Feb. 6—Metro Transit is proposing route changes that would shift almost 30% of buses from State Street, but it's largely to accommodate the coming Bus Rapid Transit system, not a first step in transforming the city's most renowned street into a pedestrian mall, officials said.
There long has been a desire to reduce the number of buses on State Street, especially during peak hours, and the city needs to make room for BRT, city transportation director Tom Lynch said. The coming resurfacing of West Washington Avenue provides an opportunity to create a transit lane there that allows Metro to relocate bus routes off of State Street, he said.
Despite recently revived public conversation about taking all buses off State Street, the city is not now moving in that direction, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said.
"We're in the process of reshaping Metro service to prepare for Bus Rapid Transit, and to best serve our entire community," the mayor said. "These changes are part of that, and I think are a good step. However, I don't support removing Metro from State Street or (Capitol) Square entirely. Transit is an important part of our community and should be at our front doors, where it can best serve employees, customers, visitors and residents."
Downtown Ald. Mike Verveer, 4th District, said the proposed changes will better serve residents and that he's been hearing "a widespread cry" for seriously considering making State Street a pedestrian mall.
"I have long supported reducing the amount of traffic on State Street and trying to move to a more pedestrian-friendly concept," he said. "Every bus, especially diesel buses, we remove from State Street is progress in that direction."
The proposed changes would affect routes 8, 12, 15, 70 and 72. The moves are part of a series of proposed route changes in several parts of the city to be considered at a Metro and city Transportation Commission online public hearing scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Already, current bus service on State Street is almost 30% less than before the COVID-19 pandemic, Lynch said. The proposed changes will reduce the number of buses by another 25-30% on a daily basis, and almost 40% during evening peaks, he said.
Both the route changes and the West Washington Avenue lane configuration changes must be approved by the Transportation Commission, Lynch said. The route changes and resurfacing are planned for this year, he said.
The State Street route changes were being contemplated before the recent discussions about removing all buses, he said. "This change will help implement Bus Rapid Transit and address some of the noise complaints during the evening rush hour."
"The recent discussion of buses on State Street has been incomplete," he said. "Fire lane requirements, challenges with State Street's four existing pedestrian-only spaces, and equitable access to the Downtown are all key factors," he said.
"Downtown, there are always complications," Verveer said. "There are a lot of issues that need to be addressed."
Still, even a limited reduction is finding support.
"Moving several key Metro Transit bus routes to West Washington Avenue will help create a more open and pedestrian-friendly State Street promenade, allowing visitors to better enjoy the shops, restaurants and cultural amenities on Wisconsin's main street," said Jason Ilstrup, president of Downtown Madison, Inc.
"The move will also help ensure buses move more quickly on the Isthmus, thereby getting workers and visitors into and through Downtown with more speed, efficiency and reliability," he said. "The new routes will also better connect a densely populated section of Downtown all while improving the pedestrian and bike infrastructure and safety."
DMI hasn't taken a formal position on removing buses from State Street, but will be starting a discussion soon, Ilstrup said, adding, "Certainly moving nearly 30% of the buses off is an important step in potentially turning State Street into a pedestrian mall."
Metro, Verveer noted, is conducting a comprehensive review of its current route structure in the hopes to reformat the system to better serve the community, improve ridership and complement the new BRT system. The possibility of removing more buses from State Street should be part of the review, he said.
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