Op-Ed

Why I Support the Streetcar

Not moving forward will send a wrong message to all those looking to invest in Milwaukee, a city businessman argues.

By - Jan 26th, 2015 09:58 am
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The streetcar near the Milwaukee Intermodal Station.

The streetcar near the Milwaukee Intermodal Station.

Milwaukee has a first-class public works department, is well known for top notch city planning and has a rich and diversified history of urban transit. We’re at the end of a long road for those of us who have been active observers, and even participants, in the long planning process for the Milwaukee streetcar project. I personally have taken an interest in the streetcar plan because I believe that a robust and layered public transportation system is absolutely necessary for a city: at the very least, to properly function, but at best, to flourish.

At the many public meetings that were held over the last five years, informational presentations, Common Council and committee meetings, Federal Transportation Administration hearings, there has been ample opportunity for public commentary and criticism.

I have taken advantage of some of these opportunities, as an engaged citizen and a local business owner, to exercise my right to express opinions and views at these meetings. It comes as a surprise to me, now, that a small group of people who have not been active in the planning process are trying to derail years of careful and holistic planning. A standard aspect of legwork for public works projects is soliciting community input, fleshing out problems, rigorous evaluation of challenges and long term impacts, not least of these impacts being budgetary sustainability and ensuring sound funding mechanisms. Regarding these matters, the city’s Department of Public Works and Department of City Development have both done their homework.

Throughout this entire process, I have gained a more intimate knowledge of the DPW and DCD. These organizations are responsible for maintaining the city’s infrastructure and keeping it on pace with changing needs, with an eye on the competitiveness of Milwaukee in the global marketplace of cities. Kudos to the hard work and comprehensive results from the men and women of the DPW and the DCD: you are world class, and you have done us proud!

The fact of the matter is that constraints play a huge roll in defining any project, the most obvious being budgetary. Regarding the streetcar system, what has been settled upon is the best that can be accomplished by Phase 1 of the streetcar. Expansions into Bronzeville, the South Side (where my business is located), and other areas are crucial for a functional system, but they will never happen if Phase 1 doesn’t happen.

In light of a long trend of decreasing funding for the county-operated bus system, the introduction of another mode of public transit that compliments and even replaces some of the bus lines is a welcome development. Not moving forward on this project puts future federal funding for transportation in Milwaukee at stake, as well as sending the wrong message to all of the bold architects of change and innovation and development in this city, in both the private and the public sectors.

We must be a city that embraces the positive influence of creative, forward-thinking energy, because we have a host of other problems that need our urgent attention — the most important being the state of race relations and the generation-long decline in the health of some of our inner city communities. The Milwaukee streetcar project does not solve these issues directly, but through construction employment, future system operations and maintenance employment and increased urban mobility for all local workers, it does help. Let’s take care of business, get Phase 1 of the Milwaukee streetcar in the ground, and move forward to become a more transit-diverse, vibrant and forward-thinking city.

Russell Rossetto is a Milwaukee resident and co-owner of Transfer Pizzeria Cafe (101 W. Mitchell St.).

Maps and Renderings

More about the Milwaukee Streetcar

For more information on project details, how the operator will be selected, what the vehicles will be like, and possible extensions, see our extensive past coverage.

Categories: Business, Op-Ed, Real Estate

81 thoughts on “Op-Ed: Why I Support the Streetcar”

  1. Dave K says:

    I appreciate Mr. Rossetto’s thoughtful and well-reasoned supporting opinion. I would like to hear such a well-reasoned response from these outside activist groups, a response that doesn’t include the words “choo choo trains” or “libtards” or any other such nonsense. Let’s hear the facts of the case and decided on its merits.

  2. Beer Baron says:

    Going there for dinner now. Good for this guy!

  3. PMD says:

    From what I can tell the opposition consists of “I wouldn’t ride it therefore it’s a bad idea” and “we have bigger problems like crime and MPS.” Neither is a valid reason to not go forward with the project.

  4. Randy B. says:

    Dave K doesn’t want to really hear the “thoughtful and well-reasoned supporting opinion” against the street car as he claims. Those arguments have been made by many people who are being ignored as the city goes forward with these plans. The supporters of this outdated, non-flexible transportation system do not want a city-wide vote on this boondoggle because they know they’ll lose.

    But since I do not live in Milwaukee, I could care less. I actually enjoy the fact that the city will be on the hook for this thing and can’t wait to hear the horror stories of it being built along with added costs to people who use utilities that have to be removed. I hope it is higher than originally thought to be…something common in projects like this. I believe I’ll have a lot to laugh about.

  5. Randy B. says:

    I’m also certain that “urban milwaukee” posting nothing but pro-street car arguments isn’t exactly getting the truth out there with the negative aspects of this project. You won’t be seeing anything highlighting the negative with this boondoggle.

  6. Dave says:

    You should try to use the word “boondoggle” a few more times. It’s not telling at all about where you get your “news” and “information” from…

  7. David says:

    @Randy…. Right, we haven’t heard any of the negative arguments about the streetcar. Talk radio is has been spewing its talking points in this town for 25 years. Who’s fault is it that they can’t put together thoughtfull and well reasoned arguments against the streetcar? Based on your childish post, its apparent to me that you’re a regular listener. Its a good thing you don’t live here because you and your ilk have been a big part of the problem for a long time. You sound mean spirited and backwards. And I don’t believe that you don’t care…. I think you do. You can always visit us.

