Jeramey Jannene

Streetcar Begins Daily Service To The Couture, BRT Will Soon Follow

Long-awaited milestone restores transit service to lakefront. Officials herald it as future of transit.

By - Apr 11th, 2024 02:39 pm
A Connect 1 battery electric bus (left) and The Hop streetcar vehicle (right) at The Couture transit concourse. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

A Connect 1 battery electric bus (left) and The Hop streetcar vehicle (right) at The Couture transit concourse. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

At long last, it’s all aboard at The Couture.

Daily streetcar service started Wednesday for The Hop extension that runs through the base of the 44-story apartment tower. Residents will begin moving into the first apartments in the building later this month. A Milwaukee County Transit System bus rapid transit (BRT) line will begin stopping in the building in June.

“Where transit goes, money flows,” said Mayor Cavalier Johnson during a well-attended press conference held in the public concourse at the base of the high-rise.

“This is what transit-oriented development is all about,” said County Executive David Crowley. The two arrived in style, Johnson stepping off a streetcar and Crowley off a bus.

“The goal is more transportation choices,” said Johnson, ticking off a list that included mass transit, biking, walking and driving. “That’s taking place all across the city.”

The concourse at The Couture, 909 E. Michigan St., is designed to bring all of those modes together at a key point where the city’s lakefront meets its downtown office towers. But its opening comes a decade since the concept was first proposed.

“Good things take time, extraordinary things take longer,” said developer Rick Barrett.

Since late October, the L Line streetcar extension was open only on Sundays and did not stop at The Couture. The unusual service schedule was the result of a deal with the Federal Transit Administration, which provided a $14.2 million federal grant in 2015 to pay for much of the extension. An act of Congress was required to extend the grant due to delays with The Couture’s construction. For several months, riders could roll through a construction site each weekend. Now they’ll be able to get off to attend Summerfest, visit the lakefront museums or get to work, while residents can hop on the two-mile line to get to the Historic Third Ward and Downtown. Approximately 40,000 square feet of commercial space in available in The Couture, promising new amenities directly next to the concourse.

“This is an example of a public transit facility that is really built for the future,” said FTA regional administrator Kelley Brookins.

The Connect 1 BRT line will begin using its portion of the station on June 2. The nine-mile route connects Downtown with the Milwaukee County Regional Medical Center. The eastern terminus is currently N. Van Buren Street and E. Wisconsin Avenue, but using The Couture will push the terminus a quarter-mile southeast to E. Michigan Street and N. Lincoln Memorial Drive.

The streetcar extension includes three new stops: an eastbound stop at E. Michigan and N. Jackson streets, a lakefront stop in the base of The Couture and a westbound stop at E. Clybourn and N. Jefferson streets. The extension includes approximately 0.7 miles of new, one-way track and relies on five existing stations on the main M Line.

The $29.2 million extension was approved and funded alongside the initial route in 2015, with much of the track work completed alongside the system’s 2018 opening.

Area alderman Robert Bauman, the council’s leading streetcar proponent, said the addition of the lakefront extension concept to the streetcar proposal was key in getting the system proposed. “The public attitude changed on a dime,” he told the crowd. “My hope and goal is that the lakefront line is extended to the west and to the north to Fiserv Forum.”

He said he hoped the new head of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce Dale Kooyenga, who rode on the streetcar to the event with Johnson and Bauman, would come to value the system.

Kooyenga, in his remarks, praised Johnson and Crowley for their vision for the future and Bauman for his commitment, but stopped short of explicitly praising either transit mode. During his time in the Wisconsin State Legislature, Kooyenga drafted legislation in 2013 intended to kill the streetcar system, a move that ended up transferring utility relocation costs onto the city and reduced the size of the system the city could build with an earlier federal grant. At the time, he said he was okay with the project not advancing. Kooyenga, after this article was first published, said it was not his intent to kill the system and that route changes after the legislation passed saved millions of dollars. On Thursday, he was in attendance as a representative of the region’s business community.

City officials remain bullish on expanding the system.

“The popularity of The Hop is leading lots of people to think ‘where should it expand next?” said the mayor. A council proposal calls for the mayor to identify a local funding source for the expansion, with the sales-tax-enabling Act 12 blocking the use of tax incremental financing, sales tax or property tax revenue.

The streetcar system remains free to ride, due in part to corporate sponsorship by Potawatomi Hotel & Casino.’ The 2024 city budget calls for $5.8 million to be spent on operating the streetcar system. That expense is to be offset by $4.5 million in direct revenue, with the remainder coming from the city’s parking revenue. Direct revenue sources include Potawatomi ($850,000), other sponsors ($100,000), a federal pandemic-related transit grant ($2.4 million), a congestion mitigation startup grant ($880,000) and a federal transit support grant ($279,000). The system will now need to have three of its five vehicles in service to maintain its base service level. The portion through The Couture operates on battery power.

Connect 1 is also free to ride, but MCTS is expected to begin charging for the much longer route this spring. The line launched last summer and planning work is already well underway for a 27th Street BRT route. More information on riding Connect 1 is available on the MCTS website. MCTS formerly served the lakefront the short-lived and underutilized Downtown Transit Center complex, which was demolished to create space for The Couture.

For more on The Couture, including views from the upper floors, see our March coverage.


October 2023 Ride-Along Video

October 2023 Photos

Route Map

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

L Line route laid 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 East-West BRT Line

Read more about East-West BRT Line 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

2 thoughts on “Streetcar Begins Daily Service To The Couture, BRT Will Soon Follow”

  1. THBakerson says:

    Hey, Jeramey. I was at the Couture site this morning and there is zero access to the Hop stop in the concourse. It seems the press event was premature. Maybe I am missing something, but I went around the entire perimeter and found no way in. I did see a street car pass through, though!

  2. Dave Reid says:

    I took a look the other day as well. And apparently the escalators were cut from the project (boo). But, there are doors next to the main lobby entrance which lead (or will lead) to elevators to take people upstairs.

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