Michael Horne
Plenty of Horne

Transit Expansion Urged

Milwaukee is far behind other cities, which will make it harder to attract young workers, experts at conference agreed.

By - Jun 25th, 2015 01:26 pm
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MetroTransit light rail in Minneapolis. Phot by Jeramey Jannene.

MetroTransit light rail in Minneapolis. Phot by Jeramey Jannene.

The Milwaukee metropolitan area must upgrade its public transit if it is to compete with peer cities for the key millennial demographic, experts told an audience at a conference Tuesday organized by MetroGO! and the University Club of Milwaukee.

“The workforce wants to live downtown,” said Linda Gorens-Levey, a partner in General Capital Group. “Millennials choose their city and then choose their job. They have an employment half-life of 2.1 years on the job.”

David Frank, the Director of Economic Development for the city of Minneapolis, echoed her words. He cited the new National Bone Marrow Registry building constructed in his city as an example. “The bone marrow center must be on transit because young workers insisted,” he said.

Their opinions were buttressed by written comments of Chris Layden of Milwaukee-based ManpowerGroup:

“Look at the numbers. The math is simple. You have to attract Millennials or you won’t have enough people to meet employer demand. Millennials make decisions on where to work based on more than compensation, and mobility options are a part of that.”

Meanwhile, the mobility options in Milwaukee are shrinking, according to the UW-Milwaukee Center for Economic Development, which finds that “today, in Metro Milwaukee, 1,324 fewer employers are accessible by transit than would be the case under the system in 2001.”

So, if we are to capture these new urban workers and ensure the region’s economic vitality in coming generations, something must be done along the lines of what’s been accomplished in Minneapolis and Cleveland, attendees were told.

Cleveland has a Regional Transit Authority, and “it is now a player in every new development project” there, said Michael Schipper, P.E., the Deputy General Manager of Engineering & Project Management for that city.

The 7.1 mile “Healthline” Bus Rapid Transit line there opened in 2008 and has generated $6.3 billion in new development along the line, including 7,200 housing units, whereas only $2.3 billion in new development had been projected.

Thanks in part to the use of Historic Tax Credits — now threatened in budget deliberations at the state level in Wisconsin — the population of downtown Cleveland has increased from 2,000 to 12,000, with a near-term projection of 25,000, he said.

With the transit and development came a large number of “Choice Users,” which Schipper defined as those transit riders who otherwise had access to automobiles. Thanks to folks using transit to go to doctor’s appointments or similar errands along the route, daytime ridership only drops off 10 percent from the morning peak hours. The “Choice” riders — a demographic barely considered in Milwaukee’s transit debate — are up 60 percent from 2008-2014, he said.

Accordingly, people moving downtown — including the coveted Baby Boomer bracket — found that they did not need the number of parking spaces planners originally mandated once they dumped their unneeded cars.

In a 50-block area at the center of the Healthline the city rezoned properties to mandate a three-story building height, and to reduce the parking requirement there. This is red meat to real estate developers, many of whom were in attendance at the second-floor ballroom of the lakefront University Club downtown.

Barry Mandel sounded the developers’ anthem as he made introductory comments to the attendees. Mandel is a University Club board member, a resident of the club’s adjacent condominium tower, and is chairman of the club’s Program Development Committee, which organized the event.

We face “real and artificial boundaries between neighborhoods, municipalities and counties,” he said of Milwaukee.

“Regional transit requires cooperation and collaboration at multiple levels, he said, and it includes every modality practicable. For Mandel, everything from baby carriages to high speed rail is part of the transit mix. “Bikes, canoes, boats, taxis, buses, UBus, BRT, light rail, high-speed trains” — are among the components found in great cities, and not just the biggest cities.

The key is connectivity, he said. “Connectivity allows us to integrate without artificial borders. Connect UWM, Marquette, MSOE, Miller Park … connect Wauwatosa … link to Waukesha County … connect Waukesha to downtown Milwaukee. Connect Milwaukee to Madison, Chicago, Minneapolis,” he said.