  8. @Randy B. – We ran an anti-streetcar op-ed in advance of the vote. http://urbanmilwaukee.com/2015/01/14/op-ed-why-the-streetcar-wont-work/

  9. Bones says:

    Transfer is good stuff too! And clean! Meanwhile go into Soblemen’s and look closely. The place is swimming in rat turds and the burger is so-so. That’s why he’s against it.

  10. Y Marti says:

    Excellent, perceptive and spot on support of the streetcar by Russell. The points he makes are great because they are not something out of a “pro-streetcar” handbook unlike the opposition. It is obvious that the points Russell makes are because he is involved and takes the time to really understand how the streetcar will affect Milwaukee. The “anti-streetcar” playbook brings out every little spurious claim directly from Randal O’Toole’s, “The Great Streetcar Conspiracy.” Even the words Randy B. uses in his post, “outdated, non-flexible transportation system, boondoggle” are lifted right out of O’Toole’s conspiracy theory. And of course, they are used to deflect the facts and turn the idea of the streetcar project into something it is not.

    1. Outdated – Mr. O’Toole spent much effort trying to paint the modern streetcar as 19th century technology. In the same way that a modern car is the same way as a hand-cranked Model T? No, because cars have evolved in 100 years the same as have streetcars. Of course they still use rails but that is where the similarity ends. The last streetcars that ran in 1958 were built about 30 years previously, so actually were well beyond their time. Even by 1950’s streetcar standards they were outdated. Streetcars I have used in Istanbul, Berlin, and Amsterdam are highly modern and very comfortable.

    2. Non-flexible – Some people think that the fixed nature will cause problems. If something blocks them then they are stuck. Well, yes, except they can move in two directions just as easily, so the passengers shift to the other streetcar and both cars move on from there. Try backing up a bus a city block when there is an obstruction or what happens when your bus breaks down. I see much more flexibility in streetcars. Especially when the line is in a loop like the Milwaukee plans then this supposed problem will never be an issue.

    3. Boondoggle – Unlike the boondoggles of public sports stadiums which use public money to entertain people with little direct return on investment, public transportation allows people to get to work or shop for goods. They do things that have a direct impact on the economy. Oh sure, bars make money on sports but they will make money on sports even when the team isn’t playing here. People will always enjoy sports without a high-tech fancy stadium or big name sports team (Racine Raiders, anyone?) but getting around for many people isn’t as cheap or easy without public transportation. This is economic reality. Also consider how many MCTS lines service the Multi-modal station… only one? That is a poor connection for the large number of people that depend on connecting to the trains and buses at the station. A streetcar line that connects to the station helps everyone get around more effectively, which is the whole point of public transportation.

    Let’s look at one last thing that seems very bizarre about the anti-streetcar bunch who are so interested in helping Milwaukee. Very few actually live in Milwaukee. The last two days of four published letters in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel listed residents of Waterford, Burlington, West Allis, and Pewaukee who wanted the streetcar project stopped. Why? do you care?

  11. Janice says:

    As well intentioned as Mr. Rosetto may be, he is mistaken in stating that “a small group of people” are opposed.
    There is a large percentage of citizens (especially in the inner city where mass transit is sorely needed) who are greatly opposed to this project because a streetcar is not mass transit, and will not serve the citizens who are truly in need. The reason for the late uprising in trying to “derail” the project is because people were awaiting the common council’s vote.
    Because of the highly biased press coverage and radio in the city, it is wise to look at more objective reviews of streetcar projects in similar cities. Such as Kansas City: http://www.citylab.com/commute/2014/09/its-streetcar-stalled-kansas-city-mulls-the-best-way-forward/380735/ or Virginia: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/arlington-officials-major-announcement-on-columbia-pike-streetcar-project-at-noon/2014/11/18/ce2a8170-6f38-11e4-8808-afaa1e3a33ef_story.html
    Both of these projects were stalled at Phase 1, and Milwaukee is likely to follow suit. If the initial project is not well designed, how can it progress to it’s next phase? Ultimately, this project could cause more harm than good because money and time will be wasted, and the community will lose even more faith in future transportation projects. That’s why this is such an important issue.

  12. Kyle says:

    Bones, if a restaurant really is “swimming in rat turds”, you should probably inform the health inspectors. Or at least whichever station does the Dirty Dining bit.

    As far as the streetcar is concerned, it’s not worth the effort to be against it anymore. I really hope it works out as well as you think it will. I just don’t believe that this is the single thing that will decide if Milwaukee is a modern and attractive city or a second rate city not worthy of attention. There are benefits, but it’s a bit overstated. I also wish people would be honest about the costs. You can’t say it’s all free, but talk about the benefits of a full system. It’s going to cost close to two billion dollars to get the full system, and it has taken the city 25 years to figure out how to get a few miles. Hopefully it’s still considered modern in a generation or two when it’s finally large enough to be useful.

  13. Bill says:

    The one thing a streetcar accomplishes in my opinion is that the powers that be get to try and dictate where development will occur. Many of the supporters tout the development that will occur because they line will be fixed. If you build it, they will come or be forced to come because that’s where the mass transit options are. I think that’s why it appeals to liberals because many of them like to dictate how people live.

