1. Why this corridor?
1. Why this corridor?
The north-south corridor along and near 27th Street is the focus of this transit enhancement study. Some of this corridor is currently served by the PurpleLine, which is a high-frequency local bus service operated by the Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS). This corridor is an important backbone of Milwaukee County, spanning more than 23 miles and connecting several densely populated residential areas north and south of I-94 to jobs, retail, medical care, and other community resources located both along the corridor, and along several cross streets that intersect with the corridor. 27th Street itself facilitates a substantial amount of travel by many modes, and the existing PupleLine route is one of the highest transit ridership routes in the MCTS system.
The 27th Street corridor in Milwaukee County is home to a diverse population in terms of race, ethnicity, and income. People of color make up approximately 73 percent of the population in the corridor, which is comprised of concentrated areas of both Black/African-American populations and Hispanic populations. These areas also have particularly high proportions of families in poverty and households without access to a car. Specifically, 25 percent of the families in poverty and nearly 1 in 5 of the households without access to a car in all of Milwaukee County reside within the PurpleLine corridor.
In 2019, Milwaukee County declared racism a public health crisis and committed to addressing the root causes of racial inequities. With a high proportion of residents in the corridor reliant on public transit, enhancing service to make it more competitive with auto travel will improve access to employment, education, healthcare, grocery stores, and other essential services—which, when available, can positively impact health and economic opportunity.
Finally, an enhanced transit service in a north-south direction would intersect with the MCTS East-West Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) investment that is expected to begin service in 2022—leveraging that transit investment to better connect people, jobs, and other services along both corridors.
2. Is this going to be a bus rapid transit (BRT) corridor?
Bus rapid transit (BRT) is just one type of transit enhancement that is being considered along this corridor. Other forms of rapid transit—typically defined as transit with vehicles operating in exclusive lanes, using signal priority or preemption to reduce or eliminate transit vehicles waiting at red lights, with stations typically spaced every ½ to 1 mile apart—are being considered, including rapid streetcar and light rail. Early analysis for this study also looked into commuter rail, traditional streetcar, and “BRT light”; however, it was determined that these options would not be effective for the transit enhancement along this corridor. At the conclusion of this initial feasibility study, a specific type of transit enhancement will be recommended.
3. What is BRT?
Bus rapid transit, or BRT, is an increasingly popular approach to delivering enhanced public transportation services in communities seeking cost-effective ways to provide alternatives to traffic congestion, improve mobility, and increase transit ridership, in most cases by using the existing roadway. BRT features unique branding, specialized bus vehicles, exclusive transit lanes along at least half of the route, and improved transit stations to enhance the transit experience for riders. Technology improvements include real-time arrival signs at stations, and they may include road features such as traffic signal priority and queue-jumps at busy intersections to help buses increase reliability and maintain schedules.
4. What is rapid streetcar?
Rapid streetcar is a transit type that is common throughout Europe, but has not gained popularity in the United States. Rapid streetcar is similar to traditional streetcar service with streetcar vehicles (also called trams) that operate on rails installed within the street; however, rapid streetcar service features routes that have at least 50% dedicated lanes and wider station spacing—typically 1/4 to 1/2 mile. Similar to the other rapid transit options being considered, rapid streetcar service features enhanced stations with level boarding, off-board ticketing, and real-time arrival information as well as traffic signal priority and queue-jumps at busy intersections to help streetcars increase reliability and maintain schedules.
5. What is light rail?
Light rail is another form of rapid transit that operates on a rail, within an exclusive travel way within the road right-of-way. Light rail also typically has enhanced stations with additional amenities, signal prioritization or preemption, and stations spaced ½ to 1 mile apart (or more). In addition, light rail may make use of roadway medians or other adjacent space rather than an existing travel or parking lane.
6. What is commuter rail?
Commuter rail, sometimes referred to as regional rail, is a passenger rail service that operates with a focus on connecting residential areas with job centers and other popular destinations. In many places, commuter rail runs along existing freight rail lines and has more limited stops than local bus service. Commuter rail services can utilize a variety of train types and typically features stations with enhanced amenities. Commuter rail is not being considered as part of this study since ridership is expected to be higher than typical capacity for commuter rail and, due to the location of existing rail in the area, would not effectively serve the full corridor. Commuter rail is also typically used for longer, regional routes. Commuter rail service along the 30th Street corridor could be considered for future transit studies—particularly options that connect through Downtown Milwaukee and further south to Racine and Kenosha, as recommended in VISION 2050, the long-range regional land use and transportation plan.
