Public transportation networks provide numerous assets for growing cities – primarily, they provide a cheaper alternative to cars; are a better option for the environment; and reduce congestion on the road. Currently, Madison provides a Metro Transit system of buses that serves residential neighborhoods, the downtown, and the outlying towns of Middletown, Fitchburg, and Verona. This means that nearly 100,000 people from outside the downtown core come into the centre every day, and this number is growing annually. In order to accommodate this growth, Madison has a vision to improve its transportation system over the next two decades.
Current bus shelter in Madison, Wisconsin
Madison’s current Metro bus system
The downtown transportation system hopes to evolve new systems to include a contemporary commuter rail that connects Sun Prairie with Downtown Madison and then west to Middleton. Another choice would be to create a rapid transit bus (BRT) along existing transportation corridors such as East Washington, University Avenue, Park Street and Packers Drive. BRT runs on dedicated lanes, and it works more like rail transit than a bus. This would be a better option than the current overcrowded metro buses – especially during peak hours downtown. Plus, riders must pay to access a raised platform, therefore making embarking and disembarking much quicker. Essentially, a BRT has many of the benefits of a commuter rail, with a much lower cost.
Capital Region Sustainable Communities (CRSC) funded a study to evaluate the potential benefits and impacts of a BRT. According to the study, a BRT system could serve 15,000 to 20,000 riders a day over the coming decades, while reducing travel times from 19% to 42%. In addition, more frequent buses – every ten minutes during weekday peak travel times – would mean less waiting at stations. However, like every growing city, Madison has run into the obstacle of funding. The system would cost between $137 and $192 million. Nevertheless, according to Metro General Manager Chuck Kamp, the current system of buses is “unsustainable” over the long term. Many city officials, including Mayor Paul Soglin, echo his sentiments. Significant rider increases over the past decade have created the dilemma of overcrowded buses, and many drivers are having to deny riders – especially students – in the downtown area.
A sketch of the proposed bus rapid transit (BRT) system
According to officials, the city and partners could start with a small piece of the full BRT system, as they anticipate receiving sizable federal support for capital costs. However, operational costs would be more difficult to cover without additional revenue from a source that has the power to tax – such as a state-authorized regional transit authority. While many Madison officials are very eager to implement this transportation system, the logistics of cost have temporarily put the project on hold. Nevertheless, the city is still planning for the future transportation needs of the city.
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Credits: Images by Kaylie Duffy. Data linked to other sources.