Garcia criticizes Ashland bus rapid transit plan; Claypool insists it’s ‘not a done deal’

SHARE Garcia criticizes Ashland bus rapid transit plan; Claypool insists it’s ‘not a done deal’

Mayoral contender Jesus “Chuy” Garcia on Wednesday dumped on a city plan to run 16 miles of dedicated bus lanes down the center of Ashland Avenue just as CTA President Forrest Claypool insisted the proposal “was not a done deal.”

On another controversial project, Garcia’s campaign said he opposes a Chicago Transit Authority plan to build a $320 million flyover at Belmont that critics say would soar like “a roller coaster” over Lake View.

Garcia views the Belmont Flyover as “an unnecessary expenditure of taxpayer funds that will generate little return on investment,” Garcia campaign manager Andrew Sharp said by email.

Last month, Claypool insisted that the Belmont Flyover was “absolutely necessary” if the CTA did not want to “kill the golden goose” of Red Line ridership. The separation of Brown Line tracks from Red and Purple Line tracks is needed to unsnarl a congestion knot at the current Clark Junction that curtails expanding capacity to address growing ridership, CTA officials contend.

Garcia’s comments Wednesday further defined his views on transit issues, something Emanuel has painted as one of the strengths of his administration. In particular, Emanuel has touted a $5 billion CTA modernization plan and the reconstruction of the south end of the Red Line, which brought South Side riders speedier, more reliable rides and created hundreds of jobs.

One transit user, Michael Payne, told CTA board members Wednesday that he has created a Garcia Transit Coalition — in actuality a fledging “Yahoo group” — because he thinks Garcia is more likely to listen to the public’s transit concerns than Emanuel.

In particular, Payne said the $160 million planned for an Ashland bus rapid transit would be better spent on providing express buses in all parts of the city, including on Ashland, Cicero, Western and Pulaski. Express buses that stop only every four blocks don’t need all the street changes required by the CTA’s BRT plan, Payne said.

Claypool later told reporters that the CTA “will be having more public involvement, more public discussions” about the Ashland BRT.

“As we said repeatedly, that’s not a done deal by any stretch,” Claypool said.

However, in October, Claypool told reporters, ”We are behind it, but the devil is in the details. . . . We are not saying, ‘This is the plan, darn it.’ ”

CTA officials have said in the past that they want to sound out businesses and residents about where additional left turns might be inserted into the plan, but they have not made those requests public — or how they would address them.

The Garcia campaign said Wednesday that he does not support the Ashland BRT in its current form, given the serious concerns that have yet to be addressed, and questioned if the plan could ever be adequately fixed.

“There are a multitude of concerns that have been raised, including limited numbers of car lanes and left turns, and the impact on local commerce has yet to be fully taken into account,” Garcia said in an statement emailed to the Chicago Sun-Times. “This project cannot be approved in its current form, and frankly may never be appropriate for approval.”

As originally outlined, the CTA Ashland bus rapid transit plan would create dedicated bus lanes down the center of Ashland, from Irving Park to 95th Street, and place boarding stations in center islands. All other traffic — cars, trucks and the possibly the regular Ashland Avenue bus — would be relegated to mostly one lane of travel in each direction.

A former city traffic expert labeled the idea “ill-conceived” and unlike other BRT systems that have at least twice as much capacity for regular traffic on their BRT street or within a block of it.

In addition, the CTA’s initial proposal called for allowing only a handful of left turns from Ashland — and only onto expressway ramps. That raised concerns that businesses would be cut off from patrons and trucks would be making three right turns through residential areas to access loading areas or make deliveries.

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