7. What is “BRT Light”?
“Bus rapid transit (BRT) light” is a transit option that includes some, but not all features typically associated with BRT. Often, “BRT light” is a service that includes enhanced stations, wider station spacing, and possibly transit signal priority, but without dedicated travel lanes. “BRT light” is not being considered for this transit study because it would not provide sufficient travel time savings, which are necessary to address the disparity between auto and transit travel times in the corridor and make service more comparable to auto travel.
8. What is local streetcar?
The City of Milwaukee’s streetcar, The Hop, is a local example of streetcar service, also called local streetcar. The streetcars operate on rails installed within the public streets that can be shared by auto traffic. Like rapid transit service, streetcars feature specialized vehicles and modern stations, with unique branding, to enhance the transit experience for riders. Streetcar technology improvements may include real-time arrival signs at stations, traffic signal priority, and queue-jumps at busy intersections to help streetcars increase reliability and maintain schedules. Local streetcar service is not being considered for this study because stations would be spaced too close together and running the route in largely mixed-traffic would not sufficiently improve travel times.
9. How will this project be funded?
The initial feasibility study is being staffed by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) and managed by a team that includes representatives from the Milwaukee County Department of Transportation and MCTS. The feasibility study will include recommendations for how to fund any recommended improvements. Implementation will likely be dependent on federal funding sources, matched with a portion of non-federal funding sources.
10. What is the timeframe for this study and when would an enhanced transit service be open to the public?
The initial feasibility study is expected to be completed by late 2021. Based on the outcome of this study and coordination with project stakeholders, the approval to advance the project into environmental analysis and engineering phases would be the next steps, followed by an application for Federal funding for construction. While it is too soon to identify a service start date, this information will be updated on this website as it becomes available.
11. How does this study fit within the regional transportation plan?
VISION 2050 is the long-range land use and transportation plan for Southeastern Wisconsin. It was adopted in 2016 and updated in 2020. Rapid transit, express transit, and commuter rail are recommended in different areas along this corridor. More information about the plan can be found at vision2050sewis.org.
12. I don’t use public transit, how does this benefit me or my community?
Improving public transit, particularly with fixed routes that have dedicated lanes or tracks and enhanced stops, can provide reliable alternatives to cars stuck in congested traffic, improve traffic flow, reduce transportation-related pollution, encourage investment in the community, and improve health—which benefits all roadway users and others who live and work in the corridor. Pedestrian improvements that support enhanced stops benefit everyone who walks in the area and can improve safety and encourage physical activity. Enhanced transit services in other cities (e.g., Minneapolis, Cleveland) have been shown to catalyze economic development and increase property values. By reducing emissions, transit can reduce respiratory symptoms including asthma.
Many people rely on public transit to get to jobs that provide essential services and keep the economy of our communities running—from healthcare workers, to grocery store cashiers, to teachers—we all benefit from ensuring these individuals have an efficient and affordable way to get to their jobs. In Southeastern Wisconsin, it is estimated that families spend at least $4,500 per year to operate and maintain a car. Enhanced public transit service can provide a reliable transportation option that is competitive with auto travel times for those who cannot afford to own a car and provides more flexibility for others to put that money toward housing, education, savings, or other goods. Public transit provides personal mobility and freedom, which positively impacts physical and mental health. A robust transit system also provides employers with access to a larger labor force, increasing the number of available candidates for job openings and ensuring employees have a dependable way to get to work. The community as a whole benefits when jobs in the region are filled, fewer social services are needed to support families in need, and more expendable income can circulate in the local economy.
13. I don’t live or work in the corridor, will this impact me?
Enhanced transit along or near 27th Street could make connections to other transit routes more efficient and improve the usefulness of those routes by reducing travel times for riders and increased ridership. As a specific example, if an enhanced transit service along this corridor connected with the East-West Bus Rapid Transit, both services could benefit from additional connections to residential areas, jobs, and other destinations. Making transit more competitive with auto travel has the potential to reduce traffic congestion and related air pollution. Investment on or near this corridor as a result of a transit investment has positive health and economic development effects on the broader community in terms of increased property tax revenue, reduced emissions, and a more economically vibrant a resilient region.
As this enhanced transit feasibility study progresses and the alternatives are identified and evaluated, more specific information will be available regarding the impacts and benefits for the alternatives. A traffic analysis will be prepared as part of the study to understand the effects of the alternatives on auto traffic.
14. I don’t live or work in the corridor, will this impact me?
Once a locally preferred alternative is chosen, analyses considering stop locations and other potential impacts to existing transit service will be performed. A transit service that maintains PurpleLine bus stops may remain in service, but the frequency of service may change.
15. Can I provide feedback on the project?
Yes! The project team is looking for feedback on the study. Visit the contact page to provide comments and sign up for the project email list. We encourage you to provide feedback and stay informed throughout every phase of the project to help us provide the best transit enhancement alternative for the community.