Jeramey Jannene

Milwaukee Streetcar Takes Key Step Forward

By - May 6th, 2010 09:50 am
A rendering of the streetcar coming up Broadway out of the Historic Third Ward.

A rendering of the streetcar coming up Broadway out of the Historic Third Ward.

The Milwaukee Streetcar project was approved for further study this morning by the Milwaukee Connector Study Group. The approval will allow preliminary engineering to begin for the proposed streetcar starter system.

The Milwaukee Connector Study Group is the federally designated body that oversees the early 1990’s allocated $289 million for transit in Milwaukee (which has only $91.5 million remaining). The group consists of a single voting member each from the City of Milwaukee, Milwaukee County, MMAC, and the Wisconsin Center District. The study group approved the Milwaukee Streetcar for further study on a 3-1 vote with Milwaukee County casting the lone dissenting vote.

The Milwaukee Streetcar will need approval from the Milwaukee Common Council and the Mayor before construction can begin. The Common Council is likely to vote on the streetcar in early 2011, when the preliminary engineering work will be available that provides better estimates of financial and operating details.

As has been discussed previously, the streetcar will not compete with the existing MCTS system for future federal dollars, as the FTA has funds set aside for fixed-guideway systems under which the streetcar would fall. Also, implementation of a regional transit authority is still extremely important, so that the existing bus system does not see severe cuts.

As planned, the streetcar would be a key piece of the backbone for a truly regional transit system serving as a vital link between the Milwaukee Intermodal Station (stop on route of Madison-Milwaukee-Chicago high-speed rail and KRM commuter rail system), existing MCTS bus routes, and Milwaukee’s densest neighborhoods including the East Side, East Town, the Historic Third Ward, and Westown.

Please take time to look at these renderings to get a sense of what the streetcar would look like on Milwaukee streets, and how it might interface with traffic and existing buildings.



More about the Milwaukee Streetcar

For more project details, including the project timeline, financing, route and possible extensions, see our extensive past coverage.

Read more about Milwaukee Streetcar here


69 thoughts on “Milwaukee Streetcar Takes Key Step Forward”

  1. yaystreetcar says:

    I love how, in the renderings, they have to superimpose pedestrians because there’s never anyone outside their car in Milwaukee.

  2. Danny says:

    It is just me, or in those renderings did they add a bunch of buildings that aren’t really there? They look beautiful and glassy, but……..? Are they proposed at least? But I could not be more excited about the streetcar!

  3. yaystreetcar says:

    I agree there are some new buildings downtown since I was there this morning, not to mention a ton of garden and streetscaping, Haha. But I cannot agree more about how excited I am for this!

  4. c. says:

    You know, I kinda like the mixed-use building they imposed on the SW corner of Wells & VB.

    I like the fact that an actual streetcar plan is being implemented even more.

  5. Hereiam says:


    $1 fare, trains every 10-15 mins. Connects a dense residential area with the underdeveloped areas of downtown. This looks like an excellent starter system.

    Once it is functioning, we can throw a line across Juneau to create the loop. Then continue the spurs (1) up the East Side to UWM, (2) along Fond du Lac, (3) one out to Marquette (and beyond), (4)another down to National Ave/Bay View, and other areas as the city needs. By doing it over time we can spread out the costs as well as finally getting an RTA set up. All throughout this process, the city allows some of its residents to getting rid of their cars (if they do not like that burden), it increasing development by encouraging density, and eventually makes the downtown self-sustaining. These benefits are not only for the city, but the entire region as a more vibrant city attracts business (and even state, given that 1/4 of Wisconsinites live in the MKE metro).

    A look at the JSOnline comments, quickly shows there is strong opposition, but it is mostly based in fear and misunderstanding. Fear that this will be costly even though the starter system costs 1/40th of the Zoo Change. And misunderstanding of the benefits of creating a sustainable city center.

    Of course, there will be several more rounds of voting, and 1000s of opportunities for city officials to screw this up. But it is a step in the right direction!

    Now, we also have to consider ways of changing the tax burden in this state off property taxes and to more equitable methods, so that the city can stop funding the suburbs.

  6. GT says:

    I believe the streetcar will exist, but am skeptical of the glossy new downtown development.

  7. Tim says:


    By all means this is amazing and a great step forward. Go downtown! My only concern is… I live in the suburbs, and I believe that a commuter rail bringing together all the other communities would be much better served than just a downtown street car thing. Obviously it would cost much more but it would be able to move around more people much quicker. Like I live in Grafton and I mean traffic is never bad in Milwaukee (even at rushhour) but I would be much more apt to take a train than drive to go downtown. Just like in comparison with Chicago.. I have no problem with sitting in traffic in Chicago but the metra/el are much better served throughout the communities and the suburbs(like when I stay with my girlfriend in Vernon HIlls/Libertyville. Just sayin that we should start thinking about other counties and cities. And I know you Waukesha people have an issue with being part of Milwaueke but grow up, I am pretty sure you wanted our water.

  8. MilwaukeeD says:

    Tim, totally agree that we need commuter rail as well. However, if/when commuter rail is implemented, it is likely to drop people off at the Intermodal Station in downtown. That’s why the streetcar is so important, to get people from there to wherever they are trying to go. Same with passengers currently arriving on Amtrak Chicago and from Madison in the near future.

