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Sunday, August 07, 2022
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The BRT controversy, explained

Several State Street businesses have displayed signs in their storefronts voicing their disapproval with the city’s approval of two new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) stations on the upper half of the street, claiming the new structures will drive away business. 

BRT, which has been championed by Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, aims to add additional bus stops, reduce transit times for riders and add new amenities to city buses. The project includes plans to build larger buses to accommodate more passengers, provide bicycle storage, new stations with real-time information and bus-only lanes to reduce traffic-induced delays.

Other cities with BRT systems include Minneapolis, Seattle, Kansas City, Boston and many others

Construction on the new transit system is expected to begin in 2023 and open for service in autumn the following year. Once completed, the new buses will operate approximately every 15 minutes during the weekday and every 15-30 minutes during the weekend, according to the proposed operations plans.

BRT is expected to cost $160 million, with the Biden Administration allocating $80 million in federal grants to provide funding for the project. 

In a public statement, Rhodes-Conway expressed the importance of federal funding in the updating of Madison’s public transportation system, which has been an ongoing project for several decades.

“Madison has been pursuing high capacity rapid transit for 30 years,” said Rhodes-Conway. “With $80 million set aside in President Biden’s budget, Madison is now on the brink of success.”

However, the Central Business Improvement District, which represents over 500 Madison businesses, wrote a letter in July expressing concerns that the two 70x12 foot stations planned to be constructed on the State Street area will obfuscate the view of local businesses. 

"We ask the mayor and city leadership to rethink this small area of the BRT line," the letter reads. "As a first step, we ask leaders to find alternative locations for the route and stations in the State Street area to minimize the negative and permanent impacts of the BRT — what should be an exciting and highly-anticipated feature to our Downtown."

After hearing these concerns, the city changed its' initial plans for bus rapid transit stations along State Street, shrinking their size and making the structures more transparent. 

This did not prove to be enough to shift the opinions of business owners, many of which then proposed alternative locations for the bus stations on Johnson St. and Gorham St., claiming that these areas would be safer for pedestrians. 

"Why not Johnson and Gorham?" local business owner Sean Scannell asked. "We have these two very, very busy streets where there's not many pedestrians walking on so there's less concern for safety for people, too."

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Outside of the two stops located on State Street, business owners voiced no other concerns about the current BRT plans.

Proponents of the State Street bus stops have responded to these criticisms saying  that business will not be negatively affected by the station and have the potential to attract new customers. City transportation director Tom Lynch has additionally stated that Gorham St. and Johnson St. are not viable locations for permanent stations. 

"We believe the end result will be much less impactful than what is currently being portrayed," said Lynch. "In short, Johnson and Gorham can be used as temporary stations for rerouting special events but are not a good site for permanent stations."

Lynch additionally voiced concerns that altering the locations of the bus stations could delay implementation by over a year.

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