Greendale — People who ride the bus to Southridge Mall will face changes Nov. 1. Four routes that serve Southridge will no longer stop near the Sears store, and Freeway Flyer service to Southridge will be discontinued.
Milwaukee County Transit System buses will no longer be allowed to layover on Southridge property. The four routes (14, 55, 64 and 76) that currently stop near Sears will now drop off and pick up passengers at the park-and-ride area near Edgerton Avenue, northeast of the mall. This is the area where the Route 46 Freeway Flyer route currently begins and ends.
Southridge's new policy takes effect Friday, Nov. 1.
"We'd rather keep stops closer to the mall because it better serves customers," MCTS spokeswoman Jackie Janz said. "Route 46 will not be stopping at Southridge. We are working diligently to identify the best routing alternative. It appears it will make stops along 76th Street. Unfortunately there is no clear-cut solution for this route. We will be updating customers ... as soon as the changes are solidified."
Southridge General Manager Mary Mokwa said buses operated from the park-and-ride lot during weekends in summer 2012, when part of the parking lot had been rented by Harley-Davidson. She said Southridge's new policy mainly stems from safety concerns about buses operating on roadways heavily used by delivery trucks and people walking to and from parked cars.
"We're trying to solve a safety problem for all our shoppers," Mokwa said. "I believe this is going to create a safer environment for all Southridge shoppers."
Asked if there had been serious accidents involving buses at Southridge, Mokwa said there had been "some very close calls. I've gotten calls from customers, employees and store managers (who) feel unsafe."
Under the Southridge plan, there will be a yellow-striped walkway to designate the path from the new bus stop to the nearest mall entrance. Transit Plus vehicles for those with disabilities will continue to drop off and pick up riders at the present stop.
"If anyone needs assistance, they will be able to call security and be provided whatever assistance they need," Mokwa added.
Don Natzke, director of the Milwaukee County Office for Persons with Disabilities, was critical of Southridge's move.
"Rendering a bus stop far less accessible flies in the face of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and inclusion," he said. "You've got low-wage retail workers using the bus; this is making it more difficult for them."
"They plan to impose this in the heart of the holiday shopping season," he continued. "I'm hoping businesses at the mall aren't backing mall management, and will work toward a solution."
A trend at malls
Bus access to privately owned malls has been an issue in several states. In August, shopping centers in Brookfield, Brown Deer and West Allis managed by Developers Diversified Realty removed county bus stops from those properties. Natzke said several malls in the Pittsburgh area owned by Southridge's owner, Simon Property Group of Indianapolis, have been criticized for moving bus stops to the outer edges of parking lots.
Asked if Simon has a corporate policy on bus access to its malls, Mokwa said, "I think it's a mall-by-mall, case-by-case issue."
Kieth Crum of the Milwaukee Transit Riders Union, which advocates for bus service, said he was "disappointed, but not surprised by Southridge management's actions. We feel the motivation is all about keeping bus riders away from the mall. This relocation disproportionately impacts persons who may have trouble crossing a parking lot for a long distance, including the elderly, persons with disabilities and families with small children.
"Bus riders are not Southridge's enemy. We are Southridge's customers and employees."
Mokwa said that "people are getting the wrong impression, that we don't want bus riders. That's simply not true. Bus riders are welcome. If they have ambulatory issues, that's what Transit Plus is for."
Layover location unknown
Left undetermined so far is where the displaced buses will layover. Mokwa said the village of Greendale has worked with Southridge on the issue, and has proposed creating a layover area along Grange Avenue, just south of the mall and adjacent to an elderly housing development.
Janz of MCTS said the Grange Avenue proposal is under consideration. She added that temporary layover arrangements may be made until Dec. 1, when the transit system is scheduled to make a seasonal round of schedule changes.
"We're still working out details," she said. "We might be using 76th Street. We ask customers to bear with us."
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