Do Millennials Oppose the Streetcar?
Not really, but a new survey is fueling misunderstandings. What do millennials really want?
No sooner had the Public Policy Forum survey of metro area-millennials been released than I heard from a streetcar opponent noting the survey found a minority of respondents, only 47 percent, supported a downtown streetcar.
The only problem is that this was a survey of the four-county metro area and 38 percent of those responding live outside the city and were far more likely to oppose the streetcar. The survey found 52 percent of millennials living in the city supported the streetcar and 61 percent of them also felt “effective mass transit to connect downtown attractions” was important compared to just 46 percent of non-city residents.
Meanwhile, the media response to the survey has also perpetrated the idea that millennials really want the same thing as older metro-area residents. “Millennials are just like the rest of us,” the Business Journal declared, no doubt cheering its older readers.
Curiously, this idea was also pushed by Rob Henken, executive director of the Public Policy Forum, who told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel “The preferences and concerns of metro Milwaukee millennials with regard to the region’s livability, attractiveness and transportation needs are not much different from what might have been expected from the general population.”
But that is a direct contradiction with the report that Henken co-authored, which states flatly that “we only surveyed millennials. Consequently, while it would be desirable to do so, it is not possible to use our survey responses to compare the views of Metro Milwaukee millennials with those of older generations.”
So we can only speculate as to how millennials compare to their elders, but I’d say their priorities look quite different. When asked if they supported major transportation initiatives, 65 percent supported additional capacity on major highways, 59 percent supported faster and more frequent Amtrak service to Chicago and 52 percent supported better and expanded bike trails, bike lanes, and bike facilities. I’d guess the percentage of baby boomers choosing more Amtrak service and bike lanes as a priority would be way lower, probably below 20 percent of respondents.
Indeed the big emphasis on train and bike transit by local millennials would seem right in line with a recent national survey by Portland State University and the National Association of Realtors , which found millennials use transit much more than other generations (40 percent took transit in the last month compared to 28 percent for Gen X, 19 percent for Baby Boomers, and 8 percent for Silent Generation). And “over 30% of Millennials reported walking to or from work/school in the past 30 days, compared to less then 20% of Gen Xers or Baby Boomers. Over 60% of Millennials reported walking for errands, shopping or eating out.”
As for activities they engaged in during the last year, 78 percent had been to a Milwaukee County Park, second only to retail mall shopping and more than 19 other attractions, including Summerfest, State Fair and Downtown nightlife. Considering that 29 percent of respondents live outside Milwaukee County and could be going to parks in the county they lived in (which wasn’t a choice in this question), the 78 percent figure likely understates how many went to parks. Clearly this is a top priority for millennials.
By contrast, pro sports ranks considerably lower. On that same list of activities, a Brewers baseball game ranked eighth and a Bucks game twelfth in activities engaged in during the last year. And when asked what cultural and entertainment activities are important when considering a metro area to live, pro baseball ranked seventh, behind concert/music venues, public zoo, art museum, theater venues, science museum and history museum. Pro basketball ranked ninth, also behind professional baseball and resident theater companies.
Would older people in the metro area have ranked parks so high and pro sports this low? That seems unlikely. But it’s an interesting question in light of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce’s push for funding of an NBA arena. Certainly for millennials it doesn’t look like a high priority. By contrast the MMAC push for a four-county tax to support the Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee County Zoo and Milwaukee Public Museum is more in line with the priorities of young residents, though they might want upkeep of parks added to that list.
The big news emphasized in media accounts of the survey was the importance of crime. The crime rate ranked as the number one factor when choosing a metro area in which to live and ranked first as “the most critical issue facing Metro Milwaukee in terms of attracting adults in their 20s & 30s.”
It’s clearly an important issue, though Henken and co-author Jeff Schmidt somewhat undercut the finding with this observation: “We found the emphasis on crime among Metro Milwaukee millennials to be somewhat surprising, as Milwaukee is not necessarily known as an unsafe city, despite a recent spike in the murder rate. It is possible that this emphasis was skewed by the substantial attention being given to the city’s murder rate at the time the survey was conducted, but there is no way of knowing if that is the case.”
Meanwhile jobs consistently ranked second as the most pressing issue for respondents. Only half of respondents said metro Milwaukee provides opportunities for family supporting employment and career advancement, and only about one-third of black respondents agreed. That’s a hugely negative finding, if metro Milwaukee’s leaders hope to retain younger residents.
And by the way, that’s really what this survey is about. As the authors note, “because we only surveyed millennials who currently live in the metro area, the results may not hold much relevance for those considering how to attract millennials from outside of the region. Indeed, more than two-thirds of those surveyed originally are from Metro Milwaukee and have not lived outside of Wisconsin since turning 18 years old, suggesting that the survey is far better suited to assess strategies for retaining millennials already living here.”
In short, this survey does nothing to contradict national research suggesting “walkable” cities with good transportation, bicycle friendly policies and cultural amenities have more appeal for millennials. It does not tell us why young people from other cities have moved to Milwaukee. It is a portrait mostly of young adults who grew up here and will probably stay here — if they can only get a decent job.
For more project details, including the project timeline, financing, route and possible extensions, see our extensive past coverage.
- Plats and Parcels: Lakefront Streetcar Extension Scheduled for June 2022 Opening - Jeramey Jannene - Dec 6th, 2020
- Transportation: Should Milwaukee Stop The Hop? - Jeramey Jannene - Oct 13th, 2020
- Transportation: The Hop Now Wears a Mask - Jeramey Jannene - Aug 18th, 2020
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Is A Couture Deal Finally Coming? - Jeramey Jannene - May 13th, 2020
- Transportation: SUV Driver Runs Into The Hop - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 28th, 2020
- Transportation: Streetcar Kiosks Could Bring In $500,000 Annually - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 20th, 2020
- Thanks A Million, Hop Riders! - The Hop - Feb 19th, 2020
- Transportation: We Energies Will Sponsor Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 10th, 2020
- Transportation: Streetcar Ridership Up in January Versus 2019 - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 7th, 2020
- Transportation: Streetcar Ridership Up in December - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 14th, 2020
Read more about Milwaukee Streetcar here