  9. Dave Reid says:

    @Tim Yes a large system one day would be good, but there simply isn’t not he regional will to get that done now… The RTA would of brought commuter rail to Kenosha, Racine, and Milwaukee, but that didn’t get through the state.

  10. Tim says:

    @MilwaukeeD very good point. I didn’t see it that way. I am so used to the el just taking everyone everywhere. I guess this is a good starting off point. Do you know if the KRM is dead, or that it is still a possibility?

  11. SS says:

    Isn’t it a little disingenuous to compare the cost to the Zoo Interchange reconstruction?

    More people use the Zoo Interchange in one day than will use the streetcar the entire year.

    The Zoo Interchange is absolutely vital to the economy of the city, region, and state.

    The Zoo Interchange is responsible for far more economic development than the streetcar ever will.

    You guessed it, I think this streetcar proposal is absolutely terrible for so many reasons. The cost is excessive, the proposed service route serves very few (if you don’t live on the route, what would you use this for if you already have to drive into the city), buses already service the entire route, and why on earth do we want to pollute the sidewalks and street views with overhead electrical wires??

    I would think even some of you urban planners here would be against that, given all the blabbing about the visual makeup of downtown. How many trees will have to be removed so they don’t interfere with the wires? How many streets will be torn up for months to lay the track? I tried to go to the Redroom bar last week, found it closed indefinitely along with many other nearby businesses due to the North Ave bridge closure. Is this just going to be a repeat of that, but all over the city??

    I just don’t get the advantage of this over a bus. Paint a big fat colored line on the street for the route of the bus, paint the bus the same color. Get an hydrogen powered bus or something if you want it to be quieter. All this would cost far far less than train infrastructure.

    I don’t think it would be a bad idea to structure some bus routes in small loops to help get people around the downtown area, just name them by color and have a simple combined map that shows them all. The usability and usefulness of public transportation is much more important than the mode.

  12. Michael James says:

    Thanks for the renderings, I now have a new desktop background! If all this public transportation I keep reading about gets built, I might be inspired to move back to Milwaukee. I’ve been living in Asia for about 1.5 years and love the convenient public transportation (conservatives here are pro public transportation because they think its good for business). Life is so much nicer not having to depend on a car, you should try it, oh wait, that might be impossible for you, well, have fun in your car!

  13. CJ says:

    @SS…You have raised one, maybe two good points – yet they still have no merit.

    1.) ” More people use the Zoo Interchange in one day than will use the streetcar the entire year”. Of course that is true, and the reason “urban planners” want a good start to a comprehensive transit option in Milwaukee is to get the cars OFF of the streets and highways. The streetcar in downtown will not immediately relieve the Zoo Interchange congestion, but the transit options that will follow the streetcar into other routes in Milwaukee will certainly relieve congestion at a far lesser expense than that of the Zoo Interchange. Did you know that your brand new Marquette Interchange cost nearly 10-times the cost of a comprehensive transit option (like streetcars) in Milwaukee? Do you know that the TWO BILLION dollar I-94 expansion is costing YOU far more than the streetcar proposal EVER will? Probably not.

    2.) “The Zoo Interchange is responsible for far more economic development than the streetcar ever will”. Where are your numbers to support your opinion? Fact: Train stations create residential development (tax revenues), business development (again, more tax revenues AND jobs), and a lesser expensive mode of transportation to JOBS; google Portland Transit, Atlanta Transit, St. Louis Transit, etc…and read for yourself. So, keep paying nearly $3.00 a gallon for gas – the rest of your community will be glad to ride the train for a fraction of that cost.

    3.) “The cost is excessive…”. I suspect you have not been keeping yourself aprised of this issue throughout the years. Milwaukee received more than 290 million dollars to get the job done in the early 90’s but was held back by Republican Conservative ideals (translation: Milwaukee Red-Neck Politicians), and suburbanites spitting out their opinions (like yours) without true facts to support their opinions.

    When the rest of the city is riding the train, and/or bus, and you are still paying $3.00 per gallon for gas (or MORE) on that brand new Zoo Interchange, remember this response to this article and think to yourself – were your emty-headed opinions/beliefs about public transportation really worth your ignorance?

  14. SS says:


    1 – I’m not a suburbanite, I live in the City of Milwaukee. Like everyone else here, I want the City to be successful and a pleasant place to live. Unlike everyone else here, I think spending millions on public transit boondoggles will doom us.

    2 – You make it seem that $3/gal for gas is expensive. I travel nearly 30 miles for my $3, when and where I want. Is there any public transit option that offers that kind of convenience and value?

    Can anyone convince me why an extremely expensive streetcar system is so much better than a bus? CJ went on about how expensive all these road projects are and what a great value public transit is, well aren’t the buses an even better value? People aren’t using the buses now, why do you think they’d use a streetcar? These aren’t difficult questions, yet no one can answer them. And btw, “Portland” isn’t an answer. Neither is St Louis, which is a bigger hell hole than our north side.

