Author’s Note: this article was written by Karen Vieth and Susan De Vos for Madison Commons.
While it has become rather standard practice for Metro to tweak its routing and scheduling every year around the end of August, the changes this year were major. One of those changes was the addition of a route 31 to the relatively new but isolated Owl Creek neighborhood, a housing development on Madison’s far southeast side near McFarland.
Route 31 now runs at peak times in the morning and afternoon during the work week (roughly 6:45-9:30 a.m. & 4:00-6:45 p.m.Mon-Fri) and hourly during the day on weekends. For La Follette High School senior, Nancy Garduno, the addition of bus route 31 to the Owl Creek neighborhood has brought with it a vastly improved quality of life.
The addition of the route marked the end of a year and a half long crusade by area teenagers, bus advocates, and community groups. Teenagers such as Garduno spent endless Saturdays knocking on doors with a petition, talking with government officials about their need for transportation, and testifying in front of the Transit and Parking Commission. The effort and persistence paid off, not just for this group of teenagers, but for future generations.
“I’m happy my brothers won’t have to go through everything I went through,” Garduno said.
Garduno was surprised that their efforts paid off.
“As much as I wanted a bus, I didn’t think it would actually happen,” she explained.
The previous victory of route 16 advocates was something that kept the local teen motivated. When LaFolletteHigh School students agitated for a direct bus to the South Transfer Point back in 2003, what ultimately became route 16, they encountered refusals all the way to a final budget hearing in front of the Common Council. In contrast, Garduno recalled a visit from Madison’s Mayor Paul Soglin during their advocacy. The responsiveness of city government and Metro Transit showed this group of teens the importance of voice in local government.
Persistence seems to be a way of life for Garduno. When asked about life before the bus route, she described her own trials as an athlete geographically separated from the high school. On the weekends, Garduno would ride her bike to and from practice, an hour round trip. She laughed recalling that when her bike broke down, she’d have to run there and back.
The addition of route 31 to Owl Creek opens up possibilities for the previously isolated neighborhood. Teens missing the school bus in the morning, now no longer have to miss a full day of school, an issue which had caused students to face truancy charges in the past. It also offers teenagers a way to visit friends and engage in an assortment of recreational activities.
Residents in the Owl Creek neighborhood will now have easier access to jobs and businesses. Before the bus route, options were limited, because the neighborhood is logistically cut off from the city.
Initially envisioned in 2005 by the Nelson brothers, the neighborhood sits among the wetlands, an issue of concern itself. As Schneider explained in a Cap Times article in 2011, the original plan included 69 single-family houses, 15 duplexes, and four 4-unit apartment buildings. However, the plan did not include a means for residents to move around, a problem that has become all too common these days. The development was constructed, in spite of its inaccessibility to a bus line, because people were supposed to have automobiles. However, shortly after the development was approved, the housing market took a turn for the worse, causing builders to begin walking away. This left the Nelson brothers with 50 vacant lots. So, plans changed to create a pocket of affordable housing, still without an apparent appreciation that affordable housing requires affordable transportation. As one resident explained, “it is like the city created our neighborhood and then just forgot about us way out here.”
Route 31 is a good first step in alleviating the community’s isolation and reconnecting residents to the city. It is a route that only runs once an hour, but Garduno says that it is “worth the wait.”