It’s called “bus rapid transit” for a reason.
It’s supposed to be fast.
So Madison officials should be careful not to undermine that priority as they apply for federal money, plan routes and tackle logistical challenges in pursuit of a better bus system.
Bus rapid transit, or BRT for short, features longer, snazzier buses that could operate in dedicated lanes and extend green lights to zip through the city faster. BRT has worked in other communities to boost ridership and get more people where they need to go in less time.
The city is refining details of an initial BRT route roughly from East Towne through Downtown to West Towne that will require an $80 million to $100 million capital outlay and cost about $3 million annually to operate.
One question posed by planners in the State Journal’s in-depth report on BRT last Sunday is how to route the express buses through Downtown. The first option is to send the buses right up to and around the Square, then on part of State Street. Some city officials seem to think the high-frequency, high-capacity electric buses should be on the Square and State Street so more people see them.
The problem is that such a route would slow down the service, especially when special events take over part or all of the Square, which occurs more than 70 times a year. If the buses are going to be rapid — as their name promises — snaking them around the Square, through festivals and along State Street is counterproductive. It also would make it harder for pedestrians to enjoy the scenic Square and Downtown’s major shopping district.
In this week's political podcast, Milfred and Hands play clips and comment on Satya Rhodes-Conway's endorsement meeting with the State Journal editorial board. Our board members were more impressed than they thought they would be with the wonky, progressive, think-tank manager who hopes to unseat "Mayor For Life" Paul Soglin, who is scheduled to meet with our editorial board next week.
The better and faster alternative is for the BRT buses to travel a block or two south of the Capitol Square — rather than invading it. And instead of running down State Street, the new buses should pick up and drop off nearby.
State Street, as we’ve contended for years, shouldn’t have any buses on it. The city should seriously consider turning State Street into a pedestrian mall for its entire length. During her successful campaign for mayor, Satya Rhodes-Conway told our editorial board she is open to making State Street an urban park.
Imagine State Street without all the buses rumbling up and down Madison’s best known corridor.
The BRT system may need dedicated lanes of traffic to succeed in congested areas. Planners have floated the creation of a BRT lane along parts of East Washington Avenue. That would move the buses faster, but it also could clog other traffic if cars and trucks lose space.
The better option is to give the new buses a dedicate lane where cars now park along parts of East Washington. That would allow the buses to move fast — without needlessly slowing and annoying other motorists.
A lot still hinges on whether Madison can secure most of the $80 million to $100 million in initial cost from the federal government. Rhodes-Conway hopes to make the city’s funding request more exciting and convincing.
Madison is growing fast, with more people working and living Downtown. Bus rapid transit, if done right, can create a more efficient transportation system for everyone.