Jeramey Jannene

Republicans Move to Kill Milwaukee Streetcar

If the streetcar is killed and federal money for it is lost, it will mean the total amount of federal transit money for Wisconsin rejected by Scott Walker will exceed $1 billion.

By - May 9th, 2013 12:27 pm

In a move that should have seemed an obvious possibility from the moment Republicans took control of state government, the state budget is being used as the vehicle to stop the Milwaukee Streetcar project. Ignoring an on-going, established process to litigate utility relocation costs, Republicans on the budget-controlling Joint Committee on Finance have passed a budget amendment put forth by Rep. Dale Kooyenga that would require the City of Milwaukee to pay all utility relocation costs as part of the Milwaukee Streetcar project. Despite the fact that the utility costs would have been nowhere near the bandied about $70 million figure, the budget amendment will virtually eliminate the city’s ability to build the project by ceding power to the utilities.

It’s apparent that the Republican legislators have no desire to see the Public Service Commission rule on the case before them regarding who pays for the utility relocation costs. Despite the Commission being made up of two-thirds Governor Scott Walker appointees, it appeared to be set to rule at least partially in favor of the Milwaukee Streetcar project at the last meeting in September.

The challenge before the Public Service Commission came from conservative think tank leader Brett Healy of Oconomowoc (filed as a private citizen). Healy’s claim centered on the notion that, as a ratepayer, if the utilities had to paid to relocate their lines for the project he and other We Energies customers would be picking up the tab. While that may be true, it’s also true that Milwaukee customers pay when Oconomowoc rebuilds a street. Equipment relocation is just a fact of life for utilities, but they also get to put their lines and equipment rent free in the streets.

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

Every public infrastructure project goes through negotiation with utilities, with negotiations reducing the cost-burden to utilities to be as small as possible. The $800+ million Marquette Interchange (built literally above a power plant) had an initial quote of $120 million for utility relocation, but through planning and negotiation the cost ended up at $23 million.

If the cost for utilities was the issue, these companies would be leading the charge on this issue, rather than Healy and other opponents of streetcars and “choo choo trains,” as detractors like Republican state Sen. Alberta Darling like to call such transit options. Why Republicans, who claim to be focused on job creation, want to stop an economic development and transportation project in the largest job center in the state comes down to three simple things. Who is proposing it, where it’s happening, and what it rides on. If a Democrat proposes anything in Milwaukee that rides on steel wheels Republicans are against it.

Wisconsin Republican’s Anti-Rail History

Light rail from downtown Milwaukee to Waukesha? Republicans at the state killed it.

Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee (KRM) commuter rail? Republicans at the state killed it.

Extending the Amtrak Hiawatha Service to Madison at 110 mph (with stops in Brookfield and Watertown)? Republicans at the state killed it.

Building a maintenance base for trainsets the state had already purchased from Talgo? Republicans at the state killed it.

Rebuilding the train shed at Milwaukee Intermodal Station? Republicans rejected federal funds to fix the non-ADA compliant shed and are now left with a situation that will cost Wisconsinites millions.

A streetcar starter system in downtown Milwaukee? Republicans killed it.

The common link? All the projects were proposed by Democrats, had a presence in the City of Milwaukee, and involved steel wheels on steel rails.

Since becoming Governor in 2010, Scott Walker will have effectively rejected over $1 billion in federal money for rail transportation projects. The loss of high-speed rail funds to connect Chicago, Madison, and Milwaukee represent $823 million. The KRM funds would have been at least $140 million. Assuming Walker (who has made clear his opposition to the Milwaukee streetcar) ultimately supports the amendment proposed by the Joint Finance Committee, he will also be rejecting $54.9 million for the Milwaukee Streetcar, which is the last of a $289 million 1991 federal grant.

Conservative Cities and States Plow Ahead

Wisconsin’s anti-rail Republicans are an increasingly unusual group compared to many of their peers. Salt Lake City, Utah continues to plow ahead with expansion of their light rail and commuter rail system (started when Mitt Romney was their running the Olympics). Charlotte, North Carolina continues to expanding their extremely successful light rail system. Dallas is building a streetcar system, expanding their light rail system, and looking to add a commuter rail system. Atlanta, Georgia is building a streetcar system, despite unresolved utility issues. Cincinnati, Ohio is building a streetcar system. Tuscon, Arizona is building a streetcar system. Phoenix, Arizona opened a large light rail system. Kansas City, Missouri is moving forward with a streetcar system. See the complete list of projects at Reconnecting America.

Density and Milwaukee

Milwaukee’s position as the densest American region without fixed rail transit seems safe and secure. By the Census Bureau’s preferred measure of density (population-weighted density), the Milwaukee region is the 15th densest in the country at 5,257 residents per square-mile. Within two miles of Milwaukee City Hall there is an average density of 14,615 residents per square-mile. Portland, a city with a streetcar system the one in Milwaukee is planned after, has a regional population-weighted density of 4,372 per sq/mile, and a density of 8,023 per sq/mile within two miles of City Hall. Despite what transit opponents say, Milwaukee is a very dense city. If rail transit requires density to work and rail transit works well in Portland, rail transit should be a huge success in Milwaukee.

Population data from the United States Census Bureau.

The Future

Yes, the City of Milwaukee could still move forward with the project, but utilities hold all the cards in terms of what needs to be replaced and what doesn’t. We Energies CEO Gale Klappa will deserve every dollar of his paycheck if he’s able to make the City of Milwaukee replace his company’s aging equipment with new equipment.

Many of the previously mentioned cities are certain to be looking to get their hands on Milwaukee’s federal transportation money. Much like other states were thankful to receive Wisconsin’s high-speed rail stimulus funds, some city is likely to be thankful to get the second leg of their streetcar starter system underway with money originally designated for Wisconsin.

Milwaukee County Transit Cuts Loom

The effective cancellation of the Milwaukee Streetcar project isn’t the only bad news for transit in Wisconsin. After staving off a 10% cut in state aid during the last state budget cycle with one-time federal funds, the Milwaukee County Transit System is poised for a massive service cut in 2014. The Joint Finance Committee has not signaled an intent to restore the previous 10% cut, meaning MCTS and other systems across the state will continue to scramble to find ways to sustain service. The Milwaukee region continues to be the densest region in the country without a dedicated funding source for mass transit.

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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

Categories: Politics, Real Estate

102 thoughts on “Republicans Move to Kill Milwaukee Streetcar”

  1. COAST says:

    Don’t include the Cincinnati Streetcar Boondoggle just yet. It’s long on promises and well short on funding; not a done deal at all.

  2. RRMAMA says:

    We need to focus on “post-fossil” fuel alternatives and mass transit benefits the poor and middle class the most. It’s no wonder Walker and his cronies have decided it is not good to give people a way to move in that poor city. Keep them unemployed and poor, keep them glued to the television so they can see the lies they spew out. People who can move about have OPPORTUNITIES to get JOBS away from where they LIVE. Think about it! If you do not OWN A CAR, and the ONLY WAY TO MOVE IS TO TAKE A SLOW BUS, you will not leave your neighborhood. Portland is a city we should look at as a model of transportation success! Mass transit and bicycles have transformed that city!

  3. MilwDave says:

    Yup that Portland project sounds like a huge success. You should be thanking Governor Walker and the state legislature for keeping taxpayers from funding such “success” here.

  4. Chris says:

    The much bigger point seemingly missed by most everyone is the implications this law will have on EVERY municipality in the state of Wisconsin, for every right-of-way infrastructure project moving forward.

    The precedent has now been set, overturning decades of understanding for every municipal project that’s involved the utilities —– utilities get to be in the right of way, for free, but gotta move on the utility’s dime when necessary for infrastructure work. Yes, those costs have been passed on to the consumer over the years. But they’ve been distributed over the entire region, thereby lessoning the impact on individuals and businesses.

    The utilities will now have the upper hand over every project that involves their work, and the costs will be borne directly by the property tax, no matter how small the community.

  5. Chris says:

    BTW, kudos to Urbanmilwaukee for explaining the ramifications of this decision today better than anyone else has.