“The results?” he asked. “A huge tax increase among millennials. Retain Baby Boomers, attract and scale up businesses, grow GDP, generate taxes, support public health.”

Frank, of Minneapolis, said it is good to have attractions at the end and middle of rail lines, as is the case in his city. In Milwaukee, an example of such a corridor would likely be from UWM to the Medical Center, with Downtown in between. The Minneapolis downtown has seen a resurgence, he said. There are 10 brew pubs within walking distance of a rail line there, he said. As soon as a new rail line is determined, adjacent properties immediately come into play.

Minnesota politics played a role in the development of the transit system there, he said. It took the vote of 6 Republican legislators to overcome a gubernatorial veto of a proposal to enact a 1/4 percent sales tax to fund transit. Five of them later lost their seats as a result of the vote.

Meanwhile, Republicans in Wisconsin’s legislature have opposed the governor’s borrowing plan for transportation projects, and are threatening Milwaukee’s funding yet again.

Rob Henken of the Public Policy Forum put the matter in perspective by giving a brief history of proposed transit improvements in Milwaukee County.

“It’s a sad history, but I’m hoping to pave the way —  bad pun intended –” for transit, he said. He then outlined the affronts to transit development in this city, including a scuttled 1990’s Light Rail project, the demise of the KRM Commuter rail transit plan and cancellation of a high-speed link from Milwaukee to Madison which Governor Scott Walker rejected even before taking office.

Nor has rail transit been our only failing, he added: “We have never tried to develop bus service that is rapid, quality mass transit.”

Cleveland has 7.1 miles of it, and Minneapolis has 10 miles of the amenity. County Executive Chris Abele recently announced that he is exploring an East/West Bus Rapid Transit line.

The final reality check/buzzkill came from Mayor Tom Barrett.

“Where are we right now?” he asked. “The inter(urban) has been killed. The intra(urban) has been killed.”

Why? “Because of the politics of our state and region we could not get inter and intra. So the city was left with a streetcar,” he said. (In many other cities, streetcar projects are later, infill, connector projects. Here it will serve as the catalyst to future development, it is hoped.)

“Part of what I am trying to kill is the boogieman of fixed rail transit. ‘This is the end of mankind!’,” the mayor exclaimed, echoing the voices of talk radio.

“But as soon as the thing is started, the debate becomes, ‘How can we extend it?'”

Will we get to that point in the debate while the legislature is hammering out a transportation budget, each blow of which chips away at Milwaukee’s share?

“Pay close attention to the transportation budget. The governor put in $1.3 billion in borrowing. The legislature wants to cut $500 to $800 million in borrowing. One of the huge pinatas is the Zoo Interchange,” he said. But “local road aids, local transportation aids are in the  budget,” and are also imperiled he said.

“People should realize how serious this debate is in Madison.”

An Observation from a Visitor

David Frank, the Minneapolis development director, said he flew into Milwaukee and took the Green Line bus from the airport downtown. It took some time for him to find the bus stop, he said, and showed the audience a photo he took of the transit information television screen at the airport, which directs travelers to the stop.

However, the sign rotates with other messages, he said, most prominent of which is, “This Way to Rental Vehicles.”

Signage and visibility are key components of transit development and use, he said.

On the bus, Frank said he felt the route to the airport could sustain a rail system. “On the Green Line here I went through several Hipster Nodes” that would be ideal for rail, he said. Bay View, you’ve got a new name: “Milwaukee’s Hipster Node.”

Among the attendees at the event were Aldermen Jim Bohl,  Willie Wade and Michael Murphy, Wauwatosa mayor Kathleen Ehley and Waukesha County Board Chair Paul Decker. Futurist Bob Chernow, who has been active in redeveloping the west side of downtown also was there, seated at a table with Art Cyr of Carthage College, Paul Upchurch and Meg McKenna of Visit Milwaukee and Ian Abston of Newaukee. Guy Mascari of the county research park — a likely train stop — also joined the event, as did Marianne Lubar and city Commissioner of Public Works Ghassan Korban.

