Michael Horne
Plenty of Horne

How to Sell the Streetcar

Ald. Bob Bauman says mayor’s sales pitch lacks vision.

By - Nov 28th, 2014 11:56 am
A rendering of the streetcar coming up Broadway out of the Historic Third Ward.

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

Downtown Ald. Bob Bauman argues that Mayor Tom Barrett is taking the wrong approach in how he is promoting the proposed streetcar. The project must be sold as something larger than a line that runs just to Ogden Avenue, he contends. The “but it goes nowhere!” argument has been a powerful one for streetcar opponents, he notes, but Barrett’s proposal gives no sense of its outward potential.

“Right now the mayor has a map with a bunch of arrows on it,” Bauman complains. The administration needs to promote its planned route extensions at this time — and that should include maps and statistics, he suggests.

How the Common Council will vote on the streetcar is still not clear, as my colleague Jeramey Jannene has written.  As always, Ald. Bob Donovan opposes it and has demanded, once again,  a city referendum on the issue. But this time he is joined by his colleague and fellow candidate for mayor, Ald. Joe Davis, who issued a press release also calling for a referendum and blasting Barrett’s typically mild-mannered streetcar announcement as an attempt “to ram the Streetcar project down the public’s throat.”  Davis also dubbed it a “Streetcar Named Ego,” easily besting Donovan in the colorful language department.

Bauman suggested Barrett needs to create a more robust document to sell the streetcar. The city should look at its abandoned plans to run a line pretty much from Miller Park to UW-Milwaukee, with a downtown circulating loop, he noted.

The city should also take a look at available grade-separated routes where the streetcar can make express runs, the alderman added. For example, any streetcar system could easily go to the airport. But traveling at 12 mph, as the streetcar would in street traffic, might be a bit slow for the long haul. The city should identify infrastructure, like state-owned rail corridors, where the streetcar could make some time. (The streetcars can easily do 45 miles per hour under those conditions.)

The alderman was holding forth just after the adjournment of the Historic Third Ward Architectural Review Board meeting on Wednesday. The point is to counter the argument that the line goes “nowhere,” and that you have to start someplace, he emphasized. “If you don’t start it, you can’t finish it!” Bauman said, melding public policy with existentialism.

The point is that a streetcar is not like a tunnel, which is constructed from its two ends toward its middle. You cannot build a streetcar segment at the airport, or the ballpark, or at UWM and then eventually connect the segments to a whole. Of necessity, a streetcar system (or a subway, or commuter rail) must begin at a central location and spread outward. The central location should also be the densest part of a community, and that is where the project is poised to begin — with rapid extensions once it is established.

One thing Bauman would like to see done — before the December Common Council meeting — is to see that all neighborhood development plans incorporate a transit component for future guidance. This should be done to assure that the outlying neighborhoods, which will see streetcar service, be prepared to plan for the changes that new transit lines would  bring to their districts. Some have suggested this might be something UWM Urban Planning students could help with.

Bauman, meanwhile, has blasted Donovan’s call for a referendum on the proposed streetcar line. As he told WUWM: “We debated the streetcar 39 months ago. We debated the pros, we debated the cons, we looked at all the issues, we had public hearings, we had large attendance those public hearings, and the council made a decision to move forward.”

Donovan has conceded his call for a referendum is a “long shot.”

Streetcar Renderings

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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

9 thoughts on “Plenty of Horne: How to Sell the Streetcar”

  1. Shaia says:

    What benefit will the streetcar have over existing bus routes? Is this not just a redundancy?

  2. Davd says:

    I’m not so sure improved messaging will help. The cackling classes get their information from talk radio, and they do a pretty good job of misinformtion, partial informatin and spin. Just like the high speed rail debate”who needs a train from Milwaukee to Madison?” Well, that would be true if it was just a train from Milwaukee to Madison, rather than one leg that is part of a larger network. For the most part, people are either for it or against it.

    @Shaia. The streetcar is moden, quiet, smooth and overall a much better mode of transit. Fixed route transit has been shown to generate economic development along the corridor. Busses have the opposite impact. This is due to he fact that more people are willing to use light rail than busses and the fixed route is seen as a commitment to the city by the private sector. Furthermore, visitors and tourists will utilize the streetcar while avoiding the bus. Ths is important because Milwaukee County is the visitor and tourism leader in the state.