  6. Bill Sell says:

    Perhaps we could charge AT&T rent for the (up to now) free access to City property for their utilities. Or bend the streetcar route to continue north on Milwaukee St. and let AT&T explain to their staff in the winter why the streetcar route was changed. Or birddog every utility relocation in the state and demand the customers be “freed” from development costs of anything; Healy already wrote the letter – just change some variables.

  7. David says:

    Figures. The Republicans have such hatred for anyone who doesn’t own a car, or doesn’t live like they do. They have no hearts to help anyone but their own money-grubbing selves. Someday, it’ll come back to bite them.

  8. Rbupp says:

    Thank God we have in this state fiscally RESPONSIBLE people that recognize IRRESPONSIBLE fiascoes!!! Do not EVER expect Liberals to actually push for things THAT WORK – – – this boondoggle won’t which guarantees the Machine will continue to push for it. Disgusting!!

  9. Stand with Walker says:

    Why not just skip the whole utility relocation, which is an astronomical amount of money with little value to show for it (I mean, really, that much money for a 2 mile street car that would only be used by a handful of the people you are all saying would benefit from it because of its location) that no state can afford, let alone a city. I say put that $70 million to improving our horrible bus system. That much money could go a long way in making a system that works in well in other cities, just look at Chicago. Although no one really thinks about it, the bus system is incredibly reliable in Chicago.

  10. Bill Sell says:

    AT&T’s downtown location is assessed at $12,600,000. It’s property tax is approximately zero.

  11. As a ratepayer, I am outraged to finance the WE Energies Wispark subsidiary that constructs massive office parks in suburban areas with no access to public transit. Where is the Republican consistency on that issue? And why is the electric company forbidden from being an investor in rail transit, when it so clearly could reap millions selling the energy to power the trains? Just does not make sense.

  12. Nicholas says:

    Stand With Walker… the $70 Million cannot just be repurposed to something else, it will go back to the Feds and then to another state…of course you already know this, but it’s just a good talking point right?

  13. Chris Jacobs says:

    This isn’t San Francisco. In Milwaukee people ride public transportation for a purpose, not sight seeing for 1.5 miles and no free parking. Rail starter should have been to West Allis, and then been in cooperation with Waukesha county for help financing a completion to Brookfield and possibly Waukesha. These are where Milwaukee’s workers come from, not the lower east side.

  14. Jeramey Jannene says:

    @Chris – Rail transit was proposed to Waukesha County. Tommy Thompson and other state Republicans killed it.

  15. Chris Jacobs says:

    I realize that rail transit to as far as Waukesha was killed long ago. However, that would have been the only logical use for rail in the region, or even just as far as highway 100 or Mayfair. A 2 mile ride through some of downtown is not a good use of money for transit. Nobody is hampered from going to work because they are 2 miles away. It just isn’t practical. On most nice days, we all jog further than that without even thinking about it.

  16. Kyle says:

    Nicholas – You can thank Sen. Kohl and Rep. Obey for the provision that ensured neither the streetcar nor the bus rapid transit received enough of the funding to be implemented cleanly. But you are correct that it’s streetcar or nothing at this point.

  17. Jon Erik says:

    RE: “Healy’s claim centered on the notion that, as a ratepayer, if the utilities had to paid to relocate their lines for the project he and other We Energies customers would be picking up the tab. While that may be true, it’s also true that Milwaukee customers pay when Oconomowoc rebuilds a street. Equipment relocation is just a fact of life for utilities, but they also get to put their lines and equipment rent free in the streets.”

    This is a totally bogus, red herring argument. It’s a common fallacy that “if the utility incurs some cost, it automatically gets passed on to the ratepayer. ” That’s simply not true. It’s possible that the costs could get passed onto ratepayers if the PSC so rules. The PSC should actually rule against this unless there is some determination that there is a “ratepayer benefit.” Otherwise, it is a cost borne by the shareholders who are paid to take this risk as part of the rate of return.

    It’s interesting that a debate only comes up when the public is the proposed owner of the transit system. Issues like this never came up when the street car system was owned by a vast utility holding company, as it was when WE’s predecessor, the Milwaukee Electric Railway & Light Co., owned BOTH the electric company and the street car system. That was before it sold out to GM, which proceeded to trash the system in order to promote its busses and, of course, the massive PUBLICLY FUNDED highway system boondoggle, which subsidized GM’s car sales.

    Wisconsin government has become so lame and pathetic. I feel so sorry for the people of Wisconsin whose elected leaders seem to feel southern governments like Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina, or banana republics like Honduras or El Salvador are models of governance to be emulated.

  18. Josh says:

    Milwaukee needs to move forward. Seriously, nothing ever changes and it gives me an excuse to set up in a city that is improving over time, not stagnant, after college. I want nothing more to be a part of Milwaukee’s rebirth but it can’t even help itself. Why do suburban rich people get to decide what happens to urban neighborhoods?

  19. Mike Yunker says:

    If passed, would this make municipalities pay for the cost of moving utilities on all road building projects too?

    I feel this would only be fair. It may also limit the amount of unnecessary road projects being built throughout Wisconsin.

  20. Ken says:

    A project paid for by the taxpayers and sustained by the taxpayers is not a financially responsible plan. Despite Gov. Walker’s rejection of federal (Taxpayer supplied) money I have seen my tax burden decrease on my home. Seems to me that his plan is working for fiscal responsibility.

    If the existing passenger rail system is unable to sustain itself without federal assistance (more of our taxes money) then why in the name of what you call Dear and Holy would you throw even more money at it? If it was a private business and the management could not make a profit, it would fail. If there is no market for your goods or services and you have no competition in your market niche and you cannot sustain your business you should fail. Let Capitalism work!

  21. Dave Reid says:

    @Ken So I take we should be closing all sorts of airports? And we definitely won’t be doing much in the way of road building, because these are subsidized as well.

  22. Bill Sell says:

    RE: Stand With Walker: ” I say put that $70 million to improving our horrible bus system. ”

    It is federal money and as such is subject to definition. It was allocated for capital investment. We might be able to purchase 50 to 80 buses with this money, but what would be the point if Madison decides to cut Milwaukee County transit again? Those buses would be parked awaiting an auction.

    If you really love the bus as you protest you do, then your support for the streetcar would follow, from other cities’ experience which shows that the arrival of a streetcar actually caused ridership on the buses to improve. It’s a class thing. Some will ride a streetcar but not a bus; some will ride a bus and these folks will find the streetcar useful, too. So ridership on both improves beyond projections.

    If you love the bus as you say you do, kindly call on your state reps to restore the transportation funds Governor Walker cut in 2011. The need is great; and the transportation fund will barely feel the one percent (1%) of the funds going to public transportation.

    You really need to consult the evidence of dozens of streetcar-using cities. Milwaukee is not the first to go in this direction. It may well be the last, after all the risks and unknowns have come and gone in other cities.

  23. JoeW says:

    Rbupp: Absolutely remarkable statement you make about fiscal responsibility by our state government. Apparently the rolling disaster at the WEDC hasn’t come up on Charlie Sykes, has it?

    Dave Reid, exactly right in your response to Ken. “Capitalism” must suburban code “do stuff for me but not people who live in places that scare me.”

  24. Jon Fostik says:

    The issue of passenger rail progress in Wisconsin, intercity or municipal, is hostage to the misguided mindset of the politicians. That Governor Walker would turn away federal funding is shameful and the real loosers are the citizens of Wisconsin. Yes other states and cities will gladly take the money that the Wisconsin politicos spurn. Urban Milwaukee did an outstanding job of impartially publishing the true facts about the Milwaukee Streetcar project …laying the blame where it rightly belongs.

  25. Bill says:

    Really tired of the “I don’t use it so lose it attitude” that so many people have. Under that thinking, since I don’t have kids, public schools should be shuttered. I don’t understand the hatred by some for transportation options and having the ability to have a better choice on how you want to move about the city and the state.

  26. Keith Prochnow says:

    Don’t think for a moment that Walker is not punishing his two-time opponent, Mayor Barrett, for the time Barrett did an end around and got about $100 million in Federal transit funding that Walker had frozen split into two parts: some for Walker at the County, more than that for Barrett at the City.

