The Bus Stops Here: By Decree, Not Neighborhood Consent

The Bus Stops Here is produced by members of Madison Area Bus Advocates.

The proposed Jenifer Street detour (Madison Metro)The proposed Jenifer Street detour (Madison Metro)
















 Residents and neighborhood businesses in the Marquette area, a neighborhood on the Isthmus, are fighting Metro Transit for the second year in a row to hold onto their claim of having the highest per capita bus use in the city.

One would expect Metro to want to encourage a neighborhood’s high bus usage, but apparently not. Or so it seems. Last year, Metro proposed eliminating heavily-used bus stops including the one serving the community’s neighborhood center.  

Fortunately, that plan was halted last Spring by the city’s Transit and Parking Commission after a massive campaign that included neighborhood associations, neighborhood businesses, area nonprofits and the district’s city alder. They used oral testimony, written letters, and petitions.

This time, Metro has unilaterally decided to detour bus stops four blocks instead of one from the neighborhood’s usual route and, again, neighborhood residents, businesses, and nonprofits are fighting back. (See accompanying map.)

In between these two times, there was a major study of public participation in Metro Transit’s decision-making process by the UW’s program in Public Affairs.  One recommendation, seemingly ignored, was that (p. 18):  

Metro Transit focus on neighborhood outreach by (a) using community organizations to facilitate participation, (b) holding informal meetings in the community and (c) engaging in tactical urbanism in which individuals carry out small neighborhood projects.

 To do otherwise is nothing more than fostering “token participation” (p. 3).

The supposed reason for both decisions is upcoming major road work on Jenifer Street, which will close the street for many months beginning in May. Initially planned to start in the Spring of 2015, the road work was postponed until this year.

We say ‘supposed reason’ because the street re-structure could appear little more than an excuse to do something Metro has wanted to do for a while, which is to divert bus travel from Jenifer and Williamson Streets to the major automobile-oriented, six-lane arterial called East Washington Avenue.

Superficially more efficient, Metro’s design actually undermines a major strength of the settlement pattern of the historic Isthmus–the more traditional and functional urban grid pattern. Otherwise, why would Metro planners decide on such a detour route after last fall’s horrific rape and mugging of a young woman on the Isthmus Bike Path, an attack that took place within the dark industrial/railyard area through which Metro’s proposed detour would have everyone walk to/from East Washington Avenue?

Detouring to East Washington Avenue would add an additional four-block walk to all bus trips, which could effectively deny bus service to many elderly residents and parents with small children living on or near Jenifer Street for more than half a year.

In addition, businesses in the commercial district of Williamson Street (which parallels and is one block away from Jenifer Street) want the bus route to be re-routed to Williamson Street, and are offering help to find good locations where detour bus stops could be located.  Otherwise, detouring bus stops all the way to East Washington Ave. would displace many patrons and would be a significant hardship to employees who bus to and from work.  

Finally, as many nonprofits are headquartered on Williamson Street, Metro’s proposed detour would make it unnecessarily difficult for staff, volunteers, and the people served by those nonprofits to travel to/from there. Last year’s plan by Metro had even included removal of the bus stop serving the headquarters of the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired on Williamson Street.

Neighborhood residents and business owners only learned about the plans at a neighborhood “information” meeting in late January. Without consulting the neighborhood association, Metro Transit had decided on the detour route and then told the neighborhood what it had decided.

Metro personnel cited resident concerns about buses on neighboring Spaight Street; the narrow turn at Jenifer and Spaight Streets; the existing infrastructure on East Washington; and business concerns about losing parking spots on Williamson Street.

As important, however, was what was not mentioned.  For instance, safety was not mentioned.  Nor distance. Nor the livability and vibrancy of a neighborhood. Nor any consultation with Williamson Street businesses or community representatives.

Last year’s halt to Metro’s bus stop removal plan was made by the city’s Transit and Parking Commission, the agency’s oversight body comprised of alders and regular citizens. This year however, Metro staff considered the detour route “a purely administrative matter” that was to be made independently of either neighborhood consultation or Commission oversight.

The area’s alder and others disagree. They believe that since Metro is a city agency, the Transit and Parking Commission does have the authority to uphold or reject its plans.

So again with the active involvement of the district’s alder, the Transit and Parking Commission added the issue to the agenda of its February meeting where it heard and read a voluminous amount of testimony. The Commission then asked Metro to review that citizen input and report back, presumably at the upcoming meeting on April 13, 2016.  Let us hope for a satisfactory resolution.

This specific incident has a general message.  The Marquette neighborhood has involved and experienced neighborhood activists, a vibrant business community, and dedicated alders who all believe that public agencies in a tax-paying democracy are governed by “We the People.”  They believe that citizens have a right to expect their opinions to count and a right to participate in the decision-making process of their government, including bus service.

It is hoped that citizens in other neighborhoods too will raise their voices in support of bus service in the interests of bus riders.  Speaking up makes a difference!