Dear Alderman Pawar,
I write this with the support of my colleagues of the 47th Ward Green Council. As a business owner and resident of Lakeview, I pledge my full support to the construction of the Ashland Avenue Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project. My studio is located three blocks from Ashland, a street I typically avoid when biking or walking because of the auto-centric nature and general unpleasantness of the right-of-way. It’s not terribly comfortable to walk or bike on a street with six lanes of asphalt dedicated to automobiles, parked along the curb or zooming by at 45 mph.
Aside from the BRT becoming a far superior public transit option for a large swath of Chicago (the 9 Ashland bus has the highest ridership in the CTA system) from 95th Street to Irving Park Road, the project could potentially improve more than just mobility.
The right-of-way (the zone between property lines) is in the public realm, therefore it belongs to all of us, whether we happen to get around by car or not. The future of Chicago’s right-of-way and every other urban area relies on how hospitable and sustainable we make our public space. For the past 100 years we have wrongfully prioritized cars over other methods of transportation (bikes, walking, buses etc) in our public space. This has created miles of impervious asphalt and turned over untold amounts of valuable acreage to a single use, to the detriment of a smoothly flowing, safe and sustainable transportation system citywide. It’s clear that a sustainable city must have overlapping and multi-functional zones which respond to the needs to all citizens. As evidenced by our failed agricultural policy, monocultures eventually fail or need tremendous amounts of synthetic inputs to survive.
Our public space must be dedicated to more sustainable forms of transportation, like BRTs, along with a combination of habitat creation and stormwater filtration. Similar to our proposal outlined in the Lakeview Area Master Plan (LAMP), we imagine a multi-functional right-of-way where habitats for beneficial insects and wildlife are created, stormwater would be recharged locally (instead of being sent along a maze of pipes eventually terminating near St. Louis) and buffered by thriving green front yards for residents along thoroughfares.
Best of all there is no reason for Ashland Avenue business owners to fret. An improved pedestrian environment will increase foot traffic and customers more than additional parking space ever could. There is a reason why retail rents are higher on pedestrian oriented streets (Southport, Damen, Division): because the pedestrian environment is optimal for pleasant strolls and easy access to storefronts.
I would suggest that instead of quibbling over details as a veiled effort to dismantle the entire project, let’s focus on the long term benefits of the BRT, and how it could catalyze a public transit renaissance in Chicago.
Matt Nardella, AIA