    Supporters will cite that many developers are jumping on the project and support it, but people usually miss the part in the article where that developer has their hand out for some city money. The Business Journal published one such article yesterday featuring Jon Hammes. Check out the last sentence in the article.

    Other than fixing where development occurs I don’t know that the supporters have ever really explained what this will provide that a bus cannot. Go to a city like Seattle and Portland and you will be shocked at how many busses they have. Yes, each has a streetcar, but the reason it’s easy to utilize mass transit in those cities is that the busses are running nearly non-stop. It seemed that you never had to wait more than 5 minutes to catch one and Seattle had a cool program where the bus was free during peak hours. So would the city be better off investing their resources in something like that?

    I do think if you are going to invest in a fixed line it would make more sense to do something that would bring people into the downtown or to crowded areas like Miller Park. Fixing a line once people have already used a car to get into the area doesn’t make a ton of sense.

    Much is made about the need to attract millennials as if they are some sort of creature that we’ve never seen before in human history. The truth of the matter is this. Most of us when we were in our 20s want to live in proximity to the city and will want amenities like street cars etc. Then all of the sudden we get married, have kids and next thing you know you’re making a Jeff Sherman-esque move to the suburbs (even though Shorewood people will try to convince you they still live in the City). You don’t think it will happen, but it likely will. Consider how much pressure was put on Kohl’s to move downtown. I think a key reason they didn’t is most of their truly key employees are 30+. Not that young people aren’t talented, but I’m way better at what I do at age 38 than I was at 26. In other words, companies will pay lip service to the young talent issue, but their actions usually tell a different story.

    I think one thing that many will agree on is that for the street car to be successful it would have to be greatly expanded from it’s current route because the current route is sort of solving a problem no one is asking to be solved. So if this is expanded with runs to other key places in Milwaukee and Milwaukee County, what does that cost look like? How will it be paid for? No one ever answers that question. They may say. “Well we’re paying a billion dollars for the zoo interchange”, but leave out the part about how many cars pass through it on a daily basis. What does ridership look like if its expanded? Do people in Wauwatosa or Shorewood ditch their cars to use this to come downtown when they can easily get downtown as is.

    Forget about the Federal Grant (and let’s face it if the Mayor had any pull he could get it repurposed) the City will still be paying upwards of $90,000,000 for this system and I think it could be better used on improving other mass transit options.

  14. PMD says:

    I don’t recall anyone making the argument that the streetcar alone will transform Milwaukee into a modern and attractive city (I’d argue it’s already attractive as it is, but in need of some improvements). I also think everyone agrees that for it to be truly successful, it needs to be expanded. Hopefully this is just the starting point. It’s not my first preference. That would be light rail, something that connected to Madison and Chicago. But sadly that didn’t and won’t happen. It’s risky, but it’s a risk worth taking. The fact that a lot of Millennials will eventually move to the suburbs isn’t a reason not to do it. You could come up with reasons not to do something like this for eternity if you really wanted to. Here’s hoping it’s a major success. Go Milwaukee.

  15. PJ says:

    Attract “them” with a street car, repel “them” with failing schools, crime and pot holes.

  16. PMD says:

    So the city has brain drain because of crime and MPS? And you’re one of those people who believes we should only focus on one, maybe two things at a time? Ignore everything until MPS is the best school district in America?

  17. Kyle says:

    PMD, you tend to make reasoned arguments, but not everyone on these boards do. Many people echo Dave’s sentiment that a streetcar defeat will “keep Milwaukee nothing more than a second rate city in a second rate state.” I still don’t think that Phase 1 is a particularly useful route by itself, and I worry that the political climate will make it another 25 years before Phase 2 breaks ground. That being said, it’s never good for anyone when major projects fall flat, and I genuinely hope it will succeed.

  18. pj says:

    Yes, in terms of priorities, education and crime…and pot holes. A mode of transportation that is more romantic than it is practical is no where on my list.

    And no, MPS doesn’t have to be the best in the state, just not the worst.

  19. PMD says:

    But why can’t Milwaukee have multiple priorities PJ? Why this obsession with only focusing on crime and MPS? They are important, no doubt, but they are not all that should matter.

    Kyle, I share your concern about Phase 2. It definitely needs to happen.

  20. Janice says:

    Very well stated Bill

  21. PMD says:

    Just read it. Doesn’t change my support for the streetcar.

  22. PJ says:

    PMD, what major initiative is in the works from the mayor’s office or the common council to improve education or crime? In fact what else is the city expending any intellectual capital on?

    I can guarantee that there are portions of the city (most of which will likely never be served by dedicated route transportation) that would much prefer that our finite tax dollars be used to improve the schools that help their children succeed and, that our finite tax dollars be used to make it so that they are not shot while sitting in their home, on their grandfather’s knee.

    Unfortunately with our current mayor, common council and county board, it appears that we can only have 1 priority at a time, and a mode of transportation that was deemed obsolete long ago is not the correct priority.

  23. PMD says:

    Well PJ if you go to the mayor’s website, there are 8 initiatives listed under, you guessed it, Initiatives. Apparently there is in fact more than one priority at a time. But I admire your commitment to the talking points against the streetcar. You’ve got them down pat.

