The Next Generation of Wisconsin Transportation


A new study from a public interest research group adds to the evidence: young people in Wisconsin want different and better transportation options.  If the state wants to attract and retain young people, it needs to drastically reorient its priorities in funding and designing transportation in the coming years.  Active transportation options, which include bicycles, are an important part of the mix and, along with transit, are necessary to respond to changing public perceptions of accessibility and affordability.  The good news is that several Wisconsin communities — including Eau Claire, La Crosse and Madison — are already leading the way.


The new report, from the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group (or WISPIRG), is titled “Millenials on the Move: A Survey of Changing Transportation Trends and How They Can Help Wisconsin Thrive.” It surveyed more than 600 students on 24 Wisconsin college campuses during the previous academic year. Key findings include:


  • “76 percent of respondents said it was either “very important” or “somewhat important” to have transportation options other than an automobile to get around.”

  • “75 percent of students surveyed said it was either “very important” or “somewhat important” to them to live in a place with non-driving transportation options after graduation.”

  • “55 percent of students surveyed said they would either be “somewhat more likely” or “much more likely” to stay in Wisconsin after graduation if they could live in a place where trips for work, recreation and errands did not require a car.”


This isn’t the first time that WISPIRG has informed decision makers and state transportation planners about what it will take to attract young people to Wisconsin, and what it will take to keep college graduates in the state.  Back in 2014, the lobbying group released a report called “Driving Wisconsin’s ‘Brain Drain’? How Outdated Transportation Policies Undermine Wisconsin’s Ability to Attract and Retain Young Talent for Tomorrow’s Economic Prosperity.”  That survey found that “60 percent of respondents said they would be at least ‘somewhat more likely’ to stay in Wisconsin after graduation if they could live in a place where they could get around without driving. Of that group, a majority said the ability to live in places with transportation alternatives would make them ‘much more likely’ to remain in Wisconsin.”


Taken together, these two reports demonstrate remarkable consistency over the last decade — young people in Wisconsin look at transportation very differently than do previous generations.  This is a problem if decision makers don’t pay attention and instead continue to pour vast amounts into last century’s auto-centric cities and highways.


The survey respondents say they want to live in a state that drastically increases funding for multimodal transportation options, and shifts transportation spending priorities away from new or wider highways and toward repair of existing roads and bridges.  They support multimodal options like transit, walking and biking. The report further recommends that decision makers study the evolving transportation preferences of young people, and encourage the creation of multimodal communities by restoring the state’s Complete Streets policy. Finally, the report recommends the legislators support the formation of Regional Transportation Authorities in support of transit funding.


The report also highlights Eau Claire, La Crosse and Madison as Wisconsin communities that have responded to the interest and desires of younger generations, and reaped benefits of increasing populations and business prospects.  Partially as a result of its success in multimodal transportation planning and construction, “Eau Claire has been particularly effective at drawing in young people,” says the report, and “the city today serves as a model for other college towns faced with similar challenges in the wake of deindustrialization.” In the La Crosse region “almost 7 percent of residents either bike or walk to work, with rates almost as high as 40 percent in some neighborhoods,” an extraordinarily high rate not only for the state but nationwide. A new network of neighborhood greenways is planned in the city of La Crosse, with the first reconstruction project completed in the last year.  And Madison, already known nationwide for its biking, has “made efforts to improve pedestrian safety, including the creation of high-visibility crosswalks, installation of sound signals, and a history of ‘Complete Streets’ planning.”


The recommendations in the two reports point to a better future for Wisconsin transportation.  A multimodal future means safer, healthier lives for everybody in the Badger state, and the Bike Fed is working to make that future a reality.

About Carolyn Dvorak, Southwest Region Director

Carolyn lives in La Crosse with her husband and two daughters. She has loved riding a bicycle throughout her life. She enjoys working in the La Crosse area helping to create great places to bicycle.

One thought on “The Next Generation of Wisconsin Transportation

  1. I’m glad this study is out but I wouldn’t put any if those three on a list of great or even adequate public transportation. None offers good 24/7 public transit, with weekends and evenings pretty bare bones in most cases. Try to get from the UW campus to the Greyhound bus station (a gas station in Monona) for the 8:15 pm bus going west without having to wait an hour or more because bus service is set up for workday commuters and ends way before the evening Greyhound leaves. The carless do not have access to many jobs via public transit because of poor schedules and limited frequency. And while there is some service between cities, it’s usually only one bus per day, requiring at least one if not two overnight stays if you want to go to and from by bus. Really, it’s pitiful and embarrassing. If young people want (and they should) great public transit, Milwaukee would probably be their only WI choice in my opinion.

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