and highways budgets because cars are the ones benefiting from the ability to turn left. If it were up to me as a very irregular south-of-Irving Ashland driver I'd say can the left turns as I can live without them.

UPDATE 12/16/13: Interestingly the international standard for BRT's have a score that is highest for BRT's that allow no left turns. Another reason to ban them ->