After the City of Madison Common Council narrowly rejected a budget amendment last month to consider rerouting the proposed Bus Rapid Transit off of State Street, an ASM spokesperson has weighed in on the BRT’s effects on University of Wisconsin students.
The City of Madison proposed the BRT to improve public transit and reduce travel time across regions, according to CityofMadison.com. Under the BRT system, 60-feet-long buses would connect key activity centers through a combination of dedicated bus lanes and mixed traffic.
The City estimates BRT would reduce travel time by up to 25%, according to the City of Madison Department of Transportation.
Jan. 5, the city council approved a revised Locally Preferred Alternative — called LPA — route, based on feedback from residents in Madison.
The revised LPA proposed a BRT route that will run along East Washington Avenue, around the Capitol, through the UW campus — continuing west on University Avenue and Mineral Point Road to the West Towne Mall, according to the City of Madison Metro Transit website.
The route would also include building BRT stations on State Street — which some State Street businesses have opposed, saying the stations would affect pedestrian flow and the economic development of the downtown area.
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Madison city council President Syed Abbas of District 12, along with District 14 Alderperson Sheri Carter, District 1 Alderperson Barbara Harrington-McKinney, District 18 Alderperson Charles Myadze and District 4 Alderperson Mike Verveer introduced a budget amendment in early November to consider re-routing the BRT off State Street.
In the amendment, Abbas and his colleagues encouraged the city to consider rerouting the BRT to East Gorham Street or East Johnson Street as opposed to keeping the route on State Street.
“It’s important to look at the situation holistically,” Abbas said. “What is the future of State Street? What is the future of the businesses that reside there?”
The amendment introduced by Abbas and his colleagues would eliminate direct access to State Street, according to The Cap Times. Individuals would have to walk from side streets, such as East Gorham Street or East Johnson Street, in order to access State Street, the Cap Times reported.
Abbas said by keeping the BRT away from State Street, the city could implement a pedestrian mall, which could attract more people, spurring economic growth for businesses.
“A pedestrian mall would open up opportunities for vendors and other businesses outside, at a low cost,” Abbas said. “With COVID, many restaurants have started using outside space on State Street because people aren’t comfortable being inside. The bus not going down State Street will help this outdoor activity continue.”
Associated Students of Madison Press Office Director Tyler Katzenberger said there are many factors to consider when analyzing the alternative BRT routes.
Katzenberger said some of the benefits of keeping the BRT off of State Street include less noise and boosted mobility for pedestrians. With many restaurants and businesses, State Street is already popular among UW students, Katzenberger said. With less motor traffic, it is likely this popularity would continue with students because of increased accessibility.
Katzenberger also said there were disadvantages to not having the BRT on State Street — specifically for low-income students who live off campus, where housing is more affordable.
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“If you take bus access off of State Street, how will students access State Street from off campus?” Katzenberger said. “It is saying that transportation needs aren’t being met for low-income individuals.”
“It’s important the City of Madison continue to seek public feedback on the topic,” Katzenberger said.
But overall, Katzenberger said the proposed route serves students well.
“For students without a car, trying to get to West Towne Mall for affordable groceries with the current bus system is about 45 minutes to an hour,” Katzenberger said. “Then students have to spend time at the grocery store, then another forty-five minutes to an hour to get back to campus. With this, you are looking at a two- to three-hour time investment — just for groceries — because Fresh [Market Madison] is so expensive on campus.”
With the BRT, students will be able to access West Towne Mall in about 30 minutes.
Construction for the BRT system is expected to begin in 2023, with a targeted start date of service in 2024.