Monday, November 12, 2007

New Milwaukee AMTRAK Station Proves You Have To Fight For The City

Some years ago, the state transportation department wanted to replace the 6th Street Viaduct with an ugly, flat-span concrete bridge lifted from the Interstate Highway design book.

Mayor John Norquist (disclosure: I worked for him) wanted a more inviting urban design, and balked, and won the stand-off, producing the beautiful 6th Street Bridge.

The final, award-winning project also gracefully drops to street level, connecting to the Valley and adding value in a way that the flat-span design could not.

The new bridge has created connections in and around the south side and downtown- - actual intersections on the street grid - - that will make the new Harley-Davidson Museum far more accessible, along with other businesses and walkways along the Menomonee River and a rebuilt Canal Street.

To get all that, there had to be a strong, comprehensive vision that integrated traffic, planning, business development and aesthetics.

So there had to be a willingness to resist the transportation department, which just wants to do the simple thing: lay concrete and avoid much that is innovative for Wisconsin.

These lessons have been learned again, this time with nearly-completed remade rail station downtown.

Once an eyesore, the station will combine rail and Greyhound bus terminals, again with a modern, welcoming design that pays homage to the 6th Street Bridge nearby, and to the Calatrava Art Museum Addition and Pier Wisconsin building to the east on the lakefront.

Again, there had to be a fight with the state transportation bureaucrats.

The initial rebuilding concept would have kept much of the cheap, repellent design. Worse, the developer wanted to add a fast-food drive-through window, as if that was any kind of upgrade at all. Talk about dissing the growing numbers of AMTRAK users: welcome to Milwaukee: do you want fries with that burger?

Milwaukee Alderman Bob Bauman began the resistance, and Mayor Tom Barrett took up the fight, too.

They correctly understood that the city needed a showcase station to continue the momentum generated by the other positive changes in and over the Valley, and to promote transit in all its modalities.

Whitney Gould correctly appraises the victory that the new station represents.

Everyone involved with this effort deserves praise.

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