  27. Mike says:

    The rubes win again. How depressing.

    How many cities with populations over 500k lack rail transit? Are we the only one? I can honestly say I have never visited a major city in Europe or North America with a public transportation system as outdated as what we have here. There aren’t even any automatic ticket machines!

    I do think the streetcar plan could have been much better, though. Although it would have required real money, a route that included UWM and Marquette would have much more sense.

    Oh well. I’m not a native, but Milwaukee seems happy with its status as fourth-rate city. Hopefully another city puts these funds to good use.

  28. Edith Wagner says:

    What I don’t get is why these legislators who do not live in nor represent the City of Milwaukee are so interested in us. Do they have no problems in their own districts? Or, perhaps, do they all represent perfect districts? But it does look to me like many of their constituents could work in Milwaukee … but drive away after they’ve collected their money in Milwaukee. They depress me.

  29. Rex says:

    If Milwaukee wants this, it will get done. They may have to alter the route, in order to avoid the relocation charges.. have faith

  30. Dave Reid says:

    @Rex The truth is the city has already altered the route and for example brought At&T’s cost from a very early estimate from $10 million to about $500k, but of course that doesn’t matter as some continue to use the inflated early estimates. That said I hope you’re right but I do fear, despite the costs not being nearly as high as some say, that this move by the state legislator effectively kills the project.

  31. Rex says:

    If relocation costs truly come to about 5% in total. I would think they could find the money. I imagine, we will know the true answer either way in 12 months.

  32. Dave Reid says:

    @Rex That’s just the AT&T estimate… There’s ATC and We Energies (this is the big one)… But I do hope you’re right.

  33. Tom D says:

    The Streetcar budget contains $7.4 million for “contingencies”. Perhaps the utility work could be funded from this money.

  34. CJ says:

    Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I heard they actually don’t HAVE to do the utility work. It’s more that the streets will be torn up so they will have the opportunity to, since the utilities underneath are fairly antiquated.

  35. Ryan says:

    Yes apparently the city intends to proceed with it’s rail plan.

  36. Ryan says:

    Dave Reid,

    Don’t these estimates generally turn out to be grossly inflated?

  37. Dave Reid says:

    @Ryan Yes, as the story pointed out the initial estimate for utility work for the Marquette Interchange were $120 million.. Actual price $23 million. The estimates being tossed around were numbers from before any significant amount of engineering or adjustments to the line had been done, for example the huge savings the city found for AT&T by adjusting the route…

  38. Tom D says:

    CJ, according to page 119 of the streetcar’s Environmental Assessment document, the City plans to excavate a 24-inch deep trench for the concrete pad containing the rails. Note that this 24″ includes the depth of the current pavement, so that if the asphalt and crushed rocked underneath, say St Paul, is 8″ deep, they will dig up 16″ of dirt.

    Any utility lines within that 24″ stratum must be relocated. Also, any manhole within the streetcar’s path must move (otherwise, they’d have to shut down the streetcar every time the manhole was accessed).

    For things deeper than 24″, it’s a judgement call.

    The thing that mystifies me is that Milwaukee is digging much deeper than Portland (nearly twice as deep). According to Wikipedia, one major difference between Portland’s light rail and its streetcar is the depth of their concrete pads: 12.2″ for streetcars and 18.3″ for light rail (which needs a thicker pad because its cars are larger and heavier). In Portland this 6.1″ difference significantly reduced the utility relocation work needed for their streetcar compared to their light rail.

    So why is Milwaukee building such a thick concrete pad, nearly twice a thick as Portland’s streetcar and even significantly thicker than Portland’s light rail? This thicker pad not only increases the utility relocation expense, it also increases the cost by using more concrete.

    I realize that downtown Milwaukee is built on swampland. Is that the reason?

  39. Tammi says:

    Can we just start being “innovative” in Milwaukee – The streetcar is a useful and smart way for getting around all the wonderful muses that our city of Milwaukee offers! Let’s say u want a quick bite, go see a play, then live music…..guess what – all of these “enjoyable” local possibiliites can be accesed from a very effective way of getting around safely, timely and affordably for those who are “CITY” dwellers….

  40. Casey says:

    @Tom- I think the reason for the increased depth is for greater stability because of harsher weather conditions here. Plus I’d rather have them over build once then under build and repair annually.

  41. CJ says:

    @ Tom – Thanks! I’m sure that’s where the gray unknown comes in, how much will they actually HAVE to do.

  42. Adrock says:

    I am a huge advocate of rail but this project does not make sense for Milwaukee. Lets all put our political agendas aside and speak to the issue at hand like responsible adults. The route does not improve accessibility for those coming from different areas of the city. Buses are still the best way to get around Milwaukee for those without cars. Those from outside of the city will still drive, as will most who live in the city like myself since parking is still easy to find (or we will walk or bike). Basically what we’ve ended up with is a watered down rail plan which doesnt really work, but because its fueling a political platform its being pushed anyways.

    Milwaukee could benefit from rail, but it would be rail connecting surrounding suburbs to Milwaukee as an alternative to battling the freeway on a daily basis. We would then need a better transportation system to get around the city once you have arrived (and this rail plan is NOT that system). Until that happens we should say no to wasting our money

  43. Jesse H. says:

    Adrock, your words seems pretty hollow, every indication is that Milwaukee & this corridor for rail in particular will succeed. It seems you have little knowledge on where rail will be successful, what do you base your ideas on?

    Also, Milwaukee attempted to start a rail line to Waukesha already & then another to Kenosha. Both were cut down at the state level.

  44. John says:

    Jesse. You must be living under a rock. Lower East Side gets along fine without rail. No one uses those little “street trolleys”, and you think rail is going to change that?

    Only viable line would have been from the Airport to marquette through downtown and then through to UWM. That would have some ridership, still not nearly enough to justify the costs.

    The current design is awful.

  45. Bruce Thompson says:

    Thanks for the really interesting article. I would be interested in some followup on related issues:
    1. What happened to the federal grant money that Wisconsin turned down? I came across a recent article that Illinois was receiving additional funding to improve the line between Chicago and St. Louis. The article claimed that was money from Wisconsin.
    2. What has happened to the Talgo facilities? Were the re-established elsewhere. It appears that our decision benefited Oregon because they were short of capacity on the Portland-Eugene route.
    3. Is there any activity on the lawsuit that Talgo was reported to bringing against Wisconsin? I could not find it on the state court database.
    4. Has there been any analysis of the economic effect of these decisions. Aside from the usual direct employment and multiplier effects, I would wonder if the Talgo experience would make cutting-edge companies leery of locating in Wisconsin.

  46. Tom D says:

    Bruce, the Talgo trainsets that went to Oregon are not the “Wisconsin” trains (which, as far as I know, remain untested and unused on the old A O Smith property).

    The Milwaukee Talgo plant was established to build at least 4 trains–2 for Wisconsin and another 2 for Oregon.

    Talgo is asking the courts for clear title for the two “Wisconsin” trains so they can sell them to somebody else. If that happens, Wisconsin will get nothing for the tens of millions it has already paid for those trains.

  47. Tom D says:

    John, I rode Milwaukee’s “trolley” once a few years ago. I hated it. I remember uncomfortable seats, lousy ride quality, excessive noise, uncertain schedules, and an ugly exterior appearance. If I remember correctly, the “trolley” stops were nothing more than a sign on a pole. The trolley runs so infrequently and slowly it is often faster to walk. I’ve long thought those vehicles were designed by anti-transit people with the express intention of making transit so unappealing that people swear off all transit after just one trip.

    I’ve also ridden the Portland Streetcar and had a totally different reaction. The cars were comfortable, attractive, rode well, and each stop was clearly-marked and had both a waiting shelter and a GPS-driven electronic sign telling me how long I would have to wait (e.g. “Next streetcar arrives in 4 minutes”). All of these features are promised for Milwaukee’s streetcar.

  48. Bruce Thompson says:

    Tom D
    You are right about the Oregon Talgos. I got them confused with the ones owned by Amtrak and Washington state.
    But I am puzzled, if Talgo has sued Wisconsin, why doesn’t that case appear in the WI Circuit Court Access.

