Background

The Metro Rapid bus rapid transit system will use the routing through downtown Madison used by most buses today. BRT buses will follow the University Avenue and Johnson Street one-way couplet, upper State Street and the Capitol Square. The routes will continue east on East Washington Avenue, west on Campus Drive, and south on Park St.Stations on State Street will be located just before Gorham St. (westbound) and just after Johnson St. (eastbound). Stations on the Capitol Square will be westbound on Mifflin St. just before Wisconsin Ave. and eastbound on Main St. just before Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.


How was the BRT routing decision made?

The BRT project and alignment has had continuous public involvement and engagement since the 2013 Madison Transit Corridor Study, which highlighted State Street and the Capitol Square as the most likely route. The routing through downtown was further studied with public engagement in 2019 and 2020.  As of October 2021, there have been 31 public and committee meetings, with another 17 meetings with stakeholders. Overwhelmingly and unsurprisingly we heard that Madisonians want the bus to take them directly where they want to go whether that be school, work, or leisure. This coupled with transportation best practice and special attention to equity and access we delivered the Downtown Routing Report, and ultimately the Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) that was adopted by the Common Council in 2020 with revisions in 2021 (Legistar 59665 and 63184).


Why was this route chosen?

The Downtown Routing Report lists several key reasons for including the Capitol Square and State Street in the BRT route.

  • It provides the most direct and visible access to the economic and cultural center of Madison not only benefiting riders but also businesses in the corridor as seen in other communities.
  • The bus operating environment is good with bus lanes and limited interference from traffic.
  • The pedestrian environment is very good and sidewalks are wide enough to construct BRT stations.
  • The route is fast and direct.
  • The Capitol Square stations provide transfers to key routes.

Other BRT downtown alternatives (see below) had greater negative impacts to transit riders and provided poorer access to destinations.

Madison is a rapidly growing City that needs a modern, high-quality, transit system. Urban corridors like East Washington Ave. and Park St. are not capable of accommodating traffic growth as the Madison region grows. Since 1960, the City of Madison’s population has more than doubled.


What alternate routes were investigated?

Several alternative routes were screened in the report, with narrative of three main alternatives with suboptions. 

Alternatives investigated include:

  • Broom, Bassett, and Henry streets to Wilson and Doty streets State Street to Capitol Loop
  • The Capitol (outer) Loop.
  • West Washington Ave. to the Capitol Square or Loop
  • Johnson and Gorham streets to Blair St.

These alternatives had the following greater negative impacts. 

  • Station pairs on the Capitol Loop would be 0.4 miles apart (0.5 miles apart if in a wheel chair). This distance is particularly challenging in winter conditions.
  • Alternatives to the Capitol Square provide poorer access and/or slower operations than what exists with the current system.
  • Unfamiliar riders may be confused with the considerable distance and location between station pairs.
  • Geometric challenges exist. There is not room in the Johnson St. nor Gorham St. terraces to install both a BRT station and maintain a sidewalk. The removal of a travel lane would likely be needed, adding considerable motor vehicle delay in that busy intersection. 

These impacts would be experienced by the almost 600,000 transit riders that board buses on the Square each year.  The impacts would be disproportionately borne by people with disabilities, low-income people, and people of color. Existing transit riders would find the system slower and less convenient, ultimately resulting in lower ridership potential.


Why are regular detours acceptable for BRT?

A purpose of the BRT system is to make transit service faster, better, and more attractive. A slower less direct route does not satisfy this purpose. The adopted BRT routing would detour about 10% of the time, mostly on weekends and mainly affecting the Capitol Square station pair. This allows good transit access the remaining 90% of the time.

Many BRT systems detour for special events (such as Seattle’s RapidRide). The current proposal balances the needs of transit uses while making room for special events.


Would this affect a State Street Promenade?

As mentioned, BRT buses will detour for signature events and bus traffic on lower State Street will be eliminated. The current configuration of State Street was developed by the State Street Design Oversight Committee, which met 69 times in the early 2000s. This reconstruction, costing about $15 million (2006 dollars), placed the pedestrian way adjacent to storefronts with the fire lane in the center. The State Street reconstruction is relatively new.  The geometric configuration could be re-evaluated placing pedestrians in the center, removing curbs. A reconstructed State Street would need to be programmed in the City’s capital budget, and could cost $15 to $20 million. 

While the future of State Street can be decided in the future by policy makers, the BRT project addresses several frequently expressed concerns which are discussed below.


Why are BRT platforms necessary?

Platforms are one of the core enhancements that make BRT systems different from local bus service. They speed up boarding for all transit riders, reducing travel times for everyone on the bus. People with disabilities and mobility challenges especially benefit.  A typical bus serves riders with mobility challenges by kneeling, folding out a ramp, boarding the passenger and then securing the wheel chair. This process takes several minutes.  A BRT platform allows those with mobility challenges to board independently without many of these steps.


How will BRT affect businesses?

A summary of the business effects of BRT can be found in the Economic Effects of BRT memo. Generally, studies show that BRT:

  • Increases employment near stations. Employment composition often changes from low wage to middle and upper wage jobs.
  • Fosters redevelopment and property investment.
  • Increases property values.
  • Increases transit usage.

What will be done to reduce the effects of buses on State Street?

The BRT proposal addressed many concerns expressed by stakeholders.

  • On upper State Street all local service will be removed and BRT bus volumes will be just 60% of those experienced in 2019.
  • Buses will be eliminated on lower State Street
  • The majority of the BRT fleet will be electric, reducing noise, vibration, and fumes.
  • 8 of the 10 bus stops on State Street will be closed and the shelters will be removed
  • On State Street, station structures were reduced 50 percent to fit the context
  • Buses are detoured during signature events.

Can the BRT routing decision be changed?

Right now we are acting on the direction of policy makers who voted to approve this BRT alignment and the Locally Preferred Alternative and could, in theory, vote to change that directive. This would trigger the Federal Transit Administration to reevaluate the City’s proposal for Small Starts capital funding, which will cover about half of the project costs. It would also force us to restart much of the federally required environmental evaluation process. This would delay the project by a year or more, which could have unintended consequences on our recommended Small Starts funding. Without that funding this project is not viable, eliminating Madison’s affordable, sustainable, option to deliver improved public transportation to our residents.