Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Barrett Moving Forward With Streetcar

If Common Council approves at December 16 meeting, construction would start in late 2015, and Milwaukee would follow in footsteps of many other cities.

By - Nov 18th, 2014 10:51 pm
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If Common Council approves at December 16 meeting, construction would start in late 2015, and Milwaukee would follow in footsteps of many other cities. Back to the full article.

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29 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Barrett Moving Forward With Streetcar”

  1. Tyrell Track Master says:

    You’re not going to believe this, but I’m starting to get anti streetcar. Unless this is a true light rail system that goes out to UWM, the airport, etc… then the main thing it’s going to be is a lot of money and a lot of incurred wrath – not only by the goon squad, but by lots of ordinary people too.

    Use the “rail only” money on KRM which would be far more cost effective and then spend money on BRT, creative bus systems, and more bike lanes and bike shares. I genuinely think the latter would be better for urbanism than the streetcar.

    But what I’m really afraid is that this will embolden the goon squad to the point where other, more important projects, like the Bucks arena will get de-railed.

  2. Mark Unak says:

    This is great news. This type of progress will change the city motto from ‘Good Enough’ to ‘Make no small plans’ !!

  3. David says:

    Its funny because when we propose an incerase in school funding, the goon squad says why do you keep throwing money at your terrible schools. When the city then says lets invest in our transit infrastructure, the goon squad says you have terrible schools, where are your priorities? Invest that money in schools. When we implement a rubber tired trolley system (Lake and River routes) like the one we implemented in 2000, the goon squad says this is a waste of money, get rid of it (which the County did due to political pressure). Then we propose a light rail system, the goon squad says why don’t you implement a more cost effective rubber tire trolly route.

    The bottom line is that the goon squad will oppose the city no matter what. Its a political strategy that the have embraced. I remember the KRM, high speed rail, the Northwest Corridor project, etc, and on and on. They are killed because Republicans are philosophically opposed to public transportation. They see it as social engineering and an attack on the individual. They are going to oppose everything. It will not matter how effective or needed the projects are. Of course a double decker $1 billion interchage is needed. Make it a triple decker freeway! They won’t bat an eye. I do know one thing for sure, once built, those against the streetcar now, will be clamoring for an extension to their neighborhood.

  4. Deano says:

    Thanks Jeremey for the nice write up on the Milwaukee streetcar project. Unlike the other transit projects that have fallen by the wayside I think this project is on track and we will be riding streetcars in Milwaukee in 2018. It will provide Milwaukee residents and visitors a badly needed transportation option, attract more young people and entrepreneurs to the Third Ward and emerging development areas, and lower the carbon footprint at a time of global climate crisis. When it comes to transit we need to take an all of the above approach.

    You are spot on in saying the route alignment needs to match up with the site of the proposed Buck’s arena as the facility will be a significant traffic generator for the starter light rail line. It’s not too soon to move ahead with planning to extend the line up the densely populated east side to the UWM campus.

    You state that the private sector supports the light rail project. It would be great if a local private foundation could step forward to help finance the emerging Milwaukee streetcar system. This was done in Detroit with a $35 million grant from the Kresge Foundation to the City of Detroit for construction of the Woodward Avenue streetcar line, for which construction began in July 2014.

    Milwaukee has talked about the idea of a streetcar network since the time I was a college student, with studies by SEWRPC, etc. and it is great to see this plan about to turn into an actual operating system!

  5. PMD says:

    I’m on board with the streetcar project, mainly for reasons already stated. I’m curious if the current plans include an enhancements to the walkability of the primary areas served by the proposed streetcar lines. I’m a big fan of Jeff Speck’s book Walkable City. One of the main points he makes is that it isn’t enough to just build light rail or streetcars or whatever. There also has to be attractions, places people want to go (he uses Dallas as an example of a city with a great public transportation system that no one uses because there’s a lack of attractions near system stops and a lack of walkable neighborhoods near the stops). I’m not worried about the attractions. There’s plenty of those downtown, in the Third Ward, along the lakefront. But what about the walkability of those areas? Already good enough? What do people think about that aspect?

  6. Andy says:

    I’m generally a supporter of the street car… but only if done right. I have 3 main concerns.

    1. Who is using the starter system. This is sort of related to PMD’s point about attractions. In my case though, not so much about the walkability… but who is using the system to get to these attractions? You don’t just need a destination, you need a starting point. Without the initial extension up to Royall, the initial route hits on very few completed dense blocks of residential. Is someone driving downtown to a parking lot and then hopping on the streetcar?

    2. Why isn’t the starter system a loop? Future extensions would tie in well with a central loop to all downtown destinations and then you can transfer to a different extension if the need arises.

    3. I’m not sure I’m a fan of usurping other TIF districts funds and/or creating TIF’s in places that are already seeing development. There’s a lot of things going up regardless of the streetcar that otherwise would be directly bolstering our general funds. Now we’re taking those funds and putting them into the TIF. It’s one thing to bet on the tax funds of development that wouldn’t happen (or as soon) without the streetcar… but to take the tax funds from developments that are happening anyway is concerning.

