HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — The City of Huntsville is planning for the future, especially with recent population growth. As the roads are getting more crowded, the City is thinking ahead about how it can improve public transportation, as a solution.

The planning is broken down into blocks of time: right now, 5-10 years, and 20 years.

Right Now: Focus on current routes

“Right now what we want to do is improve and sort of update our bus lines,” said Dennis Madsen, the Manager for Urban & Long Range Planning for the City of Huntsville.

“We’re doing a transit update, actually a couple of different initiatives,” Madsen said. “One is with Huntsville City Transit. They are doing a route study, and there are actually some public involvement sessions that are happening at different venues.”

The next 5-10 years: Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)

“Our next step, probably in the next five to ten years is to start introducing BRT on those corridors where we can see a lot of growth and development,” Madsen said. He said BRT stands for “Bus Rapid Transit.”

He joked, “I think a lot of folks stop listening the minute they hear the word bus,” but then explained how BRT works.

“It doesn’t stop every 800 feet at a shelter, it really stops at larger stations. Many times it will have it’s own dedicated lane, or there is digital infrastructure, that actually allows it to cue jump or get ahead at signals. So it means you can move more people more quickly.”

He explained BRT as a more “financially responsible and good middle-range option.”

In even more simple terms he explained BRT as: “a trolley, but with rubber tires a trolley that’s on wheels, instead of on rails.”

Bus Rapid Transit and beyond:

Madsen said Bus Rapid Transit would be a processor to a light rail system, saying it would likely come first and lay the groundwork. “We want to keep an eye 20 years out, maybe a little bit farther on corridors where we can really start adding rail.”

He said a light rail project would be more regional. Not only connecting Huntsville and Madison, but also “Guntersville, Scottsboro, Athens, Decatur, all those other cities that are really part of the metro.”

He said the City is taking a measure approach to expansion, by making sure there is a need for transit but also making sure they lay the groundwork once the need arises.

“If you establish that (BRT) and then you say we grow even more, and we get to the point where ‘wow we really need the carrying capacity’ we need to be able to move people like light rail can, then it’s a whole lot easier to take that next step,” Madsen said.

The big picture:

“The key piece to remember for most folks is, you know, we’re probably not going to see a lot of this in the next two or three years, it’s going to take a long time to build this out” Madsen said. “But, what we always try to reinforce is the idea if you wait until you need transit, to implement transit, it’s too late.”

Madsen also said they are keeping an eye on expanding routes in high traffic areas like University Drive and listening to big employers that have reached out about needing reliable transportation out to factory jobs.

He summed things up by saying using the “chicken and egg” metaphor. “It’s hard to justify making the transit adjustment until you show ridership, but it’s hard to grow ridership unless you can demonstrate that you’ve made an investment in transit” he said.

“So, what we’re trying to do, instead of say chicken or egg, we want to do both at the same time.”