  49. Mike says:

    If you’ve been to Seattle and Portland the one thing that is surprising is how good their bus service is. The elitists in Milwaukee like to say “well elitists like us won’t ride the bus”, yet just about everyone in Seattle does. They leave the fixed rail to the tourists.

    The other thing supporters of this like to say is how this will connect poor people to jobs. What people would use the streetcar to get to their jobs? What poor people would use the Milwaukee to Madison line? For that matter, if these train lines are so great for development why is the Kenosha Train Station that is part of the Chicago Metra line such a ghost town?

    Look, guys like Jeramey love this kind of stuff because they want to be able to show their millennial brethren in Seattle and Portland how cool they are.

  50. casey says:

    Mike obviously has not been to Kenosha. The area around the Metra station has increased in value to the point that I wouldn’t doubt that the area between the station and lake to be the most valuable in Kenosha.

  51. Mike says:


    I take the Metra down to Chicago all the time and there’s literally no development around that station.

    Here’s the problem with rail as I see it. The proponents of it tend to always propose plans that aren’t all that practical and as such they get shot down. I think has all this rail debate started with first improving the Hiawatha line to add a few more runs and increase the speed that would have been supported. From that you could then branch out and start to do more projects.

    Trouble is you start with a Milwaukee to Madison line or you go with the Milwaukee Street Car and it’s easy for people with some shred of common sense to shoot down because neither of those lines would actually move the masses.

  52. Tom D says:

    Mike, the Madison train proposal DID include a plan to add more Chicago-Milwaukee trains. It would have added 3 daily Chicago-Milwaukee roundtrips (for a total of 10) including hourly departures before 8 am (the proposed timetable listed Chicago-bound trains leaving Milwaukee at 6:15, 7:12 and 8:00 am). The $7.5 million annual subsidy (which might be partially paid by Illinois) that Scott Walker decried included payment for the added 3 Chicago-Milwaukee trains.

    Proposed train schedules on PDF pages 76 and 77 of:

    This document was originally on the WisDoT Madison HSR website and was taken down just after Scott Walker took office.

  53. Chris says:

    If Milwaukee had a bus system that was anything like Portland and Seattle’s, I’d ride it too — Real-time arrival info tied to stations and smart phones, pre-boarding fare boxes, articulated busses for express routes, electric hybrid vehicles, and direct links to fixed-rail transit. Milwaukee has none of that.

    Amazing what happens when a city invests in a comprehensive transit network. I don’t expect the state of Wisconsin to allow Milwaukee to do this anytime soon.

  54. Chris Jacobs says:

    Interesting video. Guy basically walked across town slightly faster than the Portland Streetcar did, even with a delayed start. Not sure how much benefit these things actually give you in the city.

  55. Casey says:


    South of 52 and east to the lake that is mostly all newer development because of the Metra station valued at nearly 1 Billion dollars. Must have your eyes closed.
    Anywho…the subject is mute because State politics will forever hamper MKE having a rail system similar to the Metra as brough out above going out from Milwaukee to Waukesha and down to Kenosha. The streetcar would’ve been a nice way to compliment such a system similar (but better) to Kenosha streetcar.
    I’m not a fan of the streetcar but its because of its silly route. Would do more good to have one traveling from Midtown down FDL to downtown and another going dowon Forest Home.

  56. Bill Sell says:


    I remind you that the rail from Milwaukee to Madison was an intiative long in coming, from Governor Thompson to Governor Doyle. Those who do hate, hate public transportation, for whatever reason, always pick at public transportation regardless of the mode.

    Are you really supporting the bus system? Did you call your Rep and ask him/her to restore funding to public transportation so our city can get a modern and convenient system that people will choose to ride.

    It’s easy to criticize anything from an armchair. Streetcars and interurban rail (and there is a difference) are supported by decades of statistics and our own demographics. Rail is efficient, even to the point of giving its users a financial break from supporting a car. You can get MCTS bus passes for about $720 per year, with no extra charge for fuel, parking, maintenance, insurance. However, to maintain a car you run into the $2000 to $8000 four figures quickly – second in the household budget only to the mortgage.

  57. Tom D says:

    Chris Jacobs (54), in the Portland video, the walker and the streetcar took very different routes. That streetcar route is sort of “J”-shaped, and they started at one end of the “J” and ended near the other. The streetcar took the long way around and the walker took a direct route. In Milwaukee, one could similarly “prove” that expressways are slower than local streets by choosing the right comparison course.

    For example, suppose you and I decided to drive from Port Washington & Good Hope to 107th & Good Hope to see if expressways really save any time. If I take local streets (just stay on Good Hope) and you take expressways (43, 94, 45), I will get there before you thereby “proving” that expressways are slower than local streets.

  58. Bill Sell says:

    Tom, yes it was clear from the video that the street shots did not match each other. Thanks for describing the route of each. And that CJ was running short on breath. He’s ripe for a visit with a cardiologist. A half hour walk is not all that strenuous; he should not have had breathing problems. Hopefully a friend watched and is now giving him instructions on living to a happy old age.

  59. Mike says:


    In fact I did write the Mayor and asked that he abandon the streetcar in exchange for upgrading the bus service.

    Like another poster said, if our bus service was anything approaching what they have in Seattle, I’d probably use it quite a bit. Buses run literally non-stop during their peak hours and are even free during some rush times.

    Not sure the link to rail is needed. I got around Portland and Seattle solely by bus and never thought of using the fixed rail. Same in San Francisco although we did take a trolley once for the novelty factor.

  60. Bruce Thompson says:

    Good to hear that you found bus service in Seattle to be excellent. Last month we spent a week in the northwest. It turns out that Seattle also has light rail (to the airport), commuter rails (to the suburbs), and street cars (which are being extended). They also have built a bus tunnel that passes under downtown (with several stations), which is also being extended to the Capitol Hill neighborhood (a lot like our East Side).

    The fact that you also report excellent bus service (we had a rental car and didn’t try it) suggests to me that the other forms of mass transit support good bus service rather than being a substitute. Commuter rail, for instance, is a much better option if a bus is waiting at the end of the line to take you to your destination.

    A couple of years ago I attended a conference in Portland and rode both the light rail lines and the street cars. Contrary to your experience, my impression was the vast majority of the riders were locals. Both Milwaukee and Portland have similar populations but the Portland downtown gives the impression of a city perhaps four times that of Milwaukee, just based on the number, variety, and business of their retailers. Certainly a factor in that difference is the ease of getting downtown and getting around it.

  61. Chris Jacobs says:

    @Tom D. . The rules were that there was no running and he stopped at all the crosswalks. There are far more lights to get stopped at as a walker than what the streetcar gets. Even with a “J” route, there should be no good reason why walking the more direct route should even come close. There is no real traffic for the streetcar, only stops. Take into the account that you have to wait for the streetcar to arrive to even get started, its better off to walk.
    He wasn’t breathing heavy, Bill. He was filming, walking, showing his cell phone at the same time. Yeah you heard him breath a little since he’s close to the mic.
    By the way, Good Hope all the way up isn’t going to save you time with all the lights unless the traffic on the freeways is really slow. I understand the concept of cutting the shorter distance, but you are still comparing a high speed rail with zero unanticipated stops versus a walking person obeying crosswalk rules. The role of mass transit is to get people to places significantly faster than not.

  62. Bill Sell says:


    I take it from your note that you do not support an adequately funded bus service in Milwaukee. Fine, but don’t pretend you love the bus and use that as a sledge hammer on the streetcar. We are Milwaukeans, and we know phony baloney.


    please call your reps this week and ask them to keep transit in the transportation fund (where it belongs), and to reinstate historic funding the transit (about 1% of the total transportation fund).


