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Milwaukee County Considering Bus Rapid Transit

Milwaukee County Transit System
Milwaukee and Wauwatosa could designate lanes to buses only.

There's talk of creating a new transit option in Milwaukee - buses that could rapidly move people between downtown and the regional medical center in Wauwatosa.

The proposal is known as BRT, or Bus Rapid Transit. Tuesday evening from 5 to 7 pm at O’Donnell Park, the public is invited to view the plan and comment.

Under the county's proposed system, your commute between downtown and the regional medical center could work the following way. You'd find special lanes designated on Wisconsin Avenue or other nearby streets for buses only - either in the median or curbside.

You’d buy your ticket at one of kiosks set up along the route. Then you’d then wait under a shelter for no longer than 10 minutes. When the bus arrives, you’d walk onto it from the platform. There wouldn’t be any traffic ahead because bus technology would turn every light green, and you would only stop occasionally to pick up new passengers.

"We heard from some people who, when they heard bus rapid transit they thought, 'well we don’t want buses in our neighborhoods going faster than cars,'" says Brendan Conway, spokesperson for the Milwaukee County Transit System.

Credit Mapbox
The East-West Corridor BRT Feasibility Study will consider the viability of State Street and Bluemound Avenue as potential BRT alignments between the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center and downtown Milwaukee, states the East-West BRT website.

Conway says the buses would follow the speed limit but would be able to reach their destinations faster compared with driving or standard bus service because of limited stopping. Conway says the system would aim to complement Milwaukee's other growing public transportation options.

“You might take the bus to BRT to go to work. Then you want to go out to lunch so you jump on a Bublr Bike. The next day, you take BRT into work, and you jump on the streetcar to go to a meeting, to visit a friend,” Conway says.

Young professionals would appreciate bus rapid transit, as would all people preferring a car-free lifestyle, according to Peter Skopec, director of the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group. He agrees that this new option has the potential to improve the local public transportation system and make the region more attractive for those looking for car-free lifestyles.

“It will make the region more attractive to millennials and the companies looking to employ them as well as the pretty sizeable aging population,” Skopec says.

Although Skopec is enthusiastic about BRT in Milwaukee, he stresses the importance of also improving the county’s existing bus system.

Transit leaders will listen to what the community has to say and then present a recommendation to the cities of Milwaukee and Wauwatosa as well as to the county board. If the consensus is to forge ahead, then the community will seek federal grants.

The second public meeting on the proposal will be this Thursday, April 14, from 5-7 p.m. at the Zoofari Conference Center.

Nicole Beilke is a journalism major at UWM. She is also studying for a certificate in Digital Arts and Culture. Nicole has reported on topics such as art and activism in Milwaukee, including these pieces for Media Milwaukee: UW-Milwaukee Students Join Tony Robinson Protests and The UW-Milwaukee Grad Behind the Collectivo Coffee Skull.