    I know you think everyone who’s against these public transit options is some ignorant, fast-food eating, uncultured, never-been-downtown, SUV driving suburbanite asshole. Well some of us actually are your neighbors in the City. We enjoy many of the same things you do. But I’m seeing 15% of my income going to continually rising property taxes, our kids schools are a total disaster, and half my neighbors are retired city workers getting ready to move to Florida. I don’t feel really great about supporting their pension and health care benefits while my private sector job benefits and salary are being cut right now. Sorry if I’m a little skeptical of yet another more massive spending that’s going to turn the city around. Convince me I’m wrong.

  15. TS says:

    You know why is everyone dissing the suburbs. If a majority of the city wasn’t so dirty and crime ridden we wouldn’t have to live in ozaukee, W-hell and Racine counties. Don’t blame us for needing to spend 3.09 for gas. And talk to Milwaukee county and Madison because we would ride transit if it came to us.. which it never will.

  16. Matthew says:

    @SS, you are missing a few important points. Another factor which needs to be taken into consideration is that transportation networks and systems are in a positive feedback loop where the more money spent to improve the network, and the bigger the system, the more riders you get, if funding levels were equal between the two systems which would have greater riders, and by how much?

    Finally there is the issue of security. Right now transportation in Milwaukee is a one horse town which makes our system vulnerable. If something were to ever happen to our interchanges, a bridge gets bombed, there is a natural disaster, an oil embargo or even shoddy workmanship could lead to the destruction of our transportation infrastructure, and destroy the local economy. By diversifying our portfolio of transportation options we reduce our risks because each form of transportation has various benefits associated with it. A street car system runs off electricity which currently means it runs off coal instead of gas. It is not part of the highway network, so when the highway network gets tied up either through construction, an accident, or any other reason, it is still able to run.

  17. SS says:

    > Finally there is the issue of security.

    I’m sorry, that’s the dumbest reason I’ve ever heard. Are the train people really getting that desperate to try and justify this? Bombing of a bridge?

  18. CJ says:


    “I think spending millions on public transit boondoggles will doom us”. Again, you refuse to substantiate your opinions. Exactly how will creating an affordable, reliable transportation system in the city (in addition to buses) “boondoggle” the city?

    You stated people do not ride buses now. And yet again, you failed to give the true reasons why people do not (or cannot) ride the buses. Fare increases, and route-cuts, plain and simple. Your city has taken property-tax revenues to help fund the bus system and it cannot take anymore property-tax revenues without bankrupting property owners. Instead, the city has offered several solutions to remove funding from property-taxes and create an alternative funding source for public transportation in Milwaukee – but that wasn’t good enough. Your city wanted a rental car tax of $25.00 (per rental) to fund public transportation – but that wasn’t good enough. Funding affordable and reliable public transit would not cost property owners one cent. So what’s your excuse now?

    “Is there any public transit option that offers that kind of convenience and value”? Of course this doesn’t exist in the City of Milwaukee! Read my comments above.

    Let me be perfectly clear, I am not against buses. I am against a city, who once had one of the most efficiently-ran public transportation systems in the country, slowly deteriorate. Did you know major cities across the country looked to Milwaukee in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s and asked; “How do you run your public transit so well…”? Google it, you’ll see.

    Finally, I didn’t assume you were a suburbanite. I am assuming however that you are like most “old-school” Milwaukeeans who refuse to speak the truth. Public transit will not affect your wallet (see my FACTS above). Public transit threatens your neighborhood from those who you feel should not be in your neighborhood. Public transit threatens your workplace because those same people may end up working in your building because now they have a way to get to work. This transit argument in Milwaukee is more about supressing the supressed more than it is about funding. Period.

  19. Michael James says:

    If the streetcar gets built, I think UWM should take advantage of it and build its new schools (the ones UWM has been talking about for ages) along the route. Maybe highly educated and creative people who will work at these schools (people who realize that words like boondoggle and choo-choo sound ridiculous after being used thousands of times) would rather take a streetcar to work than a zoo interchange?

    Younger generations prefer to live in urban areas (see articles linked on this site) and as this trend continues, public transportation will become even more important to a thriving city.

    Also, the proposed streetcar route seems a little inadequate. Maybe it should extend to UWM and Marquette? I lived downtown / on the Eastside for several years and probably would not have ridden the proposed route very often.

    And the multi-million dollar question… how do we pay for the extended route? Simple. Put a toll in the middle of the Zoo Interchange and collect a fee from all the people who freely pollute Milwaukee’s air and enjoy Milwaukee’s jobs, and then return home to the suburbs and comment on various websites (mostly JSOnline) about how dirty and crime ridden Milwaukee is! (By the way, SS, I’m not talking about you, I think you raise some good points)

  20. TS says:

    @Micheal James. If you are refering to me I am fine with tolls. I pay them in Illinois. If we got an ipass/ez pass system I would totally go for it. I have no issue with paying tolls, if you are only putting it on the zoo interchange that would be awsome because I only use the MU interchange.. but bring on the tolls. I was hoping they would toll part of the new i94 to pay for the KRM that will unfortunatly probably never be built. Anything to bring Chicago and Milwaukee closer together.

  21. SS says:


    Sorry, I thought the dooming was pretty clear. The city raises taxes and fees every year while cutting services. The libraries and garbage dump are barely even open anymore. The streets and alleys are crumbling, several news stories have been written about the miles of roads that are going to be entering the end of their life in the next 10 years. The unfunded liabilities of city worker benefits are huge, and their pension plans require even bigger contributions because of the recent market crash. The City can’t get out of those expenses without declaring bankruptcy. MPS enrollment is shrinking but spending is exploding.

