The Bus Stops Here: At a future Union Corners co-housing development

The Bus Stops Here is a monthly column by the Madison Area Bus Advocates. Mary Johnson authored this month's piece.

Margaret doesn't own a car, and Madison Metro is her primary means of transportation to get to her downtown job from her residence on the west side of Madison. She plans to move into the upcoming co-housing development, at its preferred site of Union Corners (corner of East Washington Avenue and Milwaukee Street), for many reasons, but easy access to a Metro stop with links to routes going all over the city within reasonable times is a definite plus (more on co-housing, below).  

For instance, from the nearby bus stop, Margaret can take a bus and get to East Towne Mall in 22 minutes, or to the Pinney Library in 15 minutes, and also to the State Capitol in 15 minutes via Madison Metro. Also from that stop, the UW campus, University Avenue and the University Hospital area can be accessed. If the co-housing group ultimately locates its development at a different spot, proximity to a bus stop will be an important consideration in the selection of a suitable site.

Even for those co-housing members who do own cars, using Metro for in-city travel makes sense. Not having to negotiate Madison's busy streets is certainly easier than driving yourself. And, while on the bus, instead of paying close attention to the traffic, you can read, stream music, or chat with fellow passengers. Meeting others on the bus who live or work near you will help build a sense of community. When you arrive at your destination, you will probably be closer than you would find a parking spot (at a meter you have to pay for).  In contrast to an often-stressful experience driving on crowded streets, riding the bus can be an enjoyable experience.


Union Corners cohousing offers a vision for how Madison can grow sustainably and equitably, one in which public transit plays a vital role (Union Corners Cohousing)Union Corners cohousing offers a vision for how Madison can grow sustainably and equitably, one in which public transit plays a vital role (Union Corners Cohousing)


A major downside to Madison's bus infrastructure is that the weekend schedules are weak at best. People who rely on buses to get to their weekend jobs, or to shop, or to go to sporting events or festivals, are subjected to long waits, since most buses are scheduled an hour apart on Saturdays, or not at all for most routes on Sundays. Also, the buses do not run late at night. If your child has a school open house, a musical performance, or a sports competition on a weeknight, or if you are attending an event late on Saturday, you can't count on a ride from Metro. If you can get to your destination by bus after 6:00 p.m., you may have a long wait at an intermediate stop for a transfer bus. The waste of time is hard on families and people with other responsibilities such as a second job or evening classes. This wait is inconvenient at all times, but is especially problematic during our Wisconsin winters, when wind chills can be dangerous. These are some compelling reasons why Madison should revise and expand its weekend bus schedules and routes.

While Margaret appreciates the convenience of taking the bus to work, she wishes she could easily access Madison on the evenings and weekends, or could take a quick bus ride to run multiple errands. It is difficult for people who are dependent on public transportation (whether due to economics or to making a conscious environmental choice) to go everywhere they actually need, or want, to go using public transportation today in Madison. The inadequate bus system marginalizes these citizens and restricts their participation in the full life of the community.

For the readers who are unfamiliar with "cohousing," some explanation is required; living in a cohousing situation is a lifestyle that balances privacy and connections with others living there.  Cooperatively, the people share large group spaces, such as a commercial-grade kitchen, group dining room, lounges, workrooms, guest bedrooms, recreational spaces, gardens, and whatever else the members decide to build together. Perhaps most importantly, the members self-govern and self-manage the cohousing structure, its bricks and mortar and its rules and policies. As in a condominium association, each household has their own condo-style apartment or townhouse with its own kitchen and all the amenities of a private home. The cohousing concept was conceived of in Denmark in the 1960's, by people dissatisfied with traditional housing complexes that no longer met their needs for community.

Union Corners Cohousing consists of about 25 committed households and is growing. They are creating an intentionally welcoming community that is inclusive, accessible, LGBT, child and senior friendly, and ethnically and economically diverse. The people who have already joined are dedicated to enhancing the quality of life of the other members, and the vibrancy of life of their neighborhood, and are ready to live by their core values of community, diversity, sustainability, affordability and voice.

These core values need definition: "Community" means working together, sharing, giving mutual support, and being open to a sense of joy.  "Diversity" is accepting, welcoming, compassionate, and growing while respecting people's differences. "Sustainability" requires energy efficiency, low impact on the environment, universal design that will work anywhere, and wise and unselfish use of resources.  "Affordability" means that Union Corners Cohousing commits to having at least 30 percent of the units affordable to those who earn 80 percent or less of Dane County's median income. "Voice" gives everyone equal opportunity to speak at meetings or gatherings, respectfully listen, and feel free to disagree with what was said.

Sustainability and wise use of resources is part of cohousing's core values. Taking advantage of Madison's busing infrastructure will therefore be important to Union Corners cohousing residents to minimize a person's environmental footprint. Currently, the City spends a great deal of transportation related funds on parking lots and multi-level ramps, supporting the car using practices that predominate our culture today. This runs counter to the demographic shift across the nation, where many eco-conscious Millenials are less car-dependent than older generations. Is Madison building ramps which may soon be obsolete? Could this money be better spent on boosting Madison Metro's evening and weekend bus service? Unfortunately, instead of subsidizing lower bus fares to encourage more ridership, the fares increased on Aug. 28.  This sends the wrong message to Madison bus riders about the city's budget priorities.  Spending more money on public transit would be an investment, not just an expense.  More bus availability gives more people a viable alternative to car transportation and increases ridership.  

Hopefully with time, as more city residents appreciate the advantages of riding the bus, or using rapid mass transit, instead of driving cars, this will lead to many positive changes for Madison. With a really robust public transit system, fewer greenhouse gases will enter our atmosphere and our streets will be less clogged with cars. Fewer parking lots and ramps will take up ground space that could be put to better uses (like growing food?). People who do business downtown (or anywhere else in Madison) could easily get there, without parking problems.  Less traffic, less air pollution, less asthma, a healthier city: it's a win-win for us all.

For more information on this local cohousing development please see its website,, or visit its Facebook page.