Jeramey Jannene

Where Do All The Cars Fit?

By - Jul 7th, 2009 10:55 am

On July 3rd, 2009 the world did not end, but numerous public meetings in the year prior would lead you to believe it would.  Why?  July 3rd is the day that the suburban population of Greater Milwaukee drives en masse to the downtown lakefront to watch the US Bank Fireworks.  They, as well as numerous Milwaukee residents, park their cars anywhere they can find from UWM to Walker’s Point.  Without a doubt, July 3rd is the single most intensive day for street parking in Milwaukee.

As we’ve heard time and time again at public meetings, there isn’t enough parking on the East Side and near downtown.  Yet, even with Summerfest in full swing, MCTS buses filled with festival goers, opportunists selling parking in their driveway, and off-street parking being nearly filled, the city still functions.  Like magic, all the cars fit.

How is such a thing possible? Public meetings on issues ranging the new UWM residence hall (on Brady, North, Prospect) to Downer Avenue have been filled with people bemoaning the lack of parking.  Discussion of the proposed street car system is not complete without someone lamenting the loss of parking.  Judging by the public meetings there is no surplus parking in Milwaukee.  Literally every development-related public forum will contain an individual complaining about parking.

However, year after year on July 3rd people pack Milwaukee’s most urban neighborhoods with their cars.  And year after year, they fit.  Sure, the street grid fills up after the fireworks, but the distributed nature of the grid ensures numerous routes of entry and exit.

At the end of the day, there is plenty of parking in Milwaukee, regardless of what you hear at a public meeting.


12 thoughts on “Where Do All The Cars Fit?”

  1. Take a look at satellite images of Milwaukee and you will see a lot of empty parking spaces (surface lots and the top levels of parking structures). This city has an overabundance of parking spaces.

  2. Dave Reid says:

    @Andrew Agreed. I used to work in the 411 building and you could see the tops of numerous parking garages. They were never full. In the 90s? (or early 2000) the city had a parking study that indicted that garages were never ever full.

  3. Nicholas Crawford says:

    Very good point! Until people can park their cars next to their desks, they will complain about parking. It has to be a municipal discipline to keep parking concerns in check.

  4. Dan says:

    I live downtown, saw the fireworks and the post-festivities traffic jam (always funny to me to see the traffic backed up on streets like Cass, Knapp, etc). I think the real perception suburbanites have is Milwaukee does not have enough FREE parking right where they want to park. Part of being in the city is expecting to park 2 blocks away from where you want to go. I think there were missed oppurtunities for shuttles from remote structured parking.

    One unfortunate reality with oversized parking garages is they may have been caused by the lender, not the tennants or the developper. Banks can be reluctant to finance anything that they percieve to not have enough parking, as they fear it can cause the property to lose value.

  5. Mebbsotte says:

    The key is to keep intelligent discourse at the forefront. People are utterly stupid when it comes to parking and have literally NO IDEA what a real lack of parking looks like. One thing I would suggest is a more european system where signs tell you where there are spaces available – very cool. Of course, we could also do a temporary extension of AMtrak to Waukesha for special occasions too!

  6. Columbusite says:

    This is a common “problem” in our cities which doesn’t exist. The problem is that people refuse to use other options like parking far away and walking or even better, ditching the car for the bus, or bike, or scoot, etc. You could level nearly half of your downtown for surface parking and garages (we did) and people will still complain about parking (they do). For events like these the city should be proactive in suggesting people choose alternatives or they can sit in traffic. Cities need to put the burden on people to make a smart choice instead of expecting the city to give up $$$ land for people to plop their cars on top.

  7. Dave Reid says:

    @Columbusite Oh yeah, here in Milwaukee we have massive surface parking lots, and many many parking garages and people still say “there’s no parking.” What they really are saying is there is no free parking, which there shouldn’t be.

  8. Matthew says:

    Just imagine if we had some form of light rail running from downtown, west past miller park, and out to the suburbs, it could drastically reduce parking while providing alternative spots for people to park if they didn’t want to deal with the heavy traffic.

  9. Yeah I’ve seen the bizarre logic of people who complain about parking in Milwaukee. I definitely think no “free” parking is a part of it. Another part is that people want to park right next to where they’re going, and a surprising number of people can’t or don’t want to parallel park anywhere.

    I got dropped off about a mile south of Summerfest that day and ended the night walking 3 miles north to the North Ave area. I witnessed the traffic craziness and felt a happy sense of freedom at not having to concern myself with any of that.

    There are many buses that go to all of the remote park and rides, so that’s an option for people. I walked past that area, every bus was packed to the brim. Lots of people drive obviously, but there’s people that take advantage of every option available on that day. Rail would get filled up with no sweat.

  10. Dan #2 says:


    You are right on with your assessment. Milwaukee has way too much parking that is cheap and close to popular destinations like the CBD, etc – this is why very few support mass transit. Only when cheap, convenient parking is unavailable will people start to view mass transit as convenient and “cool”. This is the case for downtown employees and for tourists. This over abundance of parking also kills downtown retail. Foot traffic (and population density which is a result of people wanting to live close to work/play because commuting/parking is a pain) is the key to urban retail – not surface parking. If all of us took the light rail into the city or walked from our urban home to work, how many more storefronts would we walk by between drop off and our desk? As it is now, we pay well below the national average to park downtown in the parking structure and take the elevator to our desk, without ever having to step outside – NML, US Bank complexes are big contributors to this.

    We need to look no further than the robust sales at the summer fruit stand outside tropic banana co. in the third ward. Since the ICC is so close to the CBD, hundreds of cars are parked for $2/day a savings of about $10/day. As a result the savvy tropic banana co. opens a summer fruit stand to cater to the foot traffic – they are always busy!

  11. Be happy you have historic buildings. In St. Louis we’ve torn down quite a few for parking and were continuing even though we probably have more parking per capita than any City in the US.

  12. Brian says:

    I agree that there is no parking problem in Milwaukee and there is no traffic problem as well. Compared to most metro areas (like Chicago and MPLS), Milwaukee parking is cheap and plentiful. So cheap and plentiful that people will still drive to downtown and park even if a light rail system is put in, thus making any light rail in Milwaukee a very expensive, little-ridden boondoggle. People will not give up the flexibility and convienience of a car for the rigidity of a train if the parking cost and driving time remain low.

    Spend LTR money on buses and bike lanes and get more bang for the buck instead of building a shiny new monument to a politician.

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us