  7. PMD says:

    That’s a good point Andy (your #1). Is the idea that people will drive downtown, park, and then use the streetcar to visit various attractions? Say the art museum and the public market, and make a day of it?

  8. David says:

    To PMD’s and Andy’s points about who where will ridership come from and walkability, I have a couple of thoughts. Initially when MCTS was the lead on route planning for the light rail system, they put in place stations on the edges of downtown where one could make a timed transfer from a bus to the light rail line. This was done for a couple of reasons. First, it eliminated route redundancies by blending the bus system with the light rail system. For example, Route 10 would feed the light rail line at 27th street then turn back west. This would be done for several routes feeding downtown. The bus route operational savings alone would cover a big portion of the annual light rail operating costs. Second, it would eliminate much of the bus congestion along Wisconsin Avenue, making the corridor more pedestrian friendly. One articulated train carries far more people than a bus. Third, There would be development opportunities surrounding the stations. I’m not sure why the city changed the routing.

    I believe that this system will open up a part of Milwaukee that many visitors never see. Our neighborhoods are our biggest assets and they will now be connected to all the visitors to our city that never get north of Water Street or south of the Third Ward. Visitors and tourism (second fastest growing industry in our county) next to never take buses to get around. This is a game changer.

    Outside of the northwest side, Milwaukee is a very walkable city. I’m not real worried about that, but even the starter sytem needs to be complete in the sense that it should not just end somewhere that does not make sense. It needs to feed neighborhood centers.

  9. Tyrell Track Master says:

    i hope you guys are right…!

  10. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    GOP has never been opposed to public transit. Out state in small communities feel that the locals should pay for it as they do not have any public transit. But let me see. The priorities of Milwaukee are now Arena, street car when they need buses while the people cannot step out of or even sit in their house without fear of getting shot. Something wrong here???

  11. David says:

    We do pay for our public transportation. The city has many priorities.

  12. Clayton Massey says:

    Why is the street car not connecting Marquette to downtown Milwaukee, Brady Street or North Avenue (and eventually UWM)? Wisconsin Avenue has experienced problems with commercial success over the years and the street car could provide an exciting option for access. The route would then encourage development along a struggling street that desperately needs a facelift. Wisconsin Avenue is also a key choice for running a future line west towards the suburbs and symbolically it is one of the most important streets in the city. Why wouldn’t we give the street a beacon of progress and 21st century planning? I think that replacing the Wisconsin Avenue bus would also save money and congestion on the street while making it more attractive to pedestrians.

    I propose running tracks east on Wisconsin Avenue from the west end of Marquette Campus. The tracks would than turn up Prospect and loop back down Farwell. This would encourage Marquette students to come downtown and up to the East Side while also drawing East Siders downtown and through Wisconsin Avenue. This is the base of riders that the project needs to be successful.

    Imagine getting on the street car at North and Prospect after a nice afternoon spent exploring the amenities there. You then ride south until Prospect reconnects with Farwell. You get out at the turn when Farwell meets Wisconsin Avenue and walk across the bridge to the Art Museum. When you’re finished at the museum you ride the street car back to your dorms on the Marquette campus.

    I think there better options for the street car than what the current preposed routes provide. It would be a tragedy to commit to routes that were shortsighted and didn’t explore all the options.

    I challenge the city to go further and explore more options. I know that connecting the Intermodel Station, Public Market and Bucks arena are important aspects of the project but consider creating a “loop” that connects all of these landmarks. Run tracks east on St. Paul (past the Intermodel Station, Public Market and the Third Ward), north on Van Buren (past the US Bank building, Northwestern Mutual campus and just a block from MSOE and Cathedral Square), west on State (past the Marcus Center) and south on 6th (past the current Bucks Arena, MATC and the Wisconsin Center). This loop would connect out of city travels, visitors to the market and the the Third Ward, show goers, sports fans, people attending conferences and all the while also providing access to the Wisconsin Avenue route (and other future routes that could make there way through downtown).

    I hope they just think about it a little more.

  13. Peter Apple says:

    Some Perspective from comparable city with a median temp that 15 degrees warmer

    Professional Sports play Pen? check Increasing crime? check. Clueless elitists who ignore the disruption to current businesses and fantasize about ‘tourists’ clamoring to ‘ride the trolley’ the Art Museum. Check.

    Meanwhile, the march of unsolved murders and burglaries continues unabated. Here’s a suggestion: why not conduct an exit poll of those leaving Milwaukee to see if they give a damn about a stupid trolley.

  14. Sam says:

    So we’re really going to spend $25 million more in public money on a four-five block loop that will mostly travel through parking lots to support a luxury apartment tower? An extension to a route that already won’t go anywhere near any large concentrations of transit dependent people or people of color? In a city with a minority-majority population, a 21.3% poverty rate and a 10% unemployment rate? Really?

