Bus Rapid Transit an Opportunity for Revitalization
Posted on Thursday, Jul. 1, 2021 at 5:50 pm
Madison has been working for 30 years to bring rapid transit to our community, and we are finally in a position to make it a reality. Our Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system plan was submitted to the federal government and the Biden administration has budgeted $80 million for the first East-West leg, an enormous boost to a $160 million project.
We want a First Class transit system to make our downtown accessible to all. State Street is part of the cultural heart of the City and BRT will directly connect it to over 80,000 residents and 120,000 jobs. A quarter of a million people boarded buses on upper State Street in 2019 – many patronizing State Street’s businesses.
I believe that bringing customers directly to State Street is a major plus for the street, not a minus. Many cities have found that BRT increases business development and revitalization. Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, for instance, was significantly revitalized. BRT is part of our recovery and has the potential to re-energize the prospects for many business districts in our City.
With the use of State Street as part of the BRT routing:
- BRT will run only on three blocks at the top of State Street.
- The top of State Street will have about 50 percent less bus traffic than it did in 2019 and two not four bus stops.
- The majority of the BRT buses will be electric, with substantially less noise and no fumes, a plus for outdoor dining.
- Service will be provided from 6 am to 12 midnight, making BRT a real option for people attending shows, going out to dinner, or working late.
- The State Street stations are being right-sized to reduce visual impacts. Sidewalk café or street vending areas will not be affected. Some street furniture and trees will be impacted. We believe the end result will be much less impactful than what is currently being portrayed.
- While the Network Redesign study is still in progress, it is likely that most buses will be removed from lower State Street. The 10 existing bus stops would then be reduced to the two BRT stops at the top of State.
Rerouting off State Street onto the much narrower sidewalks of Gorham and Johnson, as some have suggested, would degrade the type of station that would be available to commuters and likely would increase congestion on Johnson Gorham due to frequent in-lane bus stops. The routing studies that were conducted by the City also indicate that Johnson and Gorham stations would increase transit times for riders - undercutting the most important goal of BRT, speed. In short, Johnson and Gorham can be used as temporary stations for rerouting for special events, but are not a good site for permanent stations.
Over the course of the project, there have been 14 public involvement meetings leading to the selection of the Locally Preferred Alternative. In Phase 2 of the project, outreach included over 5000 responses to surveys, over 2000 listserv contacts, 15 small group meetings, and 9 mobile engagement stations. The proposed routing went through multiple City committees and was adopted by the Common Council.Any delay at this point could derail this $160 million dollar critical infrastructure project that will bring good paying jobs to the City and serve as an economic lifeline for hundreds of thousands in the years to come.
There is no doubt that the downtown has had a rough ride with COVID, protests, and business closures. I am proposing to help the downtown area with revitalization via a $500,000 Retail Building Improvement Grant Program, a $300,000 Neighborhood Business District Support program and a $100,000 Downtown Art Program on top of the existing Small Business Equity and Recovery Program and the Madison Pop Up Shop Program. Next year, we’ll be establishing a Tax Increment Financing District to support further recovery and redevelopment.
In short, we are investing in State St. on a number of fronts, and are working to improve transit downtown to have fewer impacts and more benefits.