  63. sjresh says:

    It’s sad when you have a select group of people who have taken control, and now believe they can dictate how things are going to be done regardless of the established rules and procedures. It seems as the conservative Republicans have grabbed up more and more power in this country, they have done away with the “Democratic Process”. Apparently now there is only their way or no way, which in Wisconsin has become very evident with Scott Walker. He was elected governor, not dictator, and his cronies in the legislature need to realize the same thing. They were elected to do a job for the people, not special interest groups and their special requests, demands and the like. It has become so very obvious to everyone, except them that they are so beholding to Corporate America, that nothing gets done except the will of Corporate America. It’s so very unfortunate that all the people supporting all these Republicans, and Tea Party self interest politicians are so blinded by all their lies they can’t see all the real damage they are doing to a once great society. Milwaukee, the hub of commerce, and finance for the state of Wisconsin is to languish because the narrow minded legislators in Madison are too busy kowtowing to big business and too worried about wooing WE energies, AT&T, getting money for their next elections, this is why the city has to pay to have all the utilities moved for the street car project. Hopefully Wisconsinites will wake up to what they elected and vote them all out, and finally vote in statesmen who will care about their welfare, and will finally do what is right for a change, we can only hope!!

  64. Tom D says:

    Chris Jacobs (61), in the Portland travel time comparison, the streetcar traveled about 4.2 miles while the pedestrian walked about 1.8 miles (both distances from Google Maps). That pedestrian also walked VERY fast: 1.8 miles in about 31 minutes (3.5 mph even after waiting for DONT WALK lights), nearly 50% faster than the national standard for traffic signals which assumes that people cross streets at 2.4 mph (3.5 fps) when NOT waiting for red lights.

    A similar freak situation will exist with the full 3.5-mile Milwaukee streetcar where it will likely be faster to walk from Broadway/Wells to 4th/Wells because the streetcar will go south to St Paul Avenue (and back) when traveling between those two intersections.

    I stand by the Milwaukee expressway example I cited. According to Google Maps, it is 6.6 miles from Port Washington Rd to 107th along Good Hope and it takes 17 minutes (23.3 mph which apparently includes time spent waiting for lights). The expressway route is 23.5 miles and (again, according to Google Maps) takes 28 minutes.

    In order to cover those 23.5 expressway miles in 17 minutes (the same travel time you get just taking Good Hope all the way), you’d have to average about 83 mph.

  65. Mike says:


    I lived in Milwaukee the first 34 years of my life until moving to Wauwatosa (not exactly the middle of nowhere) 4 years ago.

    I think that for rail to be successful you need a few things in place:

    1. A densely populated area. I’m not sure Milwaukee has that. Another poster brought up a point on Portland saying that we’re about the same size, but Portland’s downtown seems a lot bigger. I had that same impression when I was there. Our downtown isn’t as big of a hub as many cities.

    2. The last part of the commute needs to be easy. That’s where having a great bus service comes into play. One of the reasons I didn’t think the Madison rail line made much sense is that the commute would end up tang far longer than the commute by train because the last leg of the commute (station to final destination) would have been too long. If we had a great bus service like some other cities I think more people would use the system and that would lead to more support for things like rail. However, if we have the current mediocre service, people will continue to stay in their cars.

    One last point. The reason mass transit probably has never really been fully embraced in Milwaukee is that I find Milwaukee to be extraordinarily easy to get around by car. Traffic is never all that bad and parking rates are pretty cheap compared to other cities.

  66. Chris Jacobs says:

    @Tom D. Still not buying a fair comparison. In one case we are comparing 4.2 miles rail versus 1.8 walking (2.3/1 ratio). In the other case comparing 23.5 miles versus 6.6 miles of equally able speed vehicles. (3.5/1 ratio).

    If in fact the guy is in fact walking 3.5 mph, then the light rail only ends up averaging 8 mph for the entire trip . Thats still horrible time. Imagine if a car or bus averaged 8 mph? Would that really be acceptable?

    The truth is, light rail is low capacity, low speed, high cost transport. 2 cars per train and frequent stops. What transit need is the exact opposite. Light rail actually discourages development in many areas, unless subsidized, and increases crime (example Portland):

  67. Bill Sell says:

    Chris, you raise a good point about speed. “Rail” has about 6 subsets. Streetcars do go the slowest in the bunch. Light rail faster. Commuter rail still faster. Passenger rail, and then high speed rail. The size of the cars and frequency of stops are part of the engineering when they are installed. Streetcars move a smaller crowd safely within the confines of a walkable neighborhood. Just as 8mph would be a poor average for light or commuter rail; so too 30 mph may be unsafe on downtown streets. Furthermore, streetcars are expected to stop more often, so the ability to attain maximum speed may be less important on some routes. The purpose of the particular rail installation governs the design and equipment.

    As for the Portland Speed Walker, I’m sure he was pleased with the results as he saw them. The video could be made more convincing if they used the same streets. Also, consider the average patron of the streetcar: A fast walker might reach 8 mph for a half hour, but then the streetcar was not designed for his needs.

  68. Tom D says:

    Chris Jacobs, automobiles don’t average anywhere near 30 mph in downtown environments with traffic signals every block–12 mph is pretty good. And buses and streetcars have slower average speeds than automobiles because they stop every block or two.

    While transit will always be slower than an automobile on a given route, transit does have its advantages. As a transit user, I never waste time digging out my car (or my driveway) after a snowstorm. My wife and I can meet at a restaurant after work (coming from totally different places) and then go home together (in the same vehicle) afterward–you simply can’t do that with automobiles! On the weekend, I can take the bus somewhere, explore a few miles on foot, and when I get tired I can hop another bus home (without having to hike back miles to where my walk began to retrieve my car).

    Also, you are confusing two separate Portland rail systems–light rail (called “MAX”) and Streetcar. In Portland, MAX is operated by an agency called “Tri-Met” (which also runs Portland’s buses); Streetcar is owned by the City of Portland and operated by a specially-created non-profit–not by TriMet. MAX’s construction is much more disruptive than Streetcar’s because it involves digging deeper (because MAX trains are heavier and need stronger, thicker track foundations) and that deeper digging impacts more utilities.

    The video you linked to (in post 66) pertained only to MAX and had nothing to do with Portland’s Streetcar, much less anything to do with Milwaukee’s streetcar.

  69. Bill Sell says:

    This may help: Google “difference between light rail and streetcar”

    There are several entries.

    Noting, the parallels: Different kinds of cars, different kinds of trucks, different kinds of buses. Not all rail is the same nor are they equally compatible among their different purposes.

  70. Chris Jacobs says:

    Like it or not, my driving in the city never approaches an average of 8 mph. Usually buses are better than that. The average bus ride to the airport averages around 20 mph (7.1 miles/34 min). In congested times in the city probably less, but a street car does not add any benefits to what is already available.

    Nevertheless, fundamentally the light rail and streetcar are similar, but streetcars are even worse as far as time of transit. The main difference, it seems, is streetcars share their rights-of-way with automobiles and light rail has its own, reserved right-of-way.

    The major problem is that a street car does nothing significantly better than what multiple buses can do in city traffic right now. I can get to from the lower east side to the amtrak station in the same time by multiple bus options (route 10 or 30) versus streetcar- or just walk the same route in around twice the time.

    The other thing with streetcars is maintenance. Someone does have to salt, and maintain tracks, loosen track and groove debris and such regularly. Accidents with other vehicles can be quite problematic as well. You can tow away a bus, but a streetcar? Most people’s beef with the streetcar that it is not a necessity over what is already present.

  71. Chris Jacobs says:

    Excuse me, my bus averages 12.5 mph to the airport, not 20.

  72. Tom D says:

    Chris Jacobs, I never said CARS averaged 8 mph; I said automobiles average around 12 mph within downtown–a speed reported by Google Maps.

    MCTS buses average as little as 6.5 mph within downtown Milwaukee (westbound Route 30 on Wisconsin Avenue from Jackson to 12th on weekday afternoons–1.2 miles in 11 minutes is 6.5 mph).

    A streetcar does several things better than buses. It carries more people per vehicle at similar per-vehicle operating expense–reducing per-passenger operating costs and providing more space and comfort to passengers when crowded. It spends less time at stops (more entry doors, no “kneeling” needed because steps are minimized or eliminated, off-board fare collection, and no time lost merging back into traffic). Its ride is far more comfortable than any city bus. Its route is better marked and easier to grasp for visitors. And, yes, it encourages real estate development; I’ve seen it in Portland.