7 thoughts on “Plenty of Horne: Transit Expansion Urged”

  1. Shadowy says:

    Look at the other cities where they have similar downtown streetcars. None of them are meeting ridership estimates, most of them came out over budget and now the cities are using scarce resources to fund the operation of them (result of low ridership). In Milwaukee they are taking money away from future public schools, police and firefighters revenues to finance this and the “millenniums” are saying they want more bike lanes and buses. By the way, there are already bus routes and Bike lanes on the proposed streetcar routes. Here is the study, go to page 12 http://www.apta.com/resources/reportsandpublications/Documents/APTA-Millennials-and-Mobility.pdf. (Page 12)

    The Mayor’s proposed streetcar route only benefits a very small percentage of Milwaukee’s population, downtowners and east-siders only. Most of whom are well-to-do that already have multiple means of transportation.

    Even the expansion map only goes to Marquette and to the bay area suburbs. No plans whatsoever to connect the areas where public transportation is actually needed, ie. poor minority (in particular Black and Brown) communities with high unemployment. Which is what the federal portion of the funding was originally intended for. This is yet another boondoggle I tell ya!

  2. Brisls says:

    What a line of bull. If you want to live/wor downtown that’s great just don’t use the excuse I won’t live/work here if there isn’t an electric streetcar. An electric streetcar is FIXED, it cannot go down every street, it can only go where the rail is laid. If the street is under construction, a bus route can be moved, a streetcar route can’t be moved no matter how much you will it to be. If you think a streetcar is going to run a route any faster than a bus you’re greatly mistaken. It will run in traffic and still has to abide by traffic. What are your traveling plans if the streetcar breaks down? It can’t be towed as a bus can be, there won’t be replacement or “backup” streetcars as there are with buses. This city isn’t big enough to support a streetcar system. If the fare to ride is $4 or more and the rides are not subsidized (which they shouldn’t be) are you willing to pay that? Probably not. Most cities that have disrupted their streets to install a streetcar are running them empty and at a definite financial loss. So before you just vote to install them because you think they’re “cool”, research cities that have them, review what they say about them, and make a smarter decision in the long run.

  3. Tim says:

    Why would a developer invest millions of dollars in something that can be moved willy-nilly? That is why fixed rail is better.

  4. Peter G. says:

    I think that there must be a distinction here between streetcars and light rail. In the case of the former, using the contemplated Milwaukee routes, I would have to agree with Shadowy’s critique. That critique, however, does not universally apply to light rail: The Blue Line in Minneapolis, which runs on an exclusive right of way outside of Downtown Minneapolis and a short stretch near Mall of America, was an instantaneous success, attracting ridership far exceeding its creators’ projections. A number of similar light rail routes in Dallas, Houston, and Portland, Oregon, also have had success in attracting ridership. In all of these cases, the light rail lines provided a faster alternative to buses with higher capacity, and they linked destinations to which large groups of people wished to go and points of origin that brought a socially diverse ridership. The Twin Cities’ Green Line, which links the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul, largely traveling in the median strips of major traffic arteries is perhaps too young to show whether it is a long-term success. But it does link two downtowns, the ,main campus of the University of Minnesota, and a reasonably large number of employers near the University Avenue corridor which the new line uses, which suggests long-term success. So far, the line seems to be a success, but it will take a year or so to show whether this success is based on the route’s novelty or whether it fills a public need. There is also some public debate whether the routing westward extension of the Green Line into Minneapolis’ south-southwestern suburbs (St. Park, Edina, and Eden Prairie) is the best one for attracting the greatest possible number of workers, commuters, and shoppers. But so far, the Minneapolis-St. Paul experience has achieved its desired ends.

