Episode 32: La Crosse, Wisconsin: small city and rural transit

We look first at the small radial bus system transit run by the La Crosse Municipal Transit Utility, which I rode on Fare Free Day.  Service Rep/Dispatcher Sonna Severson explains the system, then Director Keith Carlson explains some of the issues and what they've been working on. I toured the MTU service area, rode one of their brand new hybrid buses and enjoyed the two-year-old Grand River Station, a beautiful indoor/outdoor transit center which functions as a pulse point hub for ten fixed routes and Jefferson Lines intercity buses.

When I accidentally discovered the very new Scenic Mississippi Regional Transit, I had to take a ride. I share some audio from the trip as bus driver Carrie tells us about the service and who is using it.  Regional Transportation Planner (MRRPC) Peter Fletcher explains the process of starting a new transit service in Wisconsin, the complex public-private partnership that funds SMRT, and how it's going so far. The service is operated by Running Inc., which also operates a regional shared-ride taxi company.  Some publicity and coordination with MTU schedules, and a spot in Grand River Station, would help the ridership grow.

I biked from La Crosse north along the Mississippi River to Winona, Minnesota, my next stop, in the dark on country roads without my regular dynamo taillight. I blame Brompton for selling me an inferior halogen headlight which caused my inferior rear light to burn out, but thanks to the great folks at Calhoun Cycle in Minneapolis for replacing it and getting me on my way. [UPDATE: Eventually I replaced these with a good Busch & Muller LED light set that's been flawless.]

Read and contribute to the rural transit resource library of the TROUT in Bancroft, Ontario.  Learn about the Brompton US Championship race which will take place during Open Streets Minneapolis on June 23.

Most of this episode was recorded during the first few days of April.  Please send your questions, comments, ideas for show topics and guests to feedback@criticaltransit.com or using the contact form. Follow me and my work on Twitter @criticaltransit or Facebook.

Episode 30: Madison B-Cycle bike sharing

In cities of all sizes there is a new public transportation option that is convenient, flexible and inexpensive. Bike sharing allows you to have a bike when you need it and forget about it when you don't, without the hassles of parking and maintenance. Madison B-Cycle City Manager Claire Hurley explains how bike sharing works, who uses it and why it makes the city more livable. We also talk about utility and recreational bicycling in one of the most bike friendly cities in the country.

Madison B-Cycle was one of the first bike share systems in the United States. Bike sharing has been wildly successful in cities of all sizes and is rapidly expanding across the US and Canada. Check it out when you visit one of these places, and advocate for bike share in your own city. Follow the Bike Sharing Blog to read about international systems.

A few days later I completed a Tour de B-Cycle in which I toured the city by visiting all 32 stations in one day. The second half of this episode features a selection of audio from the adventure.

Episode 29: Madison Metro Transit

The unique geography of Madison, Wisconsin -- built on an isthmus, a narrow strip of land between two lakes -- creates an interesting bus service design. It's not quite narrow enough to put all buses on one street that everyone could walk to for very frequent service, but still there is frequent combined service on three corridors running the length of the isthmus. Like many agencies, Madison Metro Transit is struggling to manage steady growth in ridership. They were recently awarded the Outstanding Public Transportation Award for their efforts to improve and promote their service in innovative ways.  Marketing Director Mick Rusch joins me to discuss their services and some of the operational issues they deal with.

Bus routes and schedules are designed to facilitate connections at a series of transfer points at the edges of the city and downtown around the State Capitol. The most transit friendly city in Wisconsin has installed many transit priority facilities such as bus lanes and most notably a busway for the full length of the busy State Street pedestrian mall. The University of Wisconsin offers unlimited transit passes for their students, faculty and staff.

Metro Transit is struggling to deal with overcrowding and is even considering raising fares in order to increase service frequency. Would changing from a city department to a regional transit authority be the solution? Listen in to learn about bus-bike interaction, winter weather, bus technology and much more.

In the second half a listener shares a video on the structure of Singapore's bus and rail networks and suggests that privatized transit can only work well when heavily regulated. But if a public entity makes all the important decisions, is it still attractive to those who advocate for deregulation?  We also consider whether transit agencies should strive for profit, and suggests a way for the public sector to capture and reinvest some of increasing real estate values that their services facilitate.

Send your comments and suggestions for topics and/or guests by contacting me. Follow the blog at criticaltransit.com, and if this work is useful to you, please support the show to help me continue traveling and reporting.

Episode 27: Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin - Milwaukee

On the last bitter cold morning of the year I stopped by the Milwaukee office of the Wisconsin Bike Federation to learn about their efforts to improve bicycling across the state. Their education programs are a model for bike advocacy organizations looking to teach safe cycling skills to new cyclists of all ages. They are working to bring complete street designs to Wisconsin cities and towns and foster an already impressive bike culture.  Thanks to Communications Director Dave Schlabowske; Education Director (and soon-to-be Milwaukee chapter leader) Jessica Binder; and Education Project Manager (and bike polo master) Jake Newborn, for sharing all this great info. Follow the blog and learn about how you can help, and attend their Lobby Day on Tuesday, April 9 to help restore bike funding and promote legal protections for vulnerable road users. And if you become a member you get the shiny new magazine you heard about in the interview.

Also check out the Urban Ecology Center right next door, and have a look around the City of Milwaukee bike pages.

Episode 26: Streetsblog Chicago

My last show from Chicago features sustainable transportation advocates, and Streetsblog Chicago editors Steven Vance & John Greenfield.  Streetsblog is a daily news source covering public transit, bicycling, walking and the growing movement for safe, equitable, livable streets.  Their original site remains at Grid Chicago and their individual blogs are Steven Can Plan and Vote With Your Feet. Links to Chicago DOT, Active Transportation Alliance, the Ventra fare card (Chicago Transit Authority), Chicago Cargo (bike swap photos). I am now in Milwaukee, Wisconsin after completing a multimodal trip by train, bike and bus, which I discuss later in the show.  The coldest days seem to be behind us but it still won't feel like spring in this region for another two weeks.  From here I will spend a few days in Madison and continue northwest making my way up to Minneapolis & St. Paul, Minnesota.

If you find yourself along my route please contact me to share information, suggest places to go or people to talk to, and hopefully meet to discuss transit and bikes.  And if you appreciate the show please consider donating to help support my Sustainable Transport Tour and this reporting. You can also support this work by sharing it with your friends and colleagues, following me on Facebook and Twitter, and leaving a review on iTunes or another blog/podcast service.

P.S.  I have been working on the site to fix some issues and make it load faster.  Please contact me if you have suggestions for improvements, if you experience difficulty accessing the site, or if your comments don't appear after you post them (sometimes real comments get stuck in the spam folder).