    If you don’t believe me about the real estate development part, read this:

  73. Chris Jacobs says:

    @Tom. I realize google maps has approximate times, but they are frequently not very realistic at times. It literally took be 3.5 minutes to drive from the market to my house on the lower east side today at 430pm today, hitting 2 stop lights, yet google maps says it takes 7-8 minutes.

    The streetcar as it is setup is not going to be packed with people one end to the other. Capacity for 2 miles is not going to be the strength of the streetcar. There are several businesses in Portland which actually had to close down because of the light rail nearby, so it isn’t so cut and dry. There is no chance that 100’s of millions in business is setting up along this 2 mile streetcar track. There simply isn’t such space for development. As far as real estate, your property value generally decreases if you are next to the track, and may increase a few blocks away from it depending on what recent sales have been going for. In 2007, subsidies for Portland businesses along the streetcar line topped $1.5 billion. It is a myth to think that the market will take care of development along transit corridors. You can get it, but by paying a hefty price.

  74. Bill Sell says:

    Chris, “packed from one end to the other.” No one claims that. Ridership projection does not need that marker to make the streetcar an appropriate asset.

    I’ve tried to talk to people who scream at me because they see an empty bus, as if all the buses do is drive around and haul air. It’s about average ridership, not full buses. In fact, you will find if you do a casual census while standing along a busy road, that most cars are “empty” in the sense that there is only a driver. This is a huge waste of natural resources.

    A streetcar or bus must from time to time be empty, no one gets on and rides all day. They get off and make room for new riders; that’s how empty seats produce revenue.

    No matter how you design a public transportation there will be critics – either it’s too small, or it’s too expensive. I trust the planners because Milwaukee has the benefit of learning from the mistakes of other cities – as well as their successes.

    I will leave you with your Portland statistics. In previous posts you seem confused about the different kinds of rail; Portland has had the good fortune of being able to build a robust rail system to supplement their buses. The reason behind this was an intelligent decision in Oregon’s capitol to require regional planning. We have the opposite politics in Wisconsin (for now).

  75. Bill Sell says:


    Sorry I missed your post from yesterday morning. Density. Milwaukee is more dense (population per square mile) than Portland, St. Louis, and Denver all of which have several modes (including rail) of public transportation. US Census Bureau, as reported in:

    I agree about connections needed for passenger rail, but in the Streetcar we will have one of the connectors that will serve passengers exiting from passenger rail. This is precisely what is needed to make passenger rail work. Wisconsin fumbled its chance to extend passenger rail, but not for the common sense reason you mention. It was politicized to death by both parties. The economics of mobility will one day make this demand on Wisconsin.

    Parking rates in Milwaukee are cheap because we have long had a need to coax people to come to (drive into) downtown, and so land values have been held down artificially. This will change with a resurgence of downtown, and the inevitable inflation of fuel costs.

  76. Chris Jacobs says:

    @Bill. Obviously there are many different opinions on the utility of public transit in different cities. Some places it works, others it doesn’t. Portland is a different dynamic than Milwaukee is with a very different and I simply don’t see that dynamic working here. Today, the unemployment rate in that city is still the same as it is Milwaukee, even after all the mass transit boom. Its a city that was attractive for environmentalists, “young creators” and hippies, quite bad for minorities, and it’s really hard to find a job there, especially low end jobs. When I was out there, I was surprised at how many young panhandlers there were, but I guess its where young people retire. On the other hand, Milwaukee is a working class city and tends to have a very different set of goals. I digress.

    I still think that you need to get some sort of feel for rider projection before you start a streetcar line. Yes, a streetcar can be empty at times, but will not be viable for emptiness much of the time. There also is a pretty wild assumption that a significant number of people driving would convert to riding 2 mile streetcar. Much of that traffic is going in from the freeway or out to the freeway or going to places no where near the streetcar line.

    If the streetcar were proposed in an area where other public transport was not easily accessible, more transit riding people, or there was a particular need for transport to and from those two localities, it might be viable (to the south side, Bayview, airport? They tend to use transit more down there).

    I don’t really trust planners yet because they don’t have a terribly good track record in Milwaukee. They built a Park East freeway in the 50’s, it then created urban blight, and then destroyed the Park East freeway and had land stayed unused as piles of rocks for many years. The deep tunnel sewage system seems to overflow anytime there is a week or more of rain. City hall is constantly under renovation. I am sure there are some successes, but they don’t stand out.

  77. Tom D says:

    Chris Jacobs, you said “In 2007, subsidies for Portland businesses along the streetcar line topped $1.5 billion.”

    Do you have a source for that? Did you mean that subsidies for 2007 ALONE were over $1.5 billion? If so, that seems impossible, since that would exceed the ENTIRE annual Portland city budget.

  78. Robert L. says:

    Ridership projections are almost always HIGH. The estimates to relocate the utilities is way LOW.

    This trolley is a waste of money. It doesn’t serve anyone but well-to-do condominium owners who will have a personal trolley to get to a few neighborhood bars.

    Anyone who supports this has some serious issues going on up in their head. This trolley would serve so few people and go to nowhere of any real significance that would have people riding in droves. Get trolley busses and call it a night. If certain routes aren’t working, you can change them up.

  79. Bill Sell says:

    Chris, Some serious generalizations in your last note. But I can accept that your authority for your statements is yourself.

    Robert, that is a revolting insult.

  80. Chris Jacobs says:

    @Tom D: No, not all in 2007.
    That $1.5 billion figure is from O’Toole’s:

    However, specific numbers from a lot of the subsidies are here:

    Page 6
    In total the city provided close to a billion dollars in subsidies to property developers along the existing streetcar line on top of the $103 million cost of the streetcar itself. TIF subsides in the Pearl District alone amounted to $435 million, or more than half the total.

    Whatever you believe the final numbers are, the bottom line is that it took a LOT of subsidies for development.

  81. Bill Sell says:

    Chris, The Cato Institute states its mission: ” The mission of the Cato Institute is to increase the understanding of public policies based on the principles of limited government, free markets, individual liberty, and peace…. ”

    A “Free Market” will not produce individual freedom. But the path to a “free” market will disenfranchise those without means.

    Cato does have an agenda, and its reports need to be read with that in mind, a cheerleader for a cause I cannot share. The powerful will always be more clever at controlling the market.

  82. Tom D says:

    Chris, thanks for the links. Unfortunately both documents you linked to are written by Randal O’Toole, who has a knack for just making up “facts”.

    Case in point, a study Mr. O’Toole wrote about the Milwaukee streetcar called “The Streetcar Scam” which the MacIver Institute released last summer. Page 16 features a bold-face assertion that “Buses could cover the proposed Milwaukee streetcar route for just 17% of the estimated cost.”

    I admit that eye-popping claim absolutely stopped me in my tracks when I first saw it. Then I read further and found his conclusion is a total lie, built upon several subtle false equivalences and one total fabrication woven together with a few actual facts supported by footnotes.

    Rather than deconstruct Mr. O’Toole’s entire claim (which would take too much space; suffice it to say that operating costs for buses and streetcars are similar because the primary expense for each–the drivers’ compensation–is pretty much the same), let me point out the total fabrication and a closely-related false equivalence.

    The total fabrication is also on page 16: “The proposed Milwaukee streetcar schedule of one streetcar every 10 to 15 minutes would require about 50,000 vehicle miles of operations a year.”

    Mr. O’Toole gave no source for that figure because he couldn’t; he just made it up. It is a gross mistatement (dare I say “lie”?) on which he bases the rest of his argument.

    The actual number for Milwaukee’s streetcar is about 143,700 vehicle miles, not 50,000. (See below.)

    Mr. O’Toole immediately follows with a false equivalence–implying that streetcar and bus miles are equivalent, that 50,000 streetcar miles are the same as 50,000 bus miles.

    In fact, bus and streetcar operating miles are not equivalent. In order to approximate 143,700 streetcar miles on this particular route, buses would have to operate about 164,000 miles. (See below.)

    Mr. O’Toole is either grossly incompetent (in what he claims is his field of expertise, transit) or an out-and-out liar. I don’t believe anything he says unless it is fully sourced from somebody other than the likes of Cato or Heritage.