    That’s why creating a new expensive public transit system will be a boondoggle. Even if the feds pay to build it, we can’t afford to operate it. And it does nothing to solve any of the above problems.

    I find it hilarious that you think transferring MCTS funding from property taxes to a sales tax is somehow saving money or something. What exactly is your point? The money comes from somewhere, now its just not a line item on my tax bill. It’s all money taken away from people and given to fund a bus system that is sorely underused.

    People don’t ride the bus because its inconvenient. It has nothing to do with route cuts or fare increases. Even most of the poor in the City own cars. You could make the bus free and I still wouldn’t ride it. Despite what you want to believe, owning a car is very affordable and practically a necessity. Accept it, and design transportation plans that make sense for car owners. There are things we can do to make car transport better by tying in to mass transit sensibly.

  22. CJ says:


    Too many people want public transit. And too many people want larger interstates. Wanting transit doesn’t negate, or take away your right to car-ownership, and vice-versa. What is more important however, is having options. Options for everyone. What is affordable transportation to you, may not be affordable transportation to another person. I want Milwaukee to offer more transit options, for everyone.

    As a teenager, I remember riding the bus when I could not afford .85/gallon for gas to drive my car. I could afford the .35 to ride the bus – almost all day, because I had that lesser-expensive option.

    Milwaukee has significantly lower sales taxes than most cities its size. Change the source of funding (subsequently relieving property-tax payers), restore routes, and Milwaukee will attract newer industries and jobs. Milwaukee recently lost the Miller/Coors Headquaters to Chicago because of public transportation issues. Both the Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce and the Milwaukee 7 have recently recognized a number of companies not selecting Milwaukee as their home because of transit issues. Employers recognize a good transit-oriented city can bring employees to their jobs.

    Lastly, Milwaukee has the 5th lowest commute time in the country – preceding is Oklahoma City, Bufalo, and Salt Lake City – all lower-populated cities than Milwaukee. Milwaukee has a very good grid street system and interstate system. And yes, maintenance is required, but does the city need interstate expansion to the price tag of TWO BILLION dollars when commute times are the 5th LOWEST in the country?

    PS – I don’t think property owners would “find it funny” if the City found another reliable funding source for MCTS. Ask my Mom, who still lives in the Alverno neighborhood, and pays nearly $4500.00 a year for property taxes – more than her mortage payment back in 1967!

    To me, that isn’t funny.

  23. Brent Johnson says:

    @ Michael James — Hopefully UWM will develop along these routes and bring more traffic downtown… but the Chancellor is hoping to move the Medical School into either the old Columbia St Mary’s site or closer to the Medical College of WI. As far as Freshwater Sciences, development is leaning toward the Walker’s Point area for some reason…

  24. SS says:

    > Change the source of funding (subsequently relieving property-tax payers)

    I’m sorry, how dense are you? How is replacing a property tax with a sales tax relieving anyone? There are consequences to a sales tax, it’s not just free money. But as you and elected officials know, a sales tax isn’t a clear line item that you write out a big check for. It’s “invisible”. It nickels and dimes you. It’s not something you call up your supervisor to complain about.

    And it’s completely regressive tax, which I thought was a big concern of you lefties.

    And anyway, who cares about funding? What should be debated is if any of this makes sense. If it makes sense, then funding won’t be a problem.

    You go on about low commute times in Milwaukee, as if that’s a *reason* for mass transit?? That’s exactly the reason why we DO NOT need a train! People don’t need it and will not use it. I’m sure the commute is pretty easy in Wausau too, should they get light rail as well?

  25. Jesse Hagen says:

    The city of Milwaukee doesn’t have high taxes, it has high property taxes.

    WI is ranked 14th in taxes but it seems like we’re in the top 3 because it’s paid mostly from the payroll and property tax.

    The amount matters just as much as where it’s coming from. To ignore that is ignorance or blind partisanship.

  26. Dave Reid says:

    @Jesse And when you add in “fees” (which we’ve been told by our friend’s on the right are taxes), that ranking actually drops further putting Wisconsin close to the average.

  27. CJ says:


    Can you read? I didn’t use low commute times as a reason for public transit. I used low commute times in Milwaukee because of the BILLIONS of dollars being spent expanding interstates does not make sense. With low commute times ON THE INTERSTATES, why would you support interstate expansion? Let me spell that out for you…low commute times on the interstates = not enough cars to justify interstate expansion.

    I found it interesting that you completely ignored my previous response suggesting that this transit debate in Milwaukee is not about funding. The true underlying issue is that people like you, do not want people who use public transportation into your neighborhoods and/or workplaces. It isn’t news that Milwaukee is a very racist city.

    Your 1960’s attitude will take you nowhere in this debate of public transit. Continue to twist my comments, and evade the truth because in the end, Milwaukee will have the transit options it needs for it’s citizens – whether you like it or not.

  28. SS says:


    Disagree with you, and I’m a racist!

    Well then, can we agree that spending billions for public transit isn’t needed either?? We both seem to know there isn’t a transportation problem here.

