Now I Know The Ashland Bus Rapid Transit Plan Is Dumb

I originally posted on the Ashland bus rapid transit plan more than 2 months ago. At that time we didn’t have all the information but I did note what I thought at the time was the key issue. The plan calls for dedicating 50% of Ashland Avenue’s transit capacity for what is today only 14% of the travelers (those taking the bus) on that street. And the only way that makes any sense at all is if bus ridership increases by 257% as a result of better, faster, and more reliable bus service.
Well, the long awaited environmental assessment was made public about a month ago and I just got around to reading it today because comments are due by tomorrow. But what this assessment shows is that they are estimating an increase in the Ashland avenue ridership of only 29%. In other words, they are going to give 50% of the transit capacity to 18% of the travelers – and at a great cost. If I’m reading the report correctly it looks like $210 MM. I don’t know about you but this is clearly a really dumb idea.
And while I’m at it…I didn’t see anything in the report about addressing the narrow underpasses along Ashland like at Kinzie St. Those undperpasses are not even 2 lanes wide so they HAVE to be widened to allow both buses and cars to pass under them at the same time. So I’m not sure they’ve factored in all the costs of this program.
Supporters will point out the “minimal” impact that the capacity reduction on Ashland will have on auto traffic but if you look at appendix B-1 you will see that what really happens under their model is that the pain is spread among all north/ south streets from California to Halsted. So, a large group of people will be inconvenienced somewhat. The total cost to society will be large. That is what happens when you misallocate resources.
The fundamental problem is that people who propose and work on projects like this tend to be advocates of public transportation at any cost. To them public transportation is a goal in and of itself, not an economic alternative to the next best transportation mode. But shouldn’t this really be about the best use of scarce resources in the most efficient manner possible? Cities that don’t pursue that goal end up with budget and standard of living problems. Hmmm. Maybe that explains more than just this project.
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