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Why Are Some Madison City Street Lanes Painted Red? Official Clarification


In the bustling city of Madison, a curious sight has puzzled many drivers: the presence of red-painted lanes on some of its streets. While traditional traffic lanes are typically marked with yellow or white paint, the use of red has raised eyebrows and questions about its significance.

To shed light on this matter, I spoke with Mike Zieg, the assistant traffic engineer for the City of Madison. According to Zieg, these red-painted lanes serve a specific purpose and are not simply a whimsical design choice.

Purpose of Red Lanes

Red lanes, also known as "transit-only" or "bus-only" lanes, are designated exclusively for the use of public transportation vehicles, such as buses and Rapid Transit (BRT) buses. These lanes are designed to prioritize public transit and improve its efficiency by providing designated space for buses to travel uninterrupted by other vehicles.

Benefits of Red Lanes

The use of red lanes offers several benefits, including:

  • Improved bus travel times: Red lanes allow buses to bypass traffic congestion in adjacent lanes, reducing travel times and making public transportation a more reliable and attractive option.
  • Increased bus punctuality: By reducing travel delays, red lanes help buses maintain schedules and improve the reliability of public transit services.
  • Reduced travel time for all: By improving the efficiency of public transit, red lanes indirectly benefit all road users by reducing overall traffic congestion.
  • Environmental sustainability: Promoting public transit helps reduce the number of vehicles on the road, which can contribute to lower air pollution and a cleaner environment.

Enforcement of Red Lanes

Red lanes are enforced by local law enforcement agencies. Vehicles that are not authorized to use these lanes, such as private cars, will be subject to citations. This enforcement is necessary to ensure that the lanes remain clear and accessible for public transit vehicles.

Expansion of Red Lanes

The City of Madison is currently considering expanding the use of red lanes to improve public transit efficiency. As the demand for public transportation increases, red lanes can play a vital role in making transit a more attractive and viable option for Madison residents.


The red-painted lanes on Madison city streets are not merely a decorative feature. They serve a crucial purpose by providing designated space for public transit vehicles, improving the efficiency and punctuality of bus services. Ultimately, red lanes are a step towards making public transportation a more reliable, convenient, and sustainable option for Madison residents.

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