    I think you’ll find the only people who wanted to expand I-94 south to IL were Doyle and Barrett, for political reasons. Clearly, as 50yr old freeway ramps are collapsing, major work is needed on the entire interstate system, however the current 94 project should not have been the next priority repair.

    I’m curious, what part of the proposed train system would be bringing blacks into white neighborhoods, which you claim I’m so afraid of? The part that goes in a loop downtown? Or the part that goes up Prospect Av? Also, since MCTS reaches into every corner of the city currently, do you think I’m afraid MORE black will be getting around on the TRAINS than the bus? Ha, I wish! Then at least someone would be riding the trains! If I was a racist, why the hell would I be living in the City of Milwaukee where whites are a minority??

    So let me get your argument straight: Milwaukee doesn’t have trains because of racism. Brilliant.

  29. CJ says:


    You are one very strange, strange person with an artful way of twisting ideas and words.

    Stop watching so much Fox News.

    In less than 10 years, those downtown trains will be coming to a neighborhood near you! :))

  30. TS says:

    Wow everyone has problems. Like hard core. What the hell are all of you people talking about. It is going to happen anyways there is no way around it. Why the hell do y’all keep arguring? Honestly it won’t mean a thing in the end. It is the government if they want it bad enough they will get it, no matter how much you can protest it or comment about it. Commenting.. thats another issue with America these days. Do you really think getting pissed about them building a train or expanding an expressway on a blog is going to get you ANYWHERE? Why don’t you actually do something about it instead of sitting behind your computer. God and that is for everyone @SS, @CJ AND btw no one is being racist.

  31. SS says:

    You got me! FoxNews has had extensive, biased, racist coverage of the proposed Milwaukee streetcars, and I’m just eating it up.

    So you’ve thrown racist at me, FoxNews, and what’s next? Will you blame Bush? It’s the deranged liberal trifecta!

    I don’t see what is wrong with discussing this topic. Debating is how you learn about other’s ideas and explore the reasoning behind your own. For instance, we’ve discovered that CJ here believes the only logical reason one would not support streetcars is because they’re racist. A LOT of people believe something just because the Journal Sentinel or Jim Doyle told them so. Barrett says building a streetcar loop will create jobs. Even he can’t explain that, and so I challenge anyone who believes it to defend it. Maybe one of us is wrong, and we’ll learn something.

    What more can I do? I vote, I get my friends to vote, I call my elected officials. I live in a very liberal city where my vote doesn’t usually matter.

    Just because it is the “government” they will get the train? What does that mean? The government is elected by us. This federal money has been sitting here for 10 years and it hasn’t been used yet because the *people* don’t want it spent. Maybe you haven’t noticed, but there’s been quite a backlash recently to government spending, and it’s not exactly popular to be raising taxes in a recession, to build a train no less. A train that would serve 1 sq mile of downtown at the expense of everyone in the entire city, most of who have no use for it. If the rest of the city was informed on this, they would not support it. So no, I don’t think it is a foregone conclusion that this train will be built.

  32. Dave Reid says:

    @SS The streetcar won’t just help downtown at the expense of the rest of the city. If anything downtown supports the rest of the city, tax wise For example, the top 10 condo projects in the 4th district pay more in taxes then two of the Aldermanic district. How does the streetcar impact this, for one properties along streetcar lines have seen seen an increase of 30% in properties values (oh yeah here’s something buses don’t do), in other cities, therefore downtown will contribute even more in taxbase then it already does. Further, simply because someone lives in other parts of the city doesn’t mean they might not utilize the service. Just a couple thoughts.

    As far as the *people* not wanting it. It seems to me there was recently a vote regarding this project, the hiring of a consultant vote, which was passed by our representatives. Incidentally, every time I hear someone suggest a “referendum” for transit projects I wonder why we should elect officials, if we’re just going to hold referendums, not really our system..

    As far as the racism stuff, I can’t imagine it plays much a role in this streetcar debate but historically it certainly did when light-rail connecting to Waukesha was proposed.

  33. SS says:

    > for one properties along streetcar lines have seen seen an increase of 30% in properties values (oh yeah here’s something buses don’t do)

    Very true that a bus stop doesn’t help property values, at least here, sometimes even lowers it. Can you explain why a Milwaukee streetcar would raise property values but a bus does not, even though they essentially do the same thing?

    > As far as the *people* not wanting it. It seems to me there was recently a vote regarding this project

    Has Barrett not been fighting to spend this federal money his entire time as mayor? If he had the City Council’s support and the voters support, it would’ve already happened. Going back to Norquist’s light rail dreams, the people voiced their opinion through their alderman to stop these projects. The people don’t want it.

  34. Dave Reid says:

    @SS The physical infrastructure, the permanency.

    The previous plan that was not supported by the Common Council was a guided bus system, which wasn’t supported on a variety of reasons including the fact that it wasn’t rail. But the key change wasn’t Common Council action, in fact it was the splitting of funds that basically lets the city and the county actually move forward on projects. The light-rail project in Norquist’s days wasn’t stopped by the people of Milwaukee.

    And again the Common Council voted to hire additional help to get the proposal through the FTA, seems like support to me – otherwise why spend the money. The other voting body involved in these funds voted 3 to 1 in support of moving into preliminary engineering. Next year there will of course be another vote (projects like these have lots of votes on each step), and as of right now it appears (looking at the last vote) to have a majority i.e. support by our representatives aka “the people”.