  24. PJ says:

    Well if he’s got them on his website then clearly he’s doing everything he can to fix the problems.

    By the way, they’re not “talking points”. My words reflect my opinion which happen to reflect the opinions of other like minded individuals. Our opinion is based on facts gleaned from the history of other such projects, the lack of sense in dedicating permanent transportation routes, the ill advised investment in an expensive form of public transportation in a community that under-uses the forms of public transportation that it already has, taking money just because it’s federal money, from a government that is broke, in a community that does not now nor probably ever will have a vertical population that will make each stop worthwhile.

    Our opposition claims that the trolley will attract a certain type of individual to the community. I would argue that that certain type has other issues on their check list that are far more important than a trolley. These are issues that seem to be going in the wrong direction in MKE. Also, they would most likely use Uber and Lyft and other such immediate and flexible forms of transit far more than any mass transportation offering.

    We clearly are not going to sway each other but the debate has been fun.

  25. PMD says:

    So Uber and Lyft haven’t been around very long and it might be too early to know this, but has there been a noticeable decline in public transportation use in cities where Uber and Lyft first started operations? If a lot of people use those services, and bus ridership is struggling, does that in and of itself mean the streetcar is a bad idea? A lot of people seem to think that different modes of transportation cannot coexist in Milwaukee, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in many other cities.

  26. Tim says:

    PMD, I just wanted to say you’re doing god’s work here. I don’t have the time or patience to refute the same talking points over & over again. Cheers and good luck… at least now the conversation is starting to shift on where to expand.

    Choo Choo!!

  27. CK James says:

    Randy B. – I believe you meant to write that you ”COULDN’T care less” about the project cost in Milwaukee. To say you ”COULD care less” would refute your own reasoning and contradict your stance on the issue.

    It’s like saying, “there ain’t no way” I’m supporting that streetcar project!

  28. CK James says:

    BONES is right about the rat turds.

  29. Tom D says:

    @Bill (post 13), you asked what (other than spurring development) a streetcar can do that a bus can’t. I’ve answered this many times, but will try again.

    • Rail attracts more passengers than buses
    • Streetcars are faster than buses
    • Streetcars can cost less per passenger mile to operate than buses
    • Streetcars are cleaner (no tail pipe) and quieter than buses

    This post only discusses the first point.

    Rail vehicles attract more people than buses. This is a fact. (This is one reason we can’t measure streetcar ridership by operating a bus on the same route.)

    • We see that on inter-city trains. Amtrak’s Hiawatha attracts more riders than Greyhound, Megabus, etc (even though the bus is much cheaper, runs more often, and is almost as fast).

    • We see that on light rail. In Minneapolis-St. Paul, total transit ridership (bus and rail combined) on its “Central Corridor” nearly doubled since June when light rail replaced a limited-stop bus. (Two other Central Corridor bus lines—a local route stopping about every eighth mile and a much faster freeway route—continue.)

    http://www.metrotransit.org/green-line-six-month-anniversary

    • We see that on streetcars. In Portland, two sets of data (one for its streetcar, the other for its light rail) show that rail attracts new riders. You can read more here:

    http://www.politifact.com/oregon/statements/2012/apr/03/charlie-hales/do-streetcars-really-beat-out-buses-capacity-rider/

    Streetcar opponents claim rail’s attraction is “snobishness”—that some people think they’re too good for a bus. I disagree. I think a major reason is that rail just “rides” better than a bus (or even a car). Many people (including my wife and me) simply can’t read on a moving bus (or a car) without motion sickness; we have no problem whatsoever on rail.

  30. TIMIRI says:

    Reasons I oppose it

    1 I rather see the city work on fixing our current roads esp those near the business the author owns
    2 we don’t have money to salt the roads
    3 we don’t have money to pay police and fire fighters so we furlough them to save money
    4 we need more police on the streets
    5 it cant operate in more than one inch of snow
    6 based on today’s numbers the final cost will be in excess of two billion dollars
    7 even in warm climate as Atlanta GA no one is riding it
    8 there is no such thing as free money. we the tax payers are paying for it some how some way
    9 You may have been able to sell me on it if the ordinal set up was from downtown to summer fest discovery world. But no it went the opposite direction catering to who?
    10 if it flops as many predict we are stuck with it for 25 years. thanks but no thanks
    11 POT HOLES POT HOLES POT HOLES POT HOLES still exist and are only getting worst

    if you dispute any of this google it

  31. David says:

    Uber and Lyft may reduce demand for taxi service, but most people that commute on a daily basis will not spend $30 on round trips from home to work each day.

    Fixed route transit has resulted in development along and near the routes in many cities that have built the systems. There is plenty of evidence for this. We are densley populated, walkable and situated very well for the streetcar.

    The city of Milwaukee is trapped. Shared revenue inhibits Milwaukee’s ability to raise revenue. The state takes all income tax revenue, takes all sales tax revenue and a portion of the property. Each year it gives less and less back. Milwaukee spends and collects less per capita than of midwest and Great Lake peer cities. The city can’t raise revenue. MPS is not run by the city. The mayor tried to take it over but was shut down by the state. Also, the city did not madate the integration of schools due to de facto segregation. That was the federal courts.

