Bus Rapid Transit

A proposed bus rapid transit system would use 60-passenger, articulated buses like the one shown above. The city is hosting a BRT planning study kickoff at the Central Library on Wednesday.

Madison’s bid to launch bus rapid transit with an east-west route including Downtown and the UW-Madison campus is beginning to roll with a call for public input.

Bus rapid transit, or BRT, is a high-frequency, high-capacity, limited-stop service with unique branding that can run on city streets or dedicated lanes, or even in a rail corridor.

Madison’s BRT would complement existing Metro Transit routes and be the city’s next big step toward a more lasting local transit system.

“The Madison metropolitan region is growing rapidly,” city director of transportation Thomas Lynch said. “As we grow, we need to develop the transportation framework needed to serve a metro area that approaches almost a million people.”

A possible, initial east-west corridor roughly from East Towne to West Towne malls could cost $60 million to $90 million with extensions farther east and west and to the north and south possible, Lynch said.

The city, which is using $500,000 in local and federal money on initial planning, on Wednesday is hosting a planning study kickoff to share information and get community input. It’s seen as the first step in a broad public engagement process to ensure Madison BRT reflects community needs, concerns and priorities, said David Trowbridge, the city’s principal transportation planner.

BRT would boost capacity for much used Metro, cut travel times, be a catalyst for economic development, contribute to energy and carbon reductions, and create a more equitable transit system because low-income people and minorities are most affected by long travel times, Metro general manager Chuck Kamp said.

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It would use snazzier, 60-foot-long buses that bend at the center and have low floors, three doors, onboard bike storage, Wi-Fi and technology to extend green lights and other transit signal improvements. It would feature small, medium and large BRT stations with shelters, paved platforms, benches and lighting, and for the larger facilities, ticket vending, real-time bus information, bike racks and perhaps heating.

The coming study will identify exact start/finish locations, station sites, street routes, and where infrastructure such as dedicated bus lanes will be set.

Public participation will be key, Lynch said.

After a plan is created, the city will seek federal funding to finish design and build the initial route. The planning study is expected to be finished in fall 2019, with construction of the east-west BRT route possible in 2024.

The city’s capital budget for 2019 provides $1 million to plan for a satellite bus garage — seen as necessary for BRT — and the nonbinding, five-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) shows $30 million in local funding for the garage that can be used as a local match for federal BRT funding in 2023. The CIP shows $80 million in federal funding for BRT in 2024.

“Many thriving metropolitan areas chose to build a high-mobility transit backbone that addresses the transportation needs of their community,” Lynch said. “We have to move from being a big little city to a little big city in our transportation network.”

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