  35. SS says:


    Permanency? There are bus routes in this city that have been here for 60 years. As everyone knows, the bus system here used to be heavily used. It didn’t decline because of lack of permanency.

    I would argue a bus or streetcar route doesn’t increase property values because it is not a significant source of traffic/customers for any businesses on the route. In New York yes, in Milwaukee no. Why? Because nearly everyone here owns a car, certainly the people who spend any money downtown or on the east side do. And they’ll likely continue to drive to their destinations. All the more reason downtown businesses should be concerned about the tearing up of the streets and removal of parking if this streetcar system is constructed. Just look at what’s happened to businesses near the bridges that have been torn down.

    You’re right about the splitting of the funds making it more likely for something to happen. But if there was ever a time where the Milwaukee public would hesitate on more spending, it would be this year. Don’t be surprised if you start to see the public employee unions putting pressure on the alderman to vote against this, as City budget woes come to the forefront and talks of employee cuts emerge. MPS is already asking teachers to quit. MPS is sure to ask for a double-digit tax increase again this year. You think the teachers union wants to see MPS teachers fired so we can operate a train that loses millions of dollars? You think DPW wants to see garbage and snowplowing services privatized? News story today about the Water Works rate increase that is just a cover to pad the City general fund. I think you’re really going to see some fractures among the typical tax and spend voting blocs this year as they start to defend their budget turf.

  36. Dave Reid says:

    @SS I figured you’d point at the bus routes, but its not a good comparison. Where’s the station? Where’s the physical form that a home buyer can see? A streetcar is an feature that will be put in project ads, referenced by businesses (loved the countdown timers in bars in Portland), and so on. Fact is where streetcars have gone in property values along the line have increased. The bus system certainly is important, but it simply does not have the same impact.

    “removal of parking” It is a streetcar it runs in traffic, it will not negatively impact parking in any significant way. (a spot here or there maybe for corners). As far as construction hurting business, sure but of course many of the streets are ready for rebuilds anyhow.

    Certainly, the budget is going to a problem for the next two years, but operating costs won’t hit until 2013 or later. Further, this is a DPW project, DPW has been doing a lot of the work on this project, there might even be jobs related to it after it’s in operation so I think they will support it just fine. MPS has nothing to do with this budget, at all… it is a different budget voted on by different people.

    Again maybe all what you say does happen, then it would be fair to say “the people” don’t want it, of course none of that has happened and what has happened is that our elected officials (our representatives) voted to move forward with the project, which I would think is a stronger indication than what may or may not happen.

  37. SS says:

    I know MPS is a different budget. However, it’s financed by the *same people* and its on the *same bill* as the city property taxes. Barrett can throw his hands up and say its not his budget either. But it is his city, and high MPS taxes mean the citizens will be less willing to increase any city spending, especially when they’re writing out one check for them both.

    You want something to look at when the bus isn’t there? Paint a big fat red line on the street. It would certainly look better than rails (bike and ped unfriendly) and overhead power lines, and that would still help you remember where the bus route is. I just don’t buy that a extensive and expensive infrastructure is better when the same service can be provided for much less.

  38. Brent says:

    lol, the buildings in Picture # 2 do not exist. Cool if they did, though…

    Who knows? Perhaps the commuter rail will bring the long-awaited downtown area redevelopment!

    Also, for God’s sake SS, this isn’t a political issue. This isn’t a political comment area. You might get your rocks off on giving liberals grief (that’s cool), but don’t ruin the comment section with politics.

  39. TS says:

    @Brent.. I am with you buddy about SS!

  40. yaystreetcar says:

    Wow, this comment board is a great example why Milwaukee never gets anything done in a nutshell. Not everyone is going to be happy with everything that is done, but why wouldn’t you want downtown to be clean and efficient, you can barely even notice the overhead cables on existing systems, that is a ridiculous argument. Just look at some of the pictures of areas with existing systems and tell me you don’t want that feel for downtown Milwaukee. I hope Cudahy just goes ahead and builds the system he proposed in 2007, get it over with.

  41. TS says:

    @yaystreetcar.. You know you really can notice the overhead cables. I mean they are VERY obvious.

  42. SS says:

    I don’t have a hangup with the wires. I mention it because everyone here likes to critique the beauty of everything else someone builds in the City, I don’t understand why you’d want overhead power lines on the most prominent streets. I’d think you would want trees.

    I do find it ironic that in 2010, an age of wireless everything, from cell phones to electric cars, you’re advocating a train that requires wires to power itself. If it ever gets built, I will laugh every time some truck with a tall load rips down the wire.

  43. Dave Reid says:

    @SS Ummm streetcar system can and certainly do operate on streets with trees on them..

  44. yaystreetcar says:

    yea we should probably tear down all those pesky street lights too, can’t have that one car a year hitting those either.

  45. TS says:

    WHOA you are right. Think about how much money we would save from not using all that electricity!! We would be going greener, AND the light pollution would die down a lot, so then we can see the stars again! Great idea.

  46. CJ says:

    My point, at the end of the day, is to have more transit options in Milwaukee.