    Whenever the city tried to improve transit, the state shut that down as well. No dedicated funding, outlawed regional authority and a dwindling budget. DOT wants to take transit out of the transportation budget. Transit is in a death spiral.

    The city needs to be bold and aggressive. I do think once the streetcar is built, the region will want in on it. I for one am happy the city is getting aggressive. I can’t wait to ride the streetcar to the Buck’s game!

  32. David says:

    @TIMIRI Wow…. you may be the most misinformed person to have ever posted on this site. Please do a little homework before you post. Just embarrasing…… or turn off your radio and think for yourself. When I get a little time I’ll address your points. Wow.

  33. Kyle says:

    Bones and CK have a lot of information not found in the health inspection report for a place they claim not to frequent. How exactly are you both so certain that the place is swimming in rat turds?

    On a completely related note: https://www.eff.org/issues/bloggers/legal/liability/defamation

  34. PMD says:

    If someone saw rat droppings in a restaurant, wouldn’t they be inclined to take a picture and share that information? I think certain individuals are best ignored when discussing the streetcar, both supporters and opponents.

  35. CK James says:

    Kyle (or Mr. Sobelman),

    1) You obviously didn’t read, grasp or fully comprehend your OWN legal term explainer web link posted above. It clearly states the following definition of defamation:
    —————————-
    “What is defamation?

    Generally, defamation is a false and unprivileged statement of FACT that is harmful to someone’s reputation….”
    —————————-

    The key word there is ”FACT”. Translation – I only inferred a simple opinion, (that the scent and ambiance of that place reminds me of rat poop). That is my personal conjecture. Guaranteed under the freedom of speech amendment. …. Nobody claimed any statements of fact, in relation to actual rat poop or false code violations. No official supporting documents were cited.

    So, .. there were no false factual assertions conveyed in my comments. Go to law school.

  36. Tom D says:

    @TIMIRI (post 31), you claim streetcars “can’t operate in more than one inch of snow.”

    This is false and I can prove it.

    Here is a photo of a Toronto streetcar operating in several inches of snow.

    flickr.com/photos/96602683@N00/5337349914

    Here is a 3-minute video of Toronto streetcars operating in a 30 cm (12-inch) snowfall. The streets show signs of having been plowed, but there are still several inches of snow covering the streets.

    youtube.com/watch?v=NYOIRnFEuXw

    Here is a one minute video of Toronto streetcars in the snow. Notice how quickly and nimbly the second streetcar glides up the hill.

    youtube.com/watch?v=MY2QQYlM8k4

    All these are from Toronto which has North America’s largest streetcar fleet.

  37. Janice says:

    Even though the federal money is only allocated for transportation (therefore we cannot use it for a larger police force), Timiri makes some very valid and logical points which many people share.

    In my opinion, it is a matter of filling a need vs. a very expensive gamble. No matter how you look at this, it is a roll of the dice.

    There are times when risk is worth the gamble, but given our circumstances we should only venture into risky territory to solve a problem.

    A streetcar is not light rail. Light rail would be a logical first step.

  38. PMD says:

    Unbiased according to whom? You? And that piece is not exactly strong proof that the streetcar won’t work here.

  39. Janice says:

    It is a national publication based on several streetcar projects and is not loaded with the divisiveness most discussions of the streetcar have in Milwaukee.

    “Strong proof?” There is certainly strong proof that other methods of transportation are less costly, more efficient and much less risky.

    What is your “strong proof” that an exorbitant streetcar that moves 2 miles an hour in the most wealthy area of the city will solve any of our transportation issues? Or for that matter a wise choice for the first phase of new transportation in Milwaukee?

  40. PMD says:

    Janice didn’t you say above that you support light rail, and wouldn’t that be more costly than the streetcar? I don’t have proof because the streetcar isn’t operating yet.

  41. Janice says:

    My point exactly.

    We don’t know if the streetcar would be successful, so we can only make an informed opinion based on making comparisons to similar projects in other parts of the country. Kansas, Virginia, Buffalo……they have stalled after the first phase.

    http://www.citylab.com/commute/2014/09/its-streetcar-stalled-kansas-city-mulls-the-best-way-forward/380735/

    We DO know that an expanded bus system, electric buses or the beginning of a light rail system would involve less risk, transport more people, serve an actual need and be much less costly.

  42. PMD says:

    With no ability to see into the future, sadly I cannot say whether the streetcar will be successful or not. I already read the Kansas City story you shared here, and it did nothing to change my support for the streetcar.

    Wasn’t light rail going to cost nearly $1 billion and isn’t that more than the cost of the streetcar? Have you been strongly advocating for an expanded bus system for the last 10 or 15 years? Suddenly all the streetcar opponents are in love with Milwaukee’s bus system. I don’t recall that being the cast a few years back.

  43. Tom D says:

    @Janice (post 39), the Economist article you linked to is hardly unbiased. It cites Randal O’Toole, the epitome of bias when it comes to rail transit.

