Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Milwaukee streetcars spurring growth that anti-rail right kept killing

Milwaukee's long-sidetracked streetcars are already boosting development.

Great to see this piece by Jeramey Jannene at Urban Milwaukee about a major apartment complex planned along the budding Milwaukee streetcar route downtown. 
An almost entirely vacant office building along the route of The Hop, Milwaukee’s soon-to-launch streetcar system, is likely to get new life as apartments. 
Chicago-based developer Paul Dincin is proposing to redevelop the Underwriters Exchange Building at 828 N. Broadway into apartments with first-floor commercial space.
The HOP MKE Streetcar.jpg
Long blocked by anti-urban politicians, Milwaukee's streetcars are being delivered and tested.
Jannene has been bird-dogging the streetcar's long, winding route through the political landscape for years, as I noted in 2015, here:
The Milwaukee Common Council voted 9-6 today to approve a starter urban rail system.
Barring last-minute legal or political maneuvering, the vote could finally end almost two decades of costly and divisive anti-urban politicking by suburban-focused conservative talk radio agitators and Republican state legislators and Waukesha County politicians who blocked city rail investments and the development opportunities which rail will trigger while continually backing more expensive highway expansions that served commuters and removed Milwaukee properties.
I defer today to local writer Jeramey Jannene's authoritative account of the project and Council vote posted at the Urban Milwaukee website.
Let's add to that history.

I've noted often that the Wisconsin GOP, in league with right-wing talk radio and narrow-minded suburban politicians, repeatedly sacrificed transit-oriented development to score partisan, political points and remain loyal to their highway-building and petroleum-supplying donors.

And whether it's conscious or not, I believe that some suburban pols and anti-urban ideologues historically and repeatedly undermined the city - - dating to the mid-50's promotion and passage of the so-called Oak Creek law by the Legislature which banned further Milwaukee expansion via annexation - - because they preferred a regional narrative and reality that included a city weakened by transit disconnects.

A city separated through frozen borders from more affluent, less-diverse municipalities that at times deployed discriminatory zoning codes which fed and reinforced their prejudices against cities, and Milwaukee in particular:

From 2017:

Wisconsin GOP officials have for years blocked a variety of rail lines and transit services that could have helped create jobs, connect them to desperately-needed development and boost our sluggish, low-wage state economy
*  I noted yesterday how right-wing GOP WI Governor Scott Walker's foolish blockade of an Amtrak extension from SE Wisconsin to Madison and the rest of Midwestern inter-city rail expansion removed development-based rail connections which would have fed potential employment for high-tech Foxconn should it build a mega-factory in Racine County:
Right-wing GOP WI Governor and shallow ideologue Scott Walker for the narrowest of partisan and self-serving political motives wiped out the federally-funded Hiawatha Amtrak connection between Madison and Milwaukee and south through Racine County to Chicago.
* [GOP Assembly Speaker Robin] Vos got the 2011 legislature to ban regional transit authorities, (RTAs), a move, by the way,  which has effectively blocked the construction of a commuter rail line (the KRM), linking Kenosha, Racine (Vos' home county) and Milwaukee counties, thus denying his own constituents rail services that also were to include an easy transfer to Chicago's METRA commuter service.
The KRM would have been a great selling point to Foxconn.
 As I wrote in 2012, after Vos made his move against the RTA's:
Wisconsin legislators, with the full support of the Waukesha County delegations, used the 2011-2013 state budget to wipe out cooperative, cross-jurisdictional Regional Transit Authorities, which affirmed the anti-transit, anti-Milwaukee position taken by Waukesha's County Board when it refused to join such a body that could have more closely aligned services with Milwaukee.
If Foxconn were to build a 10,000-employee factory in Racine County, there would be a need for extensive transit coordination among Racine, Kenosha, Milwaukee counties to help move unprecedented numbers of people in and out of the Racine area.
The very regional transit authorities Vos helped kill are the perfect method for that coordination, and also provide transit options, new development and business opportunities at stations, transfer points and along routes themselves.
It's called common sense, or transit oriented development.
From 2016:
...Walker has long been a champion of spending more than $6 billion on the freeway system in the Milwaukee area which keeps the region heavily segregated by race and income by routinely omitting transit upgrades that could help Milwaukee workers in a city land-locked by state law connect with jobs and other opportunities in the suburbs.
I also want to remind readers of Walker's disinterest in and outright hostility to Milwaukee job creation when he was a GOP state legislator representing suburban Wauwatosa and, later, as Milwaukee County Executive:
From his legislative perch, Walker sided with other suburban politicians and killed and helped kill a light rail system in Milwaukee that would have provided construction work, plus housing and business development at stations and along the rail corridors - - a job-creating phenomenon which has occurred in other cities when light rail was built and expanded.
From 2013, about the Amtrak extension and Tango train plant Walker killed:
5/29/2012: Officials at a Racine meeting say loss of the Talgo train facility will harm Chicago-Milwaukee corridor development.
Turning down $810 million for high-speed rail and not honoring the state's contract with Talgo is killing job creation in the Milwaukee-Chicago corridor. Focusing so heavily on roadways is a "path to nowhere," Racine Mayor John Dickert said... 
What our region needs, he continued, is a complete intermodal system so the region resembles that of other communities with healthy mass transit systems. 
"Look at Minneapolis or Seattle, they're both growing," Dickert continued. "In Iowa, they've seen $1 billion in economic development because of one leg of a commuter train line. We could be like that, too.
From 2010
...Walker does not see urban or high-speed rail... as vehicles to move people through congested areas, or stimulate investment along the corridors or at stations, or to employ people or offer transportation choices here or in a large regional economy.
Hence his long fight against the Milwaukee downtown streetcar - - a fight that ultimately cost the County $10 million in federal funds for buses that Walker likes.
From this op-ed of mine in 2008
A starter light rail system was recommended for Milwaukee County in a major state-funded regional transportation study in the 1990s that had considerable public and private sector support.
But conservative AM talk radio and opposition in Waukesha County blocked further study of light rail for Milwaukee, even though $241 million in federal funds was set aside specifically for transit improvements in Milwaukee County.
Had plans unfolded on schedule, the starter light rail, with an estimated 21,000 riders on weekdays, would have opened in 2006 and run about 10 miles from the Third Ward to Summerfest, downtown, Miller Park, the Milwaukee County Zoo and the County Grounds.
Talk about a missed opportunity....
The system would have benefited from the city's condo-and-loft boom, a resurgent Milwaukee Brewers' ball club, the successful Potawatomi Bingo Casino and an expanding Milwaukee Regional Medical Center.
Extensions to Milwaukee's north side and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee would have generated support, and light rail could have assisted Waukesha County commuters because years of Zoo Interchange and I-94 reconstruction are planned west of Milwaukee.


Democurmudgeon said...

Wow, that was the best compilation of lost Walker transit news I've seen and spent hours trying to find. Seeing it all listed provides an easy answer as to why we're still muddling along in jobs and business development.

James Rowen said...

Thanks. Glad it was helpful.

Jake formerly of the LP said...

Also note that Amazon just said this week that one of the reasons it couldn't consider Detroit was its lack of transit options. Which means Milwaukee has ZERO chance of getting those headquarters, or anything close to it (as any of us paying attention already knew). Heck, we can't even get people transported down to Foxconn.

On the flip side, Amazon just announced corporate expansions in Boston, Seattle and Minneapolis, all of whom have robust rail transit.

It doesn't happen in a vacuum, folks.