    @yaystreetcar – good point(s).
    @brent – well-said.

    and the people who continue to drive do so because of limited options. I’d bet my next paycheck that if more public transit options existed in Milwaukee, you would see more “car-owners” hit the buses/trains.

    @dave…your comments are dead-on! and thank you for not taking my comments out of context (in regards to the racism issues). We all know the racial issues will not play a role in the downtown streetcar, but it certainly could when it is extended into other neighborhoods – and that was the context of my comments.

  47. yaystreetcar says:


    No, YOU really notice the overhead cables, not me. I actually thought they disappeared into the trees quite nicely.

  48. Rachael says:

    I live in East Town, own a car and a moped, and have never once taken the bus. Nearly everything I need is within walking distance, and I’m certain I could walk to any point on any preliminary street car line. Would I ride it though? I suppose it depends on what the fare is. Should the line grow, I more likely would take it. Do I think it is would be a great improvement to downtown? Not immediately.

    In the long run, once it has expanded to other areas of town, I believe it will be greatly beneficial to Milwaukee, EVEN though I also believe it to be an aesthetic eye-sore. The renderings look beautiful, but it is worth noting that more than a few things are exaggerated.

    First, an all cobble stone Milwaukee? Maybe the last time we had street cars, but certainly not now. More importantly, the poles seem pretty spaced out on these renderings. In practice, they are very close to each other and are in no way attractive. Also quite diminished are the cables. The renderings show thin, unobtrusive lines on either side of the street. But what isn’t shown are all the cables that span across the street, like at points where the car must turn a corner. Rendering #3 is way off the mark on how many cables are needed to create a curve.

    Yes, poles and cables can be masked with trees, but who among us actually believes Milwaukee will start adding trees? This isn’t Chicago; the whole streetscaping idea hasn’t caught on yet. We can’t even fix potholes yet.

    I also vividly recall Houston’s first year with light rail. I’m hoping Milwaukee can avoid the 60 plus crashes they experienced in the first year alone. Knowing how many poor decisions our drivers make daily, though, I doubt it.

  49. Jacob says:

    View SERTA in a larger map

  50. Dave Reid says:

    @Jacob Sorry for the delay in posting your comment, the first link one did work so that through me off… Nice map!

  51. SS says:

    Thought you guys might like what Federal Transit Administration Administrator Peter Rogoff said recently on rail transit

    “Yes, transit riders often want to go by rail. But it turns out you can entice even diehard rail riders onto a bus, if you call it a ‘special’ bus and just paint it a different color than the rest of the fleet.

    “Once you’ve got special buses, it turns out that busways are cheap. Take that paint can and paint a designated bus lane on the street system. Throw in signal preemption, and you can move a lot of people at very little cost compared to rail.”

  52. Jesse Hagen says:

    Remember the Metrolink service in Milwaukee during the 90’s and early 2000’s?

    It took one budget crunch and they’re gone. It was a nice service that was always fast and busy. That wasn’t enough to ensure permanence and certainly not enough to encourage development.

  53. Dave Reid says:

    @SS I’ll tell you what concerns me about that quote. He apparently doesn’t know what BRT actually is. I say this because certainly BRT is the one type of bus that has been able to attract rail lite (lite not like) transit numbers, for example in Brazil. But to be clear it is significantly more than painting the street and buying fancy buses, and it is not what Scott Walker has proposed for Milwaukee despite what he calls it.

    Just like rail it comes with real infrastructure (which you know is the cost). Dedicated/separate travel lanes (yup BRT would remove a travel lane for cars), real transit stations, and so on. Finally, of course BRT serves a different purpose than a streetcar, and again a streetcar as with other forms of rail brings with it economic development, which he didn’t address in the article and buses don’t. Finally, I think I like his boss better, Ray LaHood.

    PS I’d add that I’d love to see a couple of true BRT lines built in Milwaukee, as they would be great for long distance travel. But nobody is actually proposing such a thing.

  54. Johannes says:

    Hi over there,

    I just discovered the Milwaukee Streetcar project. This project seems very important to me for a quite big city like Milwaukee that doesn’t have nor a metro system nor a light rail network. Great photos and renderings, by the way.

    You just need to take a look at the success of other light rail/streetcar systems in your country to know what you’re still missing. I’m from Hamburg, Germany, and we, too, have a light rail project. So it’s quite interesting to follow the projects in other cities that are in the same planning stage and to compare the success of the different projects.

    Good luck for your streecar project!

    Best regards

  55. Rick says:

    Street cars are stupid wastes of money. Some cities that deploy extremely far reaching light rail systems all in one shot (salt lake city, UT) have success stories, because they;re not waiting for route extensions. For a failure story, look at Phoenix’s light rail system . it went 3 years late, several hundred million over budget, and no one uses it, because its about as fast as riding a bus, that only follows a single routeline, and has to stop for every traffic light in the city. “when it becomes profitable” they’ll extend the lines, which is never going to happen. Some 3rd party company came in, burned a billion local, state, and federal taxpayer dollars, and left an incomplete, unused rail system that was voted down 25 years in a row, until they tacked it on as an extension to school spending.

    If people don’t already use the free trolly system we have, no one is going to shell money to take a light rail system that won’t be useable in winter when the tracks are jammed full of ice, thats going to follow the already existent trolly loop.