    I think that the argument that fixed rail transit is in all cases a born loser is questionable. There is abundant evidence that light rail in communities unable to afford heavy rail has shown itself to be a success when the routes and service chosen link large numbers of people from all social groups with places to which they want to and need to go–places of employment, transit hubs (depots and airports), shopping, and entertainment districts.The streetcar route was adopted after a more ambitious light rail plan failed to get support at the state level, and its second- or third-best routing, which was able to get support from downtown movers and shakers, reflects that political reality. Fixed guideway public transit needs to be rapid transit, that is to say, transpoting large numbers of people rapidly. Planned and executed properly (meaning reasonable headways–i.e.,intervals between trains–with well-placed stops or stations), light rail can be a success.

  5. Tom D says:

    Brilsls (post 2):

    Let’s examine some of your claims:

    » If the street is under construction, a bus route can be moved, a streetcar route can’t be moved no matter how much you will it to be.

    Streetcar routes are much less likely to undergo construction than other streets because:
    • There are almost no underground utilities under streetcar tracks
    • They are made of concrete (not asphalt) which means many fewer potholes
    • They will be rebuilt just before the streetcar opens and won’t need major reconstruction for decades

    And once you get much beyond a single streetcar line, you CAN start rerouting streetcars if needed. In the 1930s, Milwaukee had a network of streetcar tracks and could reroute streetcars if needed.

    » If you think a streetcar is going to run a route any faster than a bus you’re greatly mistaken.

    Downtown buses on Wisconsin Avenue average about 6 mph today because they spend most of their time stopped (picking up passengers) or at red lights. While streetcars’ top speed is no more than buses’, streetcars have a higher average speed because they spend less time at stops:
    • Buses load single file through a single door; streetcars will load through at least 3 doors at once.
    • Buses lose time pulling over to the curb to stop (and lose more time waiting for a break in traffic before pulling away from the curb); streetcars stop IN the traffic lane and lose no time pulling out of traffic or waiting to merge back in.
    • Buses waste a minute or two driving several extra blocks to turn around at the end of each run; streetcars are bi-directional and don’t waste this time. While this end-of-line loop doesn’t increase anybody’s travel time, it does increase the time people wait for the next bus (and it also runs up per-mile and per-hour costs).
    • Electric vehicles accelerate faster than diesel.

    » What are your traveling plans if the streetcar breaks down? It can’t be towed as a bus can be…

    Actually, streetcars CAN be towed. Each Milwaukee streetcar will have the ability to tow or push a disabled streetcar all the way back to the maintenance shop. (No bus can tow another bus.)

    And besides, electric vehicles are exceedingly reliable. In NYC, for example, electric subway cars (and electric commuter railroad cars) average about 150,000 miles between failures that delay service.

    » [T]here won’t be replacement or “backup” streetcars as there are with buses.

    Not true. There will be at least one spare streetcar vehicle starting on day one. The City is buying 4 streetcar vehicles, but will only need 2 (on weekends) or 3 (weekdays) at any one time. So there will be one spare streetcar on weekdays and two on weekends.

  6. mbradleyc says:

    Not everyone can have a car, you know. Some people are afraid to drive and it’s better if they don’t. Some people can’t afford it. Even for the middle class, a car is not cheap.

    I spent 7 years on public transportation because I couldn’t afford a decent car and I got tired of wasting money on junkers. I managed to keep my job the whole way, thanks to Metra and PACE. I will be moving back to Milwaukee in six months or so. I have a car now, but I like the security of public transit if anything goes wrong and when it is easier and cheaper to take the streetcar or a Bublr I will do that instead.

  7. Tom D says:

    Shadowy (post 1), re-check your source. Page 12 of your study did NOT claim “‘millenniums’ are saying they want more bike lanes and buses”. If anything, it took the opposite position, claiming that bikes and buses are the LEAST preferred options, and that cars are most preferred. (Note that a low score means “most preferred”, and buses and bikes had the highest numeric score.)

    By the way, the word is “millennial” not “millennium”.

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