  44. Kyle says:

    “The place is swimming in rat turds…” – Bones

    “BONES is right about the rat turds.” – CK James

    Apparently, I missed the layers of meaning that were supposed to indicate that these are “simple opinion, (that the scent and ambiance of that place reminds me of rat poop).” At least you have some existing legal precedent to fall back on:

    “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is. If the–if he–if ‘is’ means is and never has been, that is not–that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement….Now, if someone had asked me on that day, are you having any kind of sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky, that is, asked me a question in the present tense, I would have said no. And it would have been completely true.”

  45. David says:

    @PMD….. Exactly. I don’t understand how suddenly all talk radio hosts, callers, crazy Uncle Bobs and everyone else loves buses. For the last 15 years we’ve been doing everything in our power to make our bus system less effective by raising fares, reducing service and slashing the budget. We’re being offered a false choice. This is the price to pay for negotiating in bad faith. We’re going to build the streetcar – its going to be great – deal with it.

    It will not solve all our problems and it will not transform Milwaukee into Seattle. It’s simply an upgrade to a modern, clean, quiet and waaaaay overdo investment in the people of this city.

  46. Kyle says:

    Back on the actual topic:

    I found that article on Kansas City interesting, as it speaks directly to my concerns. I think their issue was placing the tax on the neighborhoods, and all at once before the starter line even opened. I’d say Milwaukee’s best chance of success would be to advance one leg at a time and with substantial support from the destination. Extending to UWM, the airport, the casino, Miller Park, State Fair, etcetera should be able to muster some support. Hopefully federal grants will free up to support building the lines to better connect the rest of city.

  47. Janice says:

    Granted. There is probably no true unbiased opinion on anything.

    People are more open to a bus system now because in comparison to the streetcar it looks like a more reasonable option. There are also new eco friendly buses being developed.

    Bottom line: If the streetcar is such a great idea, why not let people vote?

  48. PMD says:

    But why does the bus system suddenly look like a more reasonable option? Just because buses are more environmentally friendly now?

    Kyle, it’s interesting that in KC people wanted the streetcar, but didn’t want to pay for it. That’s hardly new or surprising. But I agree that getting widespread support is important. I was reading about the great success of public transit in Salt Lake City, and one of the keys was getting the kind of support you allude to, from major stakeholders.

  49. Janice says:

    I agree Kyle.

    The bus system looks like a more reasonable option in COMPARISON to the streetcar.

    I know you’ve heard them before, but that’s because they’re true:

    ****Wouldn’t have to rip up the infrastructure– which will be immensely expensive and disrupt traffic and business in the area
    ****We can change the destinations and stops at any time
    ****More cost effective
    ****Could still be part of an expansive light rail system in the future
    ****Can move at a fairly fast speed
    ****New designs for eco friendly buses
    ****You’re not tied to a permanent bad decision for decades to come
    ****Would be more likely to succeed therefore progress to a Phase II and gain support from the people

  50. PMD says:

    Janice isn’t light rail more expensive than the streetcar? I think this is the third time I’ve asked. You cite cost as a reason to be against the streetcar but seem to support light rail, which I believe is more expensive than the streetcar.

    When I rode the bus daily, it did not move at a fairly fast speed. Quite the contrary. It was slow as hell. Stopped every two blocks. Took 30-45 minutes to go from downtown to east side. Is it much faster than that now?

  51. AG says:

    Janice, what are your sources for this stuff?

    ****Wouldn’t have to rip up the infrastructure, which will be immensely expensive and disrupt traffic and business in the area- Yet the future benefits are seen by many as far outweighing the short term inconveniences.
    ****We can change the destinations and stops at any time **This is a disadvantage when trying to spur development
    ****More cost effective- long term cost savings from operations with a fixed rail system
    ****Could still be part of an expansive light rail system in the future- Why can’t a streetcar also be? In fact even more so, as some streetcar systems are compatible to double as light rail when it leaves roadways.
    ****Can move at a fairly fast speed- Streetcars can travel in some cases up to 60 mph.
    ****New designs for eco friendly buses- Will never compare to streetcar
    ****You’re not tied to a permanent bad decision for decades to come- Can never take advantage of the truly great decisions of permanence to spur organic growth. case in point, buses running to New Berlin Industrial park was a great boon for employment opportunities… oh, until they pulled the plug.
    ****Would be more likely to succeed therefore progress to a Phase II and gain support from the people- Says who? Many examples show streetcars far outpace buses on the same route.

  52. Janice says:

    We don’t really know if light rail would be more expensive than the streetcar.

    A small light rail system in a highly utilized area could be tried for the same cost or less than a streetcar and would be more likely to be a success therefore gaining more public support and allowing us to move onto Phase II.

    Faster, express bus lines could be developed that make fewer stops. At least we would have options.

    No one has answered my question as to why we shouldn’t allow people to vote?

  53. PMD says:

    We don’t really know? Maybe nit, but it was pegged at $810 million before it was killed. Isn’t that more than the cost of the streetcar?

    What is a small light rail system exactly?

  54. Dave Reid says:

    @Janice “A small light rail system in a highly utilized area could be tried for the same cost or less than a streetcar and would be more likely to be a success therefore gaining more public support and allowing us to move onto Phase II.” This is what the streetcar is. A small light-rail system, check. A highly utilized area, check. The key difference between U.S. light-rail and streetcars being the size of the train and in the U.S. anyhow light-rail generally gets its own right-of-way.

