No need for streetcars – Ride the bus
Why are Milwaukee residents being asked to duplicate transit services already provided by the county and MCTS? Why does the city of Milwaukee need to have its own little transit system that duplicates MCTS routes and isn’t as flexible and responsive as the current bus service? When will this battle of one-upmanship between the county and the city end?
Tom Barrett got a present last week as the Milwaukee Connector Study Group voted 3-1 to move ahead with an engineering study on the creation of a streetcar loop encompassing the Third Ward and East Town.
The only opposition to the plan came from Brian Dranzik, administration director for the Milwaukee County Department of Transportation and Public Works. He stated that streetcars would steal riders and transportation aid from MCTS, a position shared by his boss, County Executive Scott Walker.
That position was challenged by Milwaukee Public Works Commissioner Jeff Mantes, who said streetcar systems in other cities boosted ridership on public buses, rather than competing with them. Alderman Bob Bauman, who represents the most of the area included in the streetcar plan, said the streetcar wouldn’t duplicate existing bus routes and that it wouldn’t be in direct competition with MCTS for state transit aid.
Wow, what about solving global warming and promoting world peace?
All of these arguments can be countered with one word – buses. Currently, MCTS has multiple routes that run through and around East Town and the Third Ward. There is even a bus route, the 57, that stops right in front of the Intermodal Station. Sure you have to transfer to other routes if your final destination isn’t 92nd and Hampton, but you would have to do the same if you used the streetcar.
There is and has been economic development and vibrant activities in the Third Ward and East Town for years. New restaurants, including Ryan Braun’s Waterfront and Ward’s House of Prime have opened within the last year, and new boutiques are moving into both areas now that the recession is easing. Buses run past both these restaurants and near the boutiques, adding a streetcar line will simply duplicate what is already there.
Downtown Milwaukee is already connected to the rest of the city and the county by MCTS. Personally, I traveled to downtown Milwaukee since I was a toddler via Route 18, getting on the bus at 103rd and Greenfield in West Allis. That route still exists and is a vibrant connection between the southwestern suburbs and the downtown area. Route 10 connects downtown with the County Medical Center and Route 15 brings people from South Milwaukee through downtown and on to Bayshore Mall. Shouldn’t we direct our limited transit dollars to sustaining transit routes that currently work, instead of directing them towards a potential system that will serve a limited area?
And the argument that a streetcar is hip and trendy shouldn’t even be discussed by grown-ups. Platform shoes, pork-pie hats and cosmopolitans were all deemed hip and trendy at one time or another, but public policy should be determined in practical, economic terms. If the bus isn’t “it,” maybe we should make it cool, much like PBR and Schlitz have made a hipster comeback.
Also think about the aesthetics, environmental impact and adaptability of the streetcar. Will the addition of overhead electrical wires really improve the look of the Third Ward and East Town? Will the city build a wind farm in the Menomonee Vally to generate the electricity to run the streetcar, or will it purchase coal-generated electricity from WE Energies to power the route. And what will happen when St. Paul, Wells or Van Buren are under construction and the streetcar can’t run there? At least with a bus, it can be rerouted to another street to continue service.
So while its trendy to be on the streetcar bandwagon, I’ll keep supporting and promoting the bus. Its been serving Milwaukee and the county for 150 years and we should make sure it serves us for many more years to come.