  3. Where are the MPS Teachers as well as the Black and Hispanic Communities screaming at the top of their lungs about Mayor Barrett spending over $300 M-I-L-L-I-O-N on a STREET TROLLEY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    $300 M-I-L-L-I-O-N could build out an extremely high-speed WIFI system in both the North and South Sides AND put a laptop in every residents hands for free! Imagine what THAT would do to the educational prospects of those communities!

    $300 M-I-L-L-I-O-N would completely clear the Tower Automotive Complex site for redevelopment AND install the infrastructure for future development and JOBS on the Northside!!

    $300 M-I-L-L-I-O-N would build 4 Tech-Schools in the Inner-city to train 16+yos for family-supporting jobs THAT CAN’T BE FILLED NOW BY WORKERS TODAY!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Where is Gwen Moore, Mandela Barnes, LaTonya Johnson, Leon Young, JoCasta Zamarripa and Lena Taylor and all their Milwaukee democrat colleagues screaming at the top of their lungs shutting this down?!?!?

    Where are the trade unions and teacher unions protesting in City Hall over this?!?!?!

    #MandelaBarnes #RepGwenMoore #WiscJobsNow #repjocasta #SenTaylor #WIunion #wiright #wipolitics #MKEPolitics #TrolleyFolly #SykesCharlie #naacpmke

  4. Dave Reid says:

    @Scott I’m confused as to where you are getting this $300 million figure? I’m pretty sure the city can not use TIF funds to buy laptops, and the last public wifi attempt failed (though I suppose TIF funds could be used for an idea like this). I’m pretty sure new schools would be created by MPS not the City of Milwaukee (not the same thing). And the city is currently spending millions to redevelop the Tower site (now referred to as Century City). And yes the city is planning to build new transit.

  5. Observer says:

    Gee Scott but I couldn’t help but think that Gwen Moore, Mandela Barnes, LaTonya Johnson, Leon Young, JoCasta Zamarripa and Lena Taylor all have something in common. And it’s not that none of them live in Tosa or Waukesha.

  6. Mike says:

    The reason they want a streetcar is that hip white people are much more comfortable getting on something like a train than they are a bus. Busses just aren’t that cool and oftentimes the people riding them aren’t hip white people.

    Ultimately, the question is who really uses this thing? The real problem with the streetcar is that it’s incredibly easy to navigate downtown Milwaukee by car. For the streetcar to be successful you need people that are using mass transit to get downtown and that’s not happening all that much.

  7. Gary says:

    Is the real issue that the major funding for a proposed street car only comes with a rail style street car?

    The drawings clearly show that the proposed rail style trolley system will be electric – fed from above. Milwaukee _had_ trackless electric trollies as late as the late 1960s-early 70s (I remember watching the sparks fly from the floating masts on a rare holiday Route 31 bus rides.)

    If Milwaukee took the step to electrify it’s entire fleet with that kind of system — that in itself would itself be a newsworthy project and a major infrastructure project without the hassle of rail construction. Adding a trackless “Loop” around the city linking existing routes with transfer stops would be another helpful step.

  8. Begonia says:

    Shaia’s question is absolutely valid. The streetcar will be run by the City over streets that are some of the most productive routes in the County’s bus system. I have not seen any attempts to explain just how or why the County would decide to terminate their bus routes at the streetcar line (and lose all the fares). I also have not seen any discussion of how the city-run streetcar will result in a lower percent of MCTS’ costs being covered by state operating subsidies. This project will truly suffer from the lack of a regional transit authority to make the strategic decisions about routes, fare transfers, and reducing redundancies.

  9. Dudemeister says:

    I really like the idea of an “express” route to the airport & Miller Park areas – use those old rail right-o-ways for something!

    The Greenline takes far too long to go from Mitchell Intl to downtown. I can imagine how many travelers would gladly take a rapid alternative to the bus (and the car, naysayers).

    Express stops at the Potowatomi Hotel and Harley Davidson Museum on an extension to the ballpark would be useful for tourists.

    Although the initial route does seem confusing (viewable at http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=502392&page=762 most of the way down the page), I agree that the Mayor should emphasize that this is merely a starter line and the extensions are what people should be excited about.

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