    Here is the derivation of my figures. I start with the Milwaukee streetcar schedule (see link at bottom): one streetcar every 10 or 15 minutes, just like Mr. O’Toole said.

    The streetcar will run 127 hours/week: 75 hours at 6 round trips/hour and 52 hours at 4 round trips/hour. All told, there will be about 658 round trips/week (658 = [75 x 6] + [52 x 4]).

    Since the streetcar route is 2.1 miles long, a round trip is 4.2 miles. At 658 round trips/week and 4.2 miles/round trip, streetcars will travel 2,763.6 miles/week. In 364 days (52 weeks), that comes to 143,707 miles, not the 50,000 Mr. O’Toole conjured up to build his case.

    He then tries slight-of-hand to say that a replacement bus fleet need travel no more miles than the streetcar. But as a transit expert, Mr. O’Toole knows that bus routes need a loop at each end so they can turn around. Streetcars, by contrast, are bi-directional and don’t need to loop around. (In the 2.1-mile system, the streetcars never loop around.)

    The bus loops would be short. At the east end (Ogden & Farwell), the shortest loop is via Knapp & Prospect. At the west end (4th & St Paul), the shortest loop seems to be via 5th & Clybourn.

    The loops don’t seem significant (0.6 miles per round trip), but that comes to about 395 extra miles each week or about 20,500 extra miles/year (or nearly half of the 50,000 Mr. O’Toole said TOTAL bus mileage would come to).

    When you add this 20,500 miles to the 143,700 miles the streetcar will travel in 52 weeks, you get over 164,000 miles/year, not the 50,000 claimed by Mr. O’Toole.

    The streetcar schedule is on page 14 of:

  83. Tom D says:

    For those of you who can’t understand who will ride the streetcar, watch this…

  84. Bruce Thompson says:

    Tom D,
    I think O’Neill has suffered the faint of other advocates. They become so convinced of the rightness of their position that they search out information that seems to support their cause and suppress or ignore contrary information. He also does a poor job of documenting, so it is hard to tell whether, as you say, he is making it up, giving accurate but incomplete information, or being truthful. So the reaction of careful readers is to ignore him; it is just too hard to check out what he says.

    An example is contained on page 4. He mentions a decline in the share of commuters in Portland between 1980 and 1990, and blames it on light rail cannibalizing the budget. He gives no source for the figure and does not say what happened with other cities. The last I checked this was a period where the public transit share declined nationwide (and in Milwaukee) more than in Portland. So a more likely interpretation is that light rail allowed Portland to resist the national trend. Also he makes no attempt to explore other causes for the trend, principally, I think, the growth of urban sprawl during that period.

    That said O’Toole seems to have the field to himself. Although there is a lot of research on transportation, I cannot find anyone but him who attempts to address the issues he does, but without the bias towards a particular outcome.

  85. Chris Jacobs says:

    I don’t take O’Toole’s work as the gospel by any stretch, but it does contain a lot of significant information of the enormous costs of the projects. I can’t argue for or against his equivalencies or comparisons. Different people can tailor all kinds of calculations to fit their agenda, and that goes for both supporters and non-supporters of the streetcar. I cannot believe that the public can simply ignore all of the fair criticisms he has over streetcar projects and particularly the high levels of spending involved. He has clearly a lot of knowledge on the subject, done considerable historical work, and has 70+ references from a lot of reputable sources at the end, although it would have been helpful to enumerate them within the text. His conclusions are not complimentary to those who endear a future of mass transit, but his concerns are reasonable and understandable.

  86. Chris Jacobs says:

    @Tom D
    I find it fitting in the streetcar video that not one guy in a shirt and tie from the big office buildings is interviewed, and not a single neighbor outside their home on the lower east side along Ogden is interviewed either, supposedly the population epicenter. Where are the regular working people?

    Then they randomly show a girl stopping from her jog in front of Wicked Hop to check her ipod. Uh, she’s jogging, not looking to ride some bus or streetcar. Why would she use it? Other shots are girls in shorts walking their dog? Uh, yeah, enjoying the outside, not mass transit. Then, “parking is a frustration”, with 3 empty parking spaces next to her. Open parking space right in front of the Market. More joggers. Then that DJ talking about people not wanting to wait for a bus too long, and then conference goers not wanting to use cabs and getting parking tickets? That just totally lost me. Half a dozen people with special interests is all I see.

  87. Bruce Thompson says:

    It appears O’Toole is the only one following the research on public transit and making it available to the public. So he could make a real contribution to the public debate if he were honest; the trouble is he is not. He only selects the things that support his position.

    For example, he makes a big point about a study from the 1990s that found most projects overestimated ridership and underestimated capital costs. He doesn’t discuss what has happened since. Apparently that study (funded by the US DOT) had an effect on the industry. An analysis (by an economist at George Mason University) found that recently projects have been closer to their estimates, and if anything now underestimate ridership and overestimate costs. (LA’s Orange Line was the worst case, underestimating ridership by 200%.)

    To me there is no excuse for O’Toole not mentioning this.

  88. Jesse H. says:

    Chris J: Good point about the woman jogging. As we all know, someone jogging could have no use for a streetcar or even a bicycle, car or airplane… because they’re jogging. Stupid Liberals!!

  89. Chris Jacobs says:

    @Jesse H.
    The point is that joggers aren’t going to use a transit vehicle to cover the puny 2 miles that they are jogging at the time. What would be the point? On top of it, they didn’t even ask those joggers about the streetcar, but oddly focused on them like some city attraction or something. They just filmed them like stalkers on a street corner. If you ride the streetcar, you can watch the joggers out the window?

  90. Tom D says:

    Chris, the point of the video showing joggers and dog walkers is to illustrate that people actually live along the streetcar route (because joggers and especially dog-walkers are almost always local).

    But even joggers use motorized transportation for trips under 2 miles. You, for example, are a jogger (post 15) and yet you drive to the market (post 73) which I assume is within 2 miles because you made it in 3.5 minutes including the time spent waiting for 2 red lights. Why wouldn’t these Third Ward joggers take the streetcar to the supermarket, for example?

    You also said the video showed “not one guy in a shirt and tie from the big office buildings”, but the first person shown on that video was a woman in a suit who works downtown. Certainly a woman in a suit is equivalent to a “guy in a shirt and tie”.

    Finally, I agree with the video’s “parking frustration” sentiments. The few times I’ve driven to the Third Ward for lunch or dinner, I’ve driven several blocks past my destination before finding a parking space. In the video the available Public Market parking is just before sunset (check the shadows) and not at lunch time. And the new customers the Public Market will get from the streetcar (downtown workers at lunchtime and downtown hotel guests) wouldn’t drive to the Market anyway.

  91. Bruce Thompson says:

    Here is an article published last week that puts into perspective the explosion of interests by cities in street cars:

  92. Chris Jacobs says:

    @Tom D
    1. Its a sure bet that very few of those joggers live along that route. None were coming out of their apartments. Most likely college students from Marquette jogging around town or to the lakefront. Are they going to have pricey place in the Third Ward? Very unlikely. The main point was that the video producers did not ask even one person unscripted about the streetcar.
    2. I’d never pay for a streetcar that I would either job to, or get to very quickly without paying a dime. The vapors that it takes in my tank to get to the market aren’t costing me anything significant.
    3. That lady was from Milwaukee BID on Wells. That’s not one of the high rise office buildings where the majority of workers come from. Milwaukee BID is an organization established to support the interests of the downtown Milwaukee business community. No special interest there? Of course she’s biased. Not US Bank, not BMO, not Associated, not Northwestern Mutual, not even Johnson Controls.
    4. After 6pm, parking is easy there. I have never paid for parking in the area more than a handful of times in a year. Even if you do, its not a significant expense.

  93. Robert says:

    I’ve got a feeling that the fight against any kind of light rail in the Milwaukee area is revenge for the freeway revolts of a generation earlier.

  94. Bill Sell says:


    Every person in the city will have his or her own ‘take’ on anything that is done within the city, from sewers, to art galleries, bars, Discovery World, Summerfest, bakeries, schools, lakefront, and so on. And that is why planners consult demographics and efficiencies before investing – in anything. Apparently the streetcar is not for you.