  55. Janice says:

    Let’s face it. None of us knows if this will be a success. The only way to even make an educated guess is to investigate similar projects in other cities, and they have not progressed because of lack of funds for expansion, and because the initial project was not successful.

    I’ll ask one more time.

    Why shouldn’t the citizens of Milwaukee be allowed to vote on this project?

  56. PMD says:

    No city has a successful streetcar?

    So you want a referendum on every single issue? Or do we elect officials to make these decisions?

  57. Dave Reid says:

    Umm Portland’s streetcar has been expanded multiple times, and from my view is in the extremely successful category. And yes why do we elect Alderman? So they can vote on easy issues?

  58. Jill says:

    Did I say no city had a successful streetcar?

    Cities with already thriving downtown areas have had success with streetcars. Unfortunately, streetcars do not appear to be making a difference in cities which are more spread out and do not have an already established economically successful city center.

    Did I say I wanted a referendum on every issue?

    Perhaps issues that require an expenditure of over 100 million dollars.

  59. AG says:

    Jill/Janice/Whatever… Do you realize how dense Milwaukee really is? Our downtown core and several nearby neighborhoods rank up there as some of the densest in the country outside of several mega cities.

    This will only improve in the coming years as we’re seeing the Third ward continue to fill in, 833 E Michigan being built, proposed Couture, perhaps Johnson Controls HQ, 700 East Kilbourn tower, major new developments in and around the arena to the tune of 500 million to one billion dollars, Hammes company potential move downtown and their development, various apartment conversions in west town, many infill projects in the park east, and MORE!

    It’s incredible how much our urban core is going to become. To top it off, pretty much every developer I can think of for these projects are on the record supporting the streetcar.

  60. Janice Jill says:

    Of course developers are for it! They can build more housing, business…. etc…. for the wealthy while ignoring the needs of the poor.

    Why shouldn’t people be allowed to vote for or against it?

    That is the only way to get a true answer to what the citizens of Milwaukee wish.

  61. David says:

    That’s right Janice / Jill this evil development helps to subsidize all the needs of the poor you keep referring to. Who do think pays for that stuf?!?!we need more people and more jobs to pay for more police, schools, parks and streets.

  62. Janice Jill says:

    I do not see the project as evil.

    I see it as an unwise based on the result of similar projects in other cities.

    If it goes through, I hope I’m proven wrong.

    Will you please answer my question:

    Why deny people the right to vote on it?

  63. David says:

    We elect representatives to make difficult decisions on infrastructure spending. It is true for freeways, parks, bridges, roads, etc. the Council has had sufficient time to gage whether or not their constituents are for or against the project. In addition, the city put the question on the 2010, fall election ballot. It was non binding, however it registered a 75% approval for the streetcar. Btw, the central city was overwhelming ly in favor of the project.

    What else should we put on the ballot? What do you hold sacred? Libraries? Parks? Maybe the people should vote on the entire city and county budget? You would be shocked to see what would be voted down.

  64. Tom D says:

    Janice/Jill, what projects are big/controversial enough for a referendum? Does double-decking I-94 west of Miller Park merit a referendum? How about widening I-94 to 8 lanes?

    You suggested (post 43) building “an expanded bus system, electric buses or the beginning of a light rail system” instead of the streetcar. Could any of those be done without a referendum?

    One other question about a referendum… Do you want a referendum so the voters can be heard or do you just want to stall/kill the streetcar? I ask because of what has happened in Cincinnati since 2008.

    After the Cincinnati City Council approved a streetcar in 2008, its opponents demanded that a referendum be held. To achieve this goal, they circulated petitions to amend the Cincinnati City Charter to require a referendum to approve any passenger rail project.

    The voters rejected the Charter amendment in November 2009. Having been rejected by the voters, streetcar opponents then ignored that referendum and circulated petitions calling for another City Charter amendment. But this time, instead of requiring a referendum to build the streetcar, they now proposed to amend the Charter to totally ban all rail passenger projects outright.

    This Charter amendment came to a public vote in November 2011, and was rejected. Cincinnati’s streetcar is now scheduled to open on September 15, 2016.

    By their actions, streetcar opponents showed they never really cared about what voters wanted; they just wanted the streetcar killed (even after it was shown that voters wanted it).

  65. Jerome says:

    @Tom D: Thanks for posting the YouTube videos of streetcars in Toronto. My question is: Has anyone else noticed that these streetcars are practically EMPTY, i.e. NO PASSENGERS! Doesn’t that speak volumes? Watch these videos and COUNT the passengers. I counted THREE on what looks like a busy day during rush hour.

    This reminds me of the City buses on Wisconsin Ave. clogging the streets and when one looks inside to see how passengers are in the street clogging, semi-truck trailer long bus…ONE PERSON!

  66. DavidJorling says:

    I lived in Milwaukee for 15 years and now live in Portland, OR. The Portland metro area now has 4 light rail lines and two streetcar lines, with an additional light rail line and an extension of one of the streetcar lines to open in September. I am excited for Milwaukee’s proposed Streetcar. I hope it gets approved. In Portland we started with one modest line, and people quickly realized the benefits and wanted more. I am concerned that the Climate Disaster Capitalists like the Koch brothers will stop Milwaukee’s project, so you can continued to line their pockets with carbon tainted cash. Good luck Milwaukee. Once you get one line in, you will want many more.

