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Sun Prairie Takes an Integrated Approach to VMT Reduction

Sun Prairie Takes an Integrated Approach to VMT Reduction

In our April Performance Indicator Spotlight, we highlighted Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) as a measure of regional connectivity. CARPC’s 2050 Regional Development framework advocates for reducing total miles traveled by motor vehicles per day to help us achieve the goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing access to opportunity, and conserving resources.

To accomplish this, the Framework aims to increase the percent of development that is compact, mixed use, walkable, and where feasible, transit supportive. Strategies that work toward this objective include supporting alternative modes of transportation and encouraging development in centers, corridors, and already developed areas.

After decades of car-centric development, however, effectively reducing VMT can feel like an uphill battle. Rather than searching for one silver bullet to drastically cut driving, the City of Sun Prairie is stacking solutions to reduce VMT from multiple angles. The City’s current efforts to expand public transit service, support commuting alternatives and encourage compact development patterns all work in concert to reduce the need to drive.

Transit extension

Madison Metro Transit expanded service to Sun Prairie this month through the Transit Network Redesign, a process informed by community input. City and Madison Metro staff designed the new Sun Prairie routes to maximize ridership and coverage while reliably connecting to Madison’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service.

In alignment with the Framework goal of connecting people to jobs, housing, and services, the new routes were developed based on proximity to major destinations and employers, areas of high population and employment density, and high usage areas of Sun Prairie’s existing Shared-Ride Taxi. The resulting three routes will serve key destinations, including major grocers and retailers, medical facilities and pharmacies, banks, parks, and community facilities, with varying levels of frequency and availability.

As recommended by the Framework, Sun Prairie applied an equity lens during route development by prioritizing service to low-income areas and senior and multi-family housing developments. Metro paratransit is available for riders with physical limitations. To evaluate how well the new routes meet the community’s needs, City staff will observe how behaviors change and monitor monthly ridership numbers from Metro.

Employee commute support

In addition to giving residents options to lower VMT, Sun Prairie is also working to expand transportation options for City staff. The City conducted an employee commuting survey in the fall of 2022 to better understand employee habits and attitudes toward commuting. Survey results indicated that employees were interested in potentially carpooling, taking transit, biking, and/or walking to the office, as well as better access to tech at home, mid-day breaks, and no meeting days to support telecommuting.

This information helped City administration assess which driving reduction programs – such as flex work schedules, incentives for not driving, and free or subsidized transportation alternatives – would be most attractive to staff. One of the first resulting programs was a transit reimbursement program built in preparation for Sun Prairie’s new local bus service. In fact, at their June 6 meeting, the Common Council adopted an Employee Commute Card program. The program will allow full-time, part-time, and seasonal employees the option to obtain an employee commute card at no cost which will provide unlimited rides on Madison Metro transit buses to encourage employees to utilize the bus services.

The City also organized a webinar with the Greater Madison MPO RoundTrip program to inform City staff about how the program supports carpooling and other alternative modes, how to join the City of Sun Prairie staff network in RoundTrip, and how to participate in the RoundTrip Emergency Ride Home program for alternative commuters.

Sun Prairie continues to explore different ways of promoting alternative transportation methods and engaging employees with events like Bike-to-Work Week. The City plans to conduct a follow-up survey in the future to assess program effectiveness and changes in employee attitudes.

Overall development patterns

Sun Prairie’s plans and policies broadly promote VMT reduction by prioritizing development in centers, corridors, and areas that are already developed. The City’s recent Sun Prairie Stronger plan, developed to guide recovery following the devastating 2018 gas explosion, calls for denser housing and a mix of commercial and civic uses on Main and Bristol Streets. The plan recommends incorporating accessibility, diversity, and local character into future downtown development, as well as creating spaces that are walkable, bikeable, and connected to the larger multimodal transportation system.

Such concepts are nothing new in Sun Prairie, as seen in the 2006 West Main Street Corridor Plan. This plan provides a vision for the revitalization of the corridor between downtown Sun Prairie and USH 151 through a combination of public and private investment. The City has recently completed two major reconstruction projects along the corridor to address traffic flow and aesthetics.

The West Main Street Corridor Plan also spurred the creation of a TIF district, unique Main Street and Live-Work Overlay Zoning Districts, and a complementary Main Street Corridor Redevelopment Plan. All of these efforts have focused on encouraging mixed use, pedestrian-friendly, and well-connected redevelopment along the Main Street commercial corridor to enhance the City’s distinctive community identity.

Recent data shows these efforts are paying off: out of 1,093 housing units built in Sun Prairie since 2000, 45% (487 units) were located in centers and corridors, exceeding the target set in the Regional Development Framework’s preferred growth scenario.*

Looking to the future, Sun Prairie is also increasingly engaging in conversations on bike and pedestrian safety. Planning staff is currently working on the City’s first-ever active transportation plan, to be finalized later this year. Staff is also working on a complete rewrite of the City’s zoning code which will present opportunities to further support efficient, climate-friendly development patterns.

* This data is available for all municipalities. Please contact Sean Higgins at seanh@capitalarearpc.org to learn more.