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ORTH SOUTH Transit Enhancement MILWAUKEE

1. Why this corridor? 

The north-south corridor that includes 27th Street is the focus of this transit enhancement study. 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 15 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 perpendicular thoroughfares that intersect with the corridor. The corridor facilitates travel by all modes, with several segments designated as a state highway, bike lanes present nearly the entire length, and one of the highest transit ridership routes in the MCTS system—the PurpleLine route.

The corridor is home to a diverse population in terms of race, ethnicity, and income. People of color make up approximately 75 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, 21 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 East-West Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) investment that is expected to begin service in 2022—leveraging that investment and better connecting the 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 will be studied along this corridor. Commuter rail, streetcar, and other forms of rapid transit—typically defined as transit with vehicles operating in exclusive lanes, using signal priority or preemption, with stations typically spaced every ½ to 1 mile apart—will be considered. 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 deliver enhanced public transportation services in communities seeking cost-effective ways to reduce traffic congestion, improve mobility and increase transit ridership. BRT features unique branding, specialized bus vehicles, exclusive transit lanes where approved, 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 commuter rail?  

Commuter rail, sometimes referred to as regional rail, is a passenger rail service that operates within a metropolitan area 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.

5. What is light rail?  

Light rail is another form of rapid transit that operates on a rail, either within an exclusive right-of-way or an exclusive travel lane within the roadway 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). Light rail vehicles can take many different forms. Light rail is typically designed to carry fewer people than commuter rail, but more than a fixed-route bus service.

6. What is a streetcar? 

The City of Milwaukee’s streetcar, The Hop, is a local example of streetcar service. 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.

7. 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 state or local funds.

8. 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. While it is too soon to identify a service start date, this information will be updated on this website as it becomes available.

9. 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.

10. 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, and encourage investment in the community—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. Enhanced transit services in other cities (e.g., Minneapolis, Cleveland) have been shown to catalyze economic development and increase property values.  

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.  

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.

11. 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 those routes in terms of reduced travel times and increased ridership. Specifically, 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 economic development effects on the broader community in terms of increased property tax revenue, and the outcome that increased access to jobs, education, and other destinations has on improving quality of life for everyone.

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. For instance, some of the alternatives that will likely be considered will exclusively use current auto travel lanes in some areas for the transit vehicles, or the transit vehicles may travel within the same travel lanes as vehicles while using traffic signal technology to give transit vehicles the priority at traffic signals.  A traffic analysis will be prepared as part of the study to understand the effects of the alternatives on auto traffic.   

12. I use the PurpleLine now, will I lose my bus stop?

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. However, if the PurpleLine is enhanced as a bus rapid transit route, travel and wait times will decrease while the stops will be upgraded, including messaging with bus arrival information.

13. 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.

Frequently Asked Questions