Jeramey Jannene

Lakefront Streetcar Extension Opens October 29

New line will operate as a 'preview' until spring 2024, when The Couture's base opens.

By - Aug 22nd, 2023 12:36 pm
Newly-completed streetcar track in the base of The Couture in June 2023. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Newly-completed streetcar track in the base of The Couture in June 2023. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The lakefront extension of Milwaukee’s streetcar system finally has an opening date, even if it’s only for limited “preview” service.

Starting Oct. 29, the long-awaited extension will begin operating on Sundays along E. Michigan Street and E. Clybourn Street.

Known as the L Line, the extension will use a single vehicle to run a figure-eight-style route that incorporates the lakefront spur with the core north-south route along N. Broadway and N. Milwaukee Street between E. Kilbourn Avenue and E. St. Paul Avenue.

The route will not initially stop in the base of The Couture tower, but will ride through the 44-story tower’s first floor while the remainder of the building is under construction.

“We know the public has been eagerly awaiting the opening of the L Line, and we’re pleased to be able to offer this opportunity for our city to begin exploring the new L Line even as the Couture construction continues to progress overhead,” said Commissioner of Public Works Jerrel Kruschke in a statement. “While the eventual opening of the Lakefront station itself will be a transformational milestone for The Hop, this opportunity to begin providing preview service will be tremendously valuable both in terms of allowing the city to become acquainted with the new route and how it will interface with the existing M Line, while also allowing our operations to fine-tune this service in advance of a very exciting summer in Milwaukee next year.”

Full service along the route is expected to begin in spring 2024, alongside the opening of the bottom half of the luxury apartment tower.

The extension was approved and funded alongside the initial route in 2015, with much of the track work completed alongside the base route’s 2018 opening. But the connection through The Couture was repeatedly delayed alongside the building itself, ultimately requiring Congress in 2022 to approve an extension of the $14.2 million federal grant that pays for much of the extension.

Three new stations are included with the extension: eastbound at E. Michigan St. and N. Jackson St., The Couture’s transit concourse and westbound at E. Clybourn St. and N. Jefferson St. Five overlapping stations with the M Line will be served: the City Hall stations, the Wisconsin Ave. stations and the Historic Third Ward eastbound station. A single vehicle, from the pool of five existing vehicles, will be used to operate the route and will make the loop in approximately 20 minutes.

Testing of the route has occurred this summer as a contracting team completed the guideway for the fixed-rail system. Much of the L Line will operate without an overhead wire, with the vehicles running on battery power.

According to a press release, more information on how to ride the L Line is expected to be published on as the opening draws closer.

The 2.1-mile system is currently free to ride. The 2023 city budget calls for $4.9 million to be spent on operating the streetcar system. That expense is to be offset by $3.5 million in direct revenue, with the remainder coming from the city’s parking revenue. Direct revenue sources include Potawatomi Hotel & Casino ($833,333), other sponsors ($390,000), a federal pandemic-related transit grant ($2.1 million) and a federal transit support grant ($214,000).

Ridership has climbed year-over-year for 28 straight months.

L Line route laid atop existing M Line route. Image from The Hop website.

L Line route overlaid atop existing M Line route. Image from The Hop website.

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More about the Couture

Read more about Couture here

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

5 thoughts on “Lakefront Streetcar Extension Opens October 29”

  1. DanRyan86 says:

    God, I wish the state hadn’t sabotaged the initial route network by passing a special law specifically for Milwaukee for them to cover the relocation cost of private infrastructure below the street and eating up a significant amount of money the city had for the project just to spite Milwaukee, well and to campaign up north about how they’re sticking it to Milwaukee

  2. Colin says:

    @Dan Is that why the hop has a weird path? It doesn’t seem to go on many roads that are very useful.

  3. BigRed81 says:

    Milwaukee’s Northside is neglected yet again. Investment is long overdue. There was discussion to extend the HOP north. A route to Bronzeville should’ve been completed.
    Structural Racism has deep roots in the most segregated city in the country. Lack of hope is
    directly correlated to povery and crime.
    Continous investment downtown is inequitable.

  4. DAGDAG says:

    Perhaps they can plan ahead and put in a pay station or ticket kiosk or two this time. Or is it going to be like TURBO TAX for ever…. “free free free free free”

  5. Marty Ellenbecker says:

    The hop is fun, free and slooooow.
    It’s been more than 120 years since enlightened transit planners
    realized that rail transit doesn’t work well on streets.
    It is hampered by traffic delays due to volume, weather, pedestrians, construction, fire, accident, breakdowns, events, etc.

    Their solution was elevated rail routes and subways interconnected by transfer to street routes.

    These defy distance, congestion, weather and time. They do it in
    less space, with less pollution, and fewer dollars than freeways.

    Every dollar, hour, foot of right-of-way spent on The Hop
    erodes and delays the real solution.

    The viability paradigms for rail rapid transit have gone from density
    through environment, to economy, and will ultimately reconnect to density as migration due to environment expands the population of cities with less intense climate problems.

    One of the points categories in the most livable cities surveys
    is absence of friction. When can we expect Milwaukee’s
    transit friction to get ‘lubricated’?

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