  56. Dave Reid says:

    @Rick Well having ridden the Phoenix system, it certainly isn’t perfect (the airport link isn’t finished) but it was very heavily used while I was there, and it worked great for getting to Mesa. In Charlotte they built one line and are slowly extended it and it has been a massive success story. Good ridership, and great economic development.

    That said a streetcar isn’t like the Phoenix LRT or the Charlotte LRT. It is most comparable to the Portland Streetcar which has good ridership numbers, and again great development all along the route.

    Further, the streetcar doesn’t run the same route as the trolleys. The streetcar runs in winter, as streetcars do all over the world. And as far as nobody will ride it, odd as I will.

  57. TG says:

    Why can Milwaukee not just build a light rail systems from the suburbs to the city righ away? That seems like it would make the most sense does it not? Like extend the KRM(soon to be built) from Downtown Milwaukee to mequon, Grafton, Brookfield, Menomonee Falls even west bend. This seems like it would make the most sense.

  58. Dave Reid says:

    @TG A couple of things. The proposed KRM isn’t light-rail (it’s heavy rail), and won’t be moving forward very soon. That said a LRT system would be wonderful, but the suburban communities killed that in the 90’s (how bout that regionalism), and would likely again. So Milwaukee is working to improve its transit, density, and development on a small neighborhood scale with the streetcar project.

  59. Eric Schierer says:

    @Rick Daily ridership on the Phoenix light rail line is about 43,000, somewhat more than “no one.” They have already begun engineering work on extensions to the line, with construction on those extensions expected to start soon, if not already.

    As far as snow and ice interfering with streetcars, Toronto (with similar winters to Milwaukee) has an extensive streetcar system that does not shut down during the winter, not to mention streetcars in cold, snowy cities in Europe and Asia as well.

  60. Eric says:

    Weren’t we supposed to hear from the USDOT regarding the $25 million request to extend this line to Brady St. at one end and Park East on the other?

  61. Jesse Hagen says:

    Eric, are you talking about the Tiger2 grants? The feds have been inundated with requests… I don’t think they’ve announced who’s getting the grants yet. Any day now…

  62. Dave Reid says:

    @Jesse Yes you’re correct, the Tiger II grants were very very heavily requested, and the DOT has yet to announce the approved applications yet.

  63. Holly says:

    I have traveled extensively throughout Europe and the Us and have found that all trolley systems and light rails are so completely subsidized by the communities and no one rides them! this is a terrible plan! The stupid thing doesn’t even go to destinations that people would use. We are NOT a big urban city. No one goes downtown anymore, except to the Bradley Center or Potowatomi or Miller Park(which aren’t downtown) and also are not on the trolley line. This is a ridiculous waste of taxpayer dollars that could go far better to fix the infrastructure of the highwaysm, which far more people use and will continue to use, regardless of how much this alternative transportation is pushed.

  64. Dave Reid says:

    @Holly That’s odd. I just back from Europe and took many pictures of people riding the streetcars. In fact in Sophia they had streetcar/pedestrian only streets that were jammed full of retail, people, and transit…

    Now as far as this “nobody goes downtown anymore” well that is just comical. Besides the 16,000 downtown residents, the 70,000 downtown employees… no nobody comes downtown..

    That must be why downtown Milwaukee holds hundreds of events during the summer, because nobody comes downtown.

    It is no wonder the nightlife districts in the Third Ward, Milwaukee St, Jefferson St., Water St., and Old World Third continue to thrive and grow.. because nobody comes downtown..

    PS The streetcar would hit the Intermodal Station, The Bradley Center, The Convention Center, most area hotels, multiple major nightlife districts, the highest population and job density areas in Wisconsin… yup no where to go..

  65. Guttersnipe says:

    What a stupid waste of money. Have any of the people who think it’s a good idea been downtown lately? It’s full of people begging for small change, bus fare, or cigarettes. There are no stores worth visiting and they want to install street cars? Why? So people can ride around and look at the mess which is downtown Milwaukee?

  66. Dave Reid says:

    @Guttersnipe Uh yeah Actually many of us live downtown, my guess is you haven’t been downtown lately:)

  67. getch says:

    Any new updates with the street car route? conservative talk is reporting to move the WE power utilities, that it is going to cost 70mil plus, and that cost most likely will be passed to utilitity users in the county, since its not be moved for health or saftey related issue. Have you heard this since i cannot find anything in jsonline or other local news sources.

  68. Dave Reid says:

    @getch Well a couple of things. I believe what talk radio would be reporting (yes I don’t listen to them) is that the PSC, in a letter, said that “At this time, the City of Milwaukee” has not provided a justification as to why this project is for the health, safety, or public welfare of residents of the City of Milwaukee. It is likely true that “at this time” Milwaukee hasn’t done this with PSC, but that isn’t to say the city won’t make its case (in fact Mayor Barrett just indicated this the other day).

    Further the numbers aren’t $70 million for powers lines for We. It in fact involves We, At&T, and ATC. And all of the numbers are very very early estimates. For example, when the Marquette Interchange project was initially put forward the utilities said it would cost them (them being the utilities, not taxpayers) something like $120 million to move their utilities, but the real price was closer to $20 million. They are simply early estimates. Finally, traditionally the cost to move private utilities operating in the public right-of-way during a public works project, falls on the private company as they are using a public resource.

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