Elizabeth Baker

How Streetcar Could Change King Drive

Residents, business owners talk with city planners about a streetcar extension.

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People who live or work in the neighborhood indicate where they spend the most time and what development they’d like to see there. Photo by Elizabeth Baker.

People who live or work in the neighborhood indicate where they spend the most time and what development they’d like to see there. Photo by Elizabeth Baker.

A recent city planning open house allowed Historic King Drive residents, workers and business owners to engage in conversations with developers about how a potential extension of the Milwaukee Streetcar route could bring economic growth to their neighborhood.

Still undergoing construction of the initial 2.5-mile route downtown, the streetcar line could – depending on funding – eventually extend north along King Drive to Bronzeville and south to Walker’s Point.

The City of Milwaukee hosted the meeting at Schlitz Park, 1555 N. Rivercenter Drive, to listen to how citizens envision the future of their neighborhood and to inform a strategic plan that maximizes economic impact and meets neighbors’ needs. A similar gathering took place in Walker’s Point the day before.

Attendees place stickers on a board to show what development projects they’d like to see in their neighborhood. Photo by Elizabeth Baker.

Attendees place stickers on a board to show what development projects they’d like to see in their neighborhood. Photo by Elizabeth Baker.

As dozens of people buzzed about the conference room talking with friends, neighbors and coworkers — as well as the city planners and developers — some voiced hope and excitement, while others expressed concern about city plans.

Elaine Schweitzer, a Brewers Hill resident of two years who works in Schlitz Park, said she is pleased with the city’s dedication to developing the neighborhood and with the possible extension of the streetcar route along Martin Luther King Drive.

“MLK, to me, is sort of symbolic of pulling different facets of the neighborhood together,” Schweitzer said. “It seems like it’s sort of this odd, unnatural boundary between what the city’s willing to invest in and what it has sort of left to happen on its own.”

Antoine CarterGroundwork Milwaukee program director who oversees two projects on King Drive, looked shocked as he viewed a map of the planned streetcar extension along King Drive. “It only goes to North Avenue?” Carter asked.

He said he doesn’t think it makes sense for the streetcar line to end at such a major intersection when neighborhoods north of North Avenue could also benefit.

Carter pointed out the racial segregation that exists across these streets and among these neighborhoods and noted that the street could unite and strengthen the city, if it is treated the same as other parts of Milwaukee by local leadership.

“It’s kind of representative of how people are in this city anyway,” Carter said. “It indicates no forward thinking. … The plan should be for all of MLK Drive to thrive.”

Like Carter, others who studied the map of the projected streetcar route expressed concern and raised questions. City Long Range Planning Manager Sam Leichtling acknowledged common perceptions about the streetcar — that it will serve only a certain demographic and travel only to downtown shopping areas.

Leichtling and other city planners and developers listened to the concerns but did not address them directly. They encouraged attendees to think broadly about their hopes for the neighborhood. Even if the extended streetcar does not pan out, Leichtling said, local feedback still can inform planning and investment going forward.

Community members were encouraged to share their ideas at several interactive stations. At one, they posted their “great idea” for the neighborhood. At another, they placed a sticker on a map to mark where they live or work and wrote what sort of development they’d like to see there.

Gerald Bester, a business owner opening an office on King Drive, told Leichtling that he would like entertainment options such as a theater and different restaurants to take an employee or client out for lunch.

“I’ve been studying the area for a couple years now, and I got stuck on it because there’s so much potential in that corridor, but it’s underutilized,” Bester said. “One of the purposes of picking this particular location is future growth and the opportunity to get involved in strategic planning.”

Several realtors, developers and business owners at the open house voiced similar desires for economic growth.

Genyne Edwards of P3 Development Group., one of the companies contracting with the city on the Historic King Drive/Bronzeville project, said recent changes such as the Bublr Bikes parking station in Schlitz Park and Pete’s Fruit Market on the corner of Martin Luther King Drive and North Avenue have excited neighbors, but they’d like to see more restaurants, retail options, green space and other means of transportation around the area.

Meetings such as this are part of a larger strategic planning study funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation and made possible by the Historic King Drive BID and Harbor District Inc. The city is working with transit development planning firms on the yearlong effort. The goal is to enable neighborhoods to benefit economically from a potential transit development project, but also respect and preserve their historic identities.

The group plans to hold other public meetings before the end of the year, but no dates have been set.

This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on eighteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee.

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.

6 thoughts on “How Streetcar Could Change King Drive”

  1. George C says:

    I drive down King every day, and it sucks, because people drive like total assholes.

    Driving in the ghetto could make King himself a racist.

  2. Vincent Hanna says:

    I drive down King on a regular basis and it isn’t nearly as bad as driving through Whitefish Bay. Try going five minutes without being killed by someone driving a huge SUV while talking and driving. Either way though, the problem is the way people drive nowadays, not where. It’s pervasive.

  3. WashCoRepub says:

    How long before one of these speeding, out-of-control drivers slams into the streetcar? That’s going to send a lot of bodies flying into the street in one sad mass-casualty incident.

  4. Vincent Hanna says:

    Yes no city should ever construct a form of public transportation for fear of bad drivers. You are so smart WashCoPartisanHack.

  5. Kenneth says:

    MLK Light Rail: Take it all the way to Capital Drive! Crazy drivers will dope up!

  6. Thomas says:

    I like the ideas of extending streetcar lines on King Drive to North Avenue and south to Walker’s Point. I do not see a need for going north of North Avenue or south of Walker’s Point at this time. Businesses are sparse immediately north and south of those points. If they build there, the streetcar could follow.

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