    But the vapors from your car, without public transportation, multiplies itself by thousands to become a hazard to many of us. The parking you enjoy (free) after 6pm is not the parking downtown workers purchase from dawn to dusk. Sadly, you are what folks call that minority in the demographics for which you deserve consideration but not veto power. So it’s not all bad, outliers help keep an edge on the planners. Not to worry, no one is coming to take your car away. You might, however, give it up when your vision, your reactions, your health and your family tell you that your driving days are over. Public transportation will be your friend, waiting for you.

  95. Adrock says:

    Bill –

    For me the issue isnt public transit in general – it is instead the route they have chosen for the streetcar. I would rather see the north side and south side better connected than the current route. I live at the end of Erie Street and will most likely never use the street car considering the distance between myself, the street car location in the third ward, and the route it takes.

    Also it seems that the rail portion is unnecessary and eliminates flexible routes in case changes, or optimizations, are needed down the road. Why not instead just spend the money on upgrading the buses with nicer shelters and electronic time tables like in other major cities?

    It just seems like the street car is being shoved down our throats, and if you are against the street car you are against public transit and milwaukee. Well I am pro public transit, pro milwaukee but anti street car because i feel like it will be underutilized and a money pit. Id much rather work on a bipartisan basis and come up with a solution that really addresses the root cause of our current transportation problem.

  96. Bill Sell says:

    Chris, I understand your point.

    This is being designed as a starter system; if you check the website you will see the several extensions that are part of the plan.

    The purpose of “permanent” is development. Buses follow development but do not induce development. Rail induces development as well as following development. This is not intuitive information but it is evidence found in cities that brought rail to the streets. Rubber tire routes are subject to political manipulation; and I’ve been witness to such events as routes are changed, then changed again. Fortunately, we have excellent transit planners in Milwaukee, little political meddling.

    As for spending the money on buses, there is a limit. And the huge need with our transit now is operational money, not capital as much. We are going to see route cuts in the realm of 20% if the State does not restore historic funding of public transit. Federal law does not permit Wisconsin to turn the $60 million streetcar money to operations. Even if it did, it would be spent in a year or two. Capital investment is how systems grow when we expect private investment. Government needs to do its part: streets and sidewalks for sure, and other capital investments that do not come from individual businesses. A good infrastructure is the basis for private investment; this has proven out in cities adding rail. See Charlotte, St. Louis, Denver, WashingtonDC, and many cities smaller than Milwaukee.

  97. Tom D says:

    Adrock, I agree that the south end of the Third Ward has no transit and that the streetcar doesn’t address this need. But there are only limited capital funds available.

    I think today’s streetcar route does a good job tying together almost everything in downtown–the major exception being the extreme east end of downtown including the Art Museum. The full 3.5 mile route goes right past Cathedral Square, the Public Market, the Grand Avenue, the Convention Center, the Arena, and the Bradley Center. It goes within 1/4 mile (what many people consider “walking distance”) of every downtown hotel. It also connects the train station (which MCTS largely ignores–Route 57 runs infrequently and indirectly, crossing the Milwaukee River twice) with the rest of downtown.

    Is the route perfect? No, but at this point it looks like we get the proposed route or nothing. Applying the streetcar’s capital and operating funds toward better bus service isn’t possible for two reasons.

    First is that the $54.9 million in federal money can ONLY be spent on rail capital projects. It would literally take an Act of Congress to change this.

    Second is that the rest of the streetcar subsidy (capital and operating) is City money, not County money. I believe the City should not be expected to directly fund County bus service while all the suburbs contribute nothing directly and while the City gets no control over bus service.

    Also, keep in mind that a large chunk of cash ($36.6 million) from this same exact pool of money was ALREADY given to MCTS and was spent. (This was also possible only because of an Act of Congress.) What new service did this nearly $37 million provide? Nothing, as far as I can tell. They (and I think it was while Scott Walker controlled MCTS as County Executive) certainly didn’t spend it on nicer shelters and electronic timetables (although either would have been an acceptable use of the money to the Feds). I see no reason to believe that if the final $54.9 million were handed over to MCTS that anything would improve.

    As your (justified) complaint about Third Ward transit service, the best short-term solution would be to re-route MCTS Route 12, 14, or 33 from its present DTTC terminus to someplace in the southern Third Ward. Another option might be to re-route Route 57 from the Amtrak Station (and move Route 12, 14, and/or 33 to the train station).

  98. Chris Jacobs says:


    1. The streetcar does not address parking whatsoever in Milwaukee.
    2. Downtown office building parking is provided to employees free of charge
    3. The future is in personalized electric/hybrid vehicles with progressively fewer emissions every generation, and not mass transit.
    4. Mass transit still utilizes electricity primarily obtained through fossil fuel burning
    5. I don’t hate some mass transit. I just hate wasted resources on systems put in the wrong areas. The “starter system” excuse is too flimsy to make it in any way a good option for this city. This is a money pit from the start, and everyone knows it. The erroneous expectation that private investment is waiting for a “streetcar” is absolutely ridiculous. The same type of erroneous expectations were made of the opened up land after the destruction of the Park East freeway. Officials in this city have an extremely limited understanding of the modern private investor.

  99. Tom D says:

    Chris, I think the future is in both transit and in driving. Until recently, the number of vehicle miles driven in the US increased year after year, but it began to drop about 10 years ago. Young people have less interest in owning a car (or even learning to drive) than prior generations while baby boomers are starting to cut back on driving.

    Also, there is no reason transit has to use fossil-fuel generated electricity. Calgary has a 35-mile light rail system that uses 100% wind-generated electricity.

    Finally, the streetcar addresses parking two ways:

    1. The streetcar will act as a parking shuttle (sort of like the 24/7 shuttle at the airport) allowing people to park some distance from their destination. For example, people attending an event at Cathedral Square (like Bastille Days), or people attending a Bucks’ game, or people dining on Farwell. Right now they have limited choices so they either pay whatever the nearby commercial garages ask or walk and walk (except at Farwell which has no commercial garages).

    2. The streetcar supports the City’s “Park Once” campaign which aims to discourage people from driving between downtown parking spaces. For example, you could have dinner in the Third Ward followed by something at the Bradley Center or Pabst without moving your car or walking long distances.

  100. Bill Sell says:

    Chris, re your: “I just hate wasted resources on systems put in the wrong areas. ”

    Check out the governor’s proposal for new highways. Plenty to dislike there for a student of wasted resources. Before Walker transit got only 4.5% of the state’s transportation funding. Since Walker that number is dropping fast, while borrowing and spending for highways is rising. This strategy goes against the trend (that Tom mentioned above) that fewer of us are driving; younger people are looking for transit instead of owning a car. So the kids move to cities that have transit and more job opportunities.

    Chris, we can have any kind of city we want, but if owning a car is a ticket to everything we are driving ourselves into an economic ditch. The streetcar is a proven tool for building bus ridership as I have said above. As I said, maybe “wasted” on you, but not on the downtown as a whole; it is a proven (by other cities who also had “starter” systems) resource to make a city economically strong.

  101. Tom D says:

    I came across another video answering questions like “Why streetcars instead of buses?” and “Do streetcars really attract development differently than buses?”

    This video is about 1 hour long and was made last month in Cincinnati (which is also planning a streetcar). There are 3 speakers. Unfortunately, the first speaker is the least interesting. The second (who was the Portland Streetcar’s project manager during its construction) and the third (a woman who is today’s chairman of the Toronto Transit Commission) really made the case for streetcars far better than I can.

    Let me explain the significance of Toronto in this discussion. Toronto has a bigger transit system than any city in the US (except NYC). Toronto also has more streetcars than all US cities COMBINED. Its busiest single streetcar route carries about 70,000 people/day–about 50% more people than the Hoan bridge. And since Toronto’s winters are at least as bad as Milwaukee’s, Toronto shows that streetcars run fine in winter.

  102. ECS says:

    The same dirty politics is being used to stop the Kenosha streetcar expansion with super inflated utility move costs.

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