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Business owners push back against Bus Rapid Transit stops along State Street

Published: Jun. 23, 2021 at 11:25 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The Bus Rapid Transit project is moving forward in the city of Madison, but there’s growing opposition for its route downtown.

The BRT system aims to connect the east and west sides of town, shorten travel time and reduce congestion for the city.

Currently, the city is planning for two stops along State Street. According to transportation director Tom Lynch, the city is considering two locations for the eastbound station and three for the one westbound.

Business owners along State Street have said they have been largely left out of the conversation in deciding where the bus stops go. They have since written to the mayor and met with other city leaders to share their concerns.

“We’re going to stand up and say, ‘They shouldn’t be on State Street,” Carmelo Alfano, the owner of the Madison Modern Market, said. Alfano and other business owners, who’ve bonded over the last year through a year and a half of “suffering,” said they would like to see bus stops along roads perpendicular to State Street.

According to Lynch, the city already has preferred stations, including one on the 300 block of State Street, close to the Triangle Market. “That corner isn’t being used right now, so there’s operational advantages to that,” Lynch said. “However, just yesterday we met with some of the owners, and we’re hearing how they feel about that.”

Each station is anticipated to be upwards of 60 feet long. The businesses on the same block as the Triangle Market expressed worries over bus stations covering their storefronts.

“It’s going to block my store all over,” Abdul Lababidi, the owner of Princess of India Imports said. Lababidi’s shop is located next to the Triangle Market, and he explained, window shopping is a big draw for customers.

Two doors down at Parthenon Gyros, co-owner Erin Vranas said, “When it comes to these storefronts, a BRT station is essentially like boarding them up because you’re reducing visibility. These retailers— and we know that retailers are struggling as is— people window shop. You are taking that away from them. That’s something they cannot afford to lose. None of us can.”

Curtis Diller, the owner of Kilwin’s in the 200 block of State Street, explained that his business model relies on passersby to “smell the smell, see the sights” of the open kitchen. “I’d say 20 to 30 percent who walk by on a busy day, they stop and come in,” Diller said. “If they were to put a bus station directly in front of my store, our frontage would entirely be blocked, thus destroying our entire business model.”

Diller added, “If I see a 20 percent decline in sales, then our business is done, easily.”

Other businesses said they feared losing outdoor patio space.

To the concern, Lynch told NBC15, “There will be some impact, but a tree planter or two is unavoidable. But we don’t think we’ll impact a current sidewalk café.”

“The route right now has been decided. But the stations we can work with stakeholders and get them in the right spot so that it reduces impact and maximizes opportunities,” Lynch said. He added, he will be working with business stakeholders throughout the next couple months to finalize bus stop locations.

NBC15 also reached out to the mayor’s office Wednesday afternoon and did not hear back.

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