Public Policy Forum Blog

UWM students add vision to BRT planning efforts

Much has happened since we released our Picking up the Pace report, which presented options for improving bus services in the Milwaukee area, including the possibility of introducing bus rapid transit (BRT).

In June, the Milwaukee County Executive proposed developing a BRT route in the east-west corridor, connecting downtown Milwaukee and the Regional Medical Center in Wauwatosa. Since that time, County leaders have begun working with municipal, state, and federal officials, the regional planning commission, and other stakeholders to begin initial planning and analysis. In early December, the County’s Transportation, Public Works and Transit Committee recommended allocating $225,000 to a planning study for the proposed BRT route, which could prepare the County to apply for federal funding to implement the initial line. The full board is expected to pass that resolution later this week.

Meanwhile, this semester, a group of 22 UWM students have been engaged in a unique course entirely focused on the potential for BRT in the Milwaukee area. They presented the fruits of their labor on Monday night at UWM’s School of Architecture and Urban Planning, including detailed plans and designs for an initial east-west BRT route, and a broader vision for a system of up to seven BRT lines connecting major activity centers throughout the region.

The Bus Rapid Transit Workshop course, which is led by professors Ivy Hu and Robert Schneider, includes a mix of urban planning, architecture, and engineering students, whose combined skills have allowed the class to create realistic plans and attractive, functional designs. For example, for both the proposed initial route and the broader BRT system, the students were able to determine where dedicated bus-only lanes would physically fit on roadways; station locations that could best serve major destinations and facilitate transfers; estimated capital and operating costs; the demographics of the populations that would be served; the number of jobs that would be connected; and much more.

Another key element of the students’ work was design. Their renderings of proposed BRT corridors and stations (draft images below) make it easy to imagine the service in operation. The class even was able to create a 3-D animated video that shows how the initial BRT route could look along Wisconsin Avenue. Draft documents currently are posted on the course webpage, and the students’ final documents will be added in the coming weeks.

As a region, we are still at an early stage in planning for BRT. More analysis and stakeholder feedback are needed to design the most effective initial route possible. Ridership estimates for that route would need to be sufficient to compete for federal funding with proposals from across the country and to justify the investment of local public dollars.

Nevertheless, we are encouraged by the level of activity that is taking place to analyze options and plan for the future. UWM’s Bus Rapid Transit Workshop has added a great deal to the community’s conversation and vision, and the students should be commended for their outstanding work. 

Joe Peterangelo