  67. AG says:

    Thanks Tom D and David for beating me to the punch. This has already had a vote (and passed) and it isn’t really about the votes… it’s about stalling the project.

  68. ash says:

    So you want to compare the street car of Portland to the street car of Milwaukee. Keep in mind the climate is different in Portland they don’t have winters like we do.

    For me its hard to compare one city to another. Each city has its own impacts on why it can or will not succeed. Me personally I don’t see it succeeding here when we have bigger problems to address than ramming this down our throats.

    As far as TIMIRI comments from 31 i believe:

    Why is he misinformed just because he offers his opinions different from yours

  69. TIMIRI says:

    In response to my orginal comment regarding the final cost of the street car:

    Please share with us the total project cost for The Milwaukee Streetcar as outlined here in a proposed system map used by the Mayor at recent public events.
    Our analysis of the map indicates at least 40 miles of streetcar system track; at approximately $50 million in construction costs per mile (this number is based on the cost and length of the streetcar’s starter line: $123.9 million for 2.4 miles of track) the total proposed streetcar system outlined by the Mayor would cost a minimum of $2 billion to build.
    Further complicating our concern are the additional costs of inflation, financing, maintenance, operations and subsidies, all of which when added to the $2 billion in construction costs will bring the system’s total price tag to nearly $3 billion.
    If our analysis and estimate–based on the total system map the Mayor has used–is wrong, please enlighten us.

  70. Tom D says:

    Jerome (post 67), not all the streetcars in the videos are anywhere near empty. On the daylight video, for example, the first one appears to have around 20 passengers. Later in that same video, the photographer moves to a different location and shoots mostly empty streetcars. My guess is that he moved near a garage where empty cars return at the end of their shifts.

    The nighttime video is on a Saturday night in a snowstorm when almost nobody was out (in either streetcars or automobiles).

    Toronto streetcars have LOTS of passengers. In 2012 (latest data I could find), their streetcars averaged 283,000 trips each weekday (more than the Marquette interchange handles) and does this with a fleet of 247 streetcars. For comparison, MCTS averages 136,000 weekday trips with 398 buses.

  71. PMD says:

    I was in Toronto in September for 5 days (my fifth trip to one of the best cities in the world). The streetcars were absolutely packed the entire time I was there. You couldn’t get on them even if you wanted to.

  72. Kyle says:

    TIMIRI, I’m curious about the source of your numbers. I have this awful fear that you’ve gotten your $2 billion figure from me. That’s a number I completely made up (based on really rough guesses of current per-mile cost and my estimation of how much track would make a useful system). Granted, nobody bothered to call me out on it because it sounds like it might be right, but please don’t cite that and then extrapolate further from it to get to $3 billion. Piling your guesses on top of mine basically guarantee that the number is wrong.

    Of course, if you have a proper source for that information, please provide it, as it will help all of us better understand the scope of this project.

  73. TIMIRI says:

    Kyle actually I got my numbers from the people that run the stop the street car Facebook group

    Bottom line it goes back to my original comment there is no such thing as free money. Yes were getting 158 million or so to start it what about the rest. Furthermore the longer it would take to build this the cost will only go up not down.

    As far as the numbers I listed my alderman does not dispute them he feels over time we will recover that money he is unsure of how long it might take but is willing to take the risk

  74. Kyle says:

    Oh, I see. An unnamed person running a Facebook group. I’m not certain that’s any better, but at least now I know.

    Also, unless I’ve found the wrong “stop the street car” Facebook group, they only call it a $1 billion boondoggle. (On a side note, while photoshopping Barrett’s head onto Thomas the Train is a simply inspired move, the trains on that show crash all the time. I can’t figure out why they’d use the one time Thomas managed to actually stay on the track.)

  75. TIMIRI says:

    Kyle you are rather interesting your willing to dispute numbers that my alderman wont dispute. SMH

  76. Kyle says:

    You told me your numbers came from a Facebook group. I went to that Facebook group and found substantially different numbers. Your alderman is either too trusting of your figures, or just wants to be rid of you. All I did was check your (poorly cited) source. I’m rather interesting for a variety of reasons, but I wouldn’t call this one of them. However, my offer from before stands: I’ll stop disputing your numbers if you can provide a source for them.

  77. TIMIRI says:

    Kyle you are crazy to believe the costs quoted today will be the same once it’s completed if it ever completed.

    As far as my alderman trying to get rid of me. Rather interesting as we’ve had several discussions on the street car we have each others respect but we agree to disagree so your theory is wrong there.

  78. Kyle says:

    I didn’t say I trusted the costs quoted today. But if I don’t believe them, why should I believe you? Why should I believe an anonymous person on the internet who couldn’t even find another anonymous person on the internet to verify their numbers? I’m also not going to take your anonymous word that your unnamed alderman agrees with your numbers just because you claim he didn’t dispute them. I even made up a very similar number, so it’s not as though I think it’s an impossible cost, I’m just baffled by how you expect me to just trust you on your numbers. It started as curiosity, because I wanted to see the reasoning others had for estimating that cost, but now I’m just fascinated by your reactions to this.

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