Yesterday evening, Madison city staff gave the first of several community updates on the city’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project.
Speaking at yesterday’s meeting, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway outlined the need for the BRT system by pointing to Madison’s growing population. According to 2020 Census returns, the city grew by 16 percent, or roughly 36,600 people, over the past decade.
“Our new census data indicates that Madison is actually growing faster than we thought,” Rhodes-Conway said. “Our Metro Rapid BRT system will help us accommodate this growth and make Madison an even more attractive place to live.”
The more than $160 million, multi-year project has been a cornerstone of Rhodes-Conway’s administration. But it’s garnered strong pushback from downtown business owners — nearly all of whom are concentrated along State Street.
They argue that the 60-foot, high-frequency buses would disrupt the downtown retail hub. The State Street portion of the BRT line would roll through the top three blocks of the street.
City staff have already redesigned the two State Street stations — redesigns which they say meet many of the business owners’ concerns. Mike Cechvala, a city transportation planner, outlined the alterations at yesterday’s meeting.
“We have made the shelter area as small as possible, we have removed some of the less transparent part of the shelter to make it as transparent as possible and we have made the general length and size of the stations as small as possible,” Cechvala said.
Local business owners aren’t the only ones raising concerns about the project — four of Madison’s former mayors penned an op-ed in the Wisconsin State Journal this week disavowing BRT’s presence on State Street and the Capitol Square.
But Rhodes-Conway has shown no indications of budging on the issue. As Metro Transit’s General Manager Justin Stuehrenberg put it at yesterday’s meeting:“That decision was made. We’ve proceeded with our environmental documents, with our design work with that expectation. Re-evaluating the routing is not intended to be within the scope of this meeting.”
One of the concerns raised at yesterday’s meeting was how events downtown – such as Art Fair on the Square and the Farmer’s Market – would impact service. Cechvala said that those events will force the bus lines to reroute.
“When the capitol square or State Street is closed to buses, we will typically detour using the capitol loop, and West Washington and Broom/Bassett for State Street events,” he said.
The city’s proposed BRT line also takes into account bike traffic, which will be routed around certain bus stations along the line. Stuehrenberg says that the bus route will also provide better transportation services to Madison’s communities of color.
“This project is certainly targeted at the densest areas of the city, but it also provides better service for many of the communities of color throughout the city,” he said.
The next community update will be held virtually on October 7th. According to Metro Transit, that update will focus on BRT’s route through the East Side. Subsequent meetings next month will focus on the west side, the downtown area and the UW-Madison campus.
You can find more information about those meetings, and links to join, on the city of Madison’s website.
The East-West BRT line is tentatively scheduled to begin service by Fall 2024.
PHOTO: Jonah Chester