  15. Dave Reid says:

    @Peter Apple Oh gee here are some folks from Cincy that are very happy about the project: And btw it is under construction with a plan to open in 2016. Here is another one: “The Cincinnati streetcar and job expansion at the region’s Fortune 500 companies is driving the apartment boom in the region, according to national real estate brokerage firm Marcus & Millichap’s fourth quarter apartment market report.”

  16. Rich says:

    @Sam: While I’ll concede that the festival season is not the entire year, imagine the utility of the streetcar during any of the festivals. The proposed Coture stop is across the street from the heavily used (road to) the North Gate.

  17. David says:

    Ok Mr. Apple, we can’t invest in our transportation infrastructure because we have other problems? We can’t leverge a public private partnership for an arena because life isn’t perfect in Milwaukee? Get some new talking points or turn off the radio and think for yourself. Go Bucks!!!

  18. Kat says:

    1) Those in the Couture will get back in their daddy’s black BMWs anyway. Riding a streetcar would be beneath them. Maybe they heard it referenced in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” when they were babysat in the mid-90s.

    2) I can’t wait to see it flop and fail.

  19. PMD says:

    Rooting for failure? That’s awesome. What a super attitude. Are you also pulling for an increase in violent crime and high school dropouts?

  20. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    PMD=Post menopausal Derangemtn??

  21. PMD says:

    I don’t know what that is. I’m not cranky and over 70.

  22. Beer Baron says:

    Any way the city can rush construction so the state can’t stop it? Late 2015 seems like lots of time for them to pass all sorts of anti-Milwaukee legislation or the full banning of public transportation as Walker has pushed.

  23. Begonia says:

    I’m seeing a lot of assumptions about streetcars and transit that aren’t carefully thought through here.

    First of all–loops are bad. One-way loops are bad transit for several reasons:
    1) Very few people actually want to travel in circles. We travel from point-to-point in as straight a line as possible, not in circles.
    2) Operationally, loops are bad–when in the loop does the driver get to take a break, to go to the bathroom, get back on schedule, etc?
    3) They are not very user-friendly: Say you get on by your apartment, and take the loop to go to the art museum. But then, if you are at the museum and want to go back to your hotel, what do you do? you have to travel all the way around the loop again? It wouldn’t be an attractive choice.

    Second of all, I see a lot of people who are pro-streetcar here who are espousing the streetcar because of the development it will spur. But the evidence is not solid that such development is inherently due to streetcars. Is it the rail? Is it the streetcar itself? What if you took the same amount of money that the streetcars will cost, and spent it on real bus rapid transit type improvements in the downtown areas, with real, well-marked stations (where boarding passes are sold prior to getting on), well-marked routes, dedicated lanes and signal priority? It would make transit so much more attractive–plus it would connect to the rest of the city, rather than be a downtown circulator that doesn’t really connect to the city, or forces people to make inconvenient transfers. Or maybe that is precisely the point? To create a segregated transit experience that DOESN’T connect to the rest of the city, because the developers don’t want “those people” riding the streetcar?

    You know what? UrbanMilwaukee should sponsor Jarrett Walker to Milwaukee to teach his Transit Network Design Course: This could potentially be a money-maker for Urban Milwaukee. I would totally pay to take it myself, if he were doing it in Milwaukee. And you could get a lot of interested planning professionals based in Wisconsin sign up for it, too, if it were marketed well enough. And while he’s here, he could give a talk!

  24. Jim says:

    This is a horrible idea in light of the needs of the city.
    Raping the budgets of MPS, City of Milwaukee services and others to build a street car that goes in a circle where no one will ride it. Sad that this is what Tom Barrett thinks will be a good legacy.

  25. Andy says:

    What is wrong with people that actively hope for a project to fail? When I believe an idea is bad for our city, the greatest thing that can happen is for me to be wrong. There’s a certain point when people lose site of why we disagree on politics and how we govern ourselves. Ostensibly this is because we all want whats best for our community but disagree on how to get there. For someone to actively seek failure in others ideas shows a lack of maturity or someone who has clearly lost site of what we all hope for: the betterment of our community.

  26. Sam says:

    @Begonia Exactly! Anybody who’s ever studied urban planning and/or transit should be opposed to this. We’ve been doing studies on mass transit here for 50+ years and this project just ignores them and all of the work that’s been done to study where people actually want to go in Milwaukee. I would love to see a streetcar here but not one that’s completely useless and going to get in the way of future transit plans.

  27. Beer Baron says:

    I just hope true BRT doesn’t get forgotten in Milwaukee. Once the rails start flowing, I hope the new express buses are immediately converted to BRT. I could see a huge boom for 27th street especially on this!

  28. David says:

    The cost is understated. And if this thing is built, it will be a forever cost for tax payers.

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