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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Aug. 1, 2014

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Readers Blog: OnMilwaukee.com Intern Team: Sean Mahon

To Streetcar or Not To Streetcar ... That is the question.

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Well? There it is, at the surface. From a Milwaukeean standpoint, what's not to like? A convenient, easy and accessible way to go from Point A to Point B. A way to go from Miller Park to UWM. A way to go from the lake to the bars of Old World Third Street. A way to go from Marquette to Brady Street. And a way to go from the Third Ward to the Fifth Ward. Sounds good to me. It'd be incredible to have a streetcar. Let's face the facts, the buses get the job done, but aren't all that efficient -- from a time and environmental standpoint -- and a streetcar would certainly embrace tourism. As a college student, I've run into my unfair share of problems with the buses, from the buses flat out driving by me (yes, I was at the right stop) to complications on the bus, to brutal traffic down Wisconsin Avenue, to the re-routing of buses at seemingly random times (Sorry, MCTS). A streetcar in an urban area would further develop our city of Milwaukee and help serve as a catalyst for the economy here. More tourism, and weekend visits around the area to music outlets, theaters, clubs, sports venues, bars and all of your hotspots would come true. And it would be great for a somewhat quiet city come the winter months. Not to mention, the streetcars promote the rave that is "going green!" It would be the ultimate "promotion" for Milwaukee as it could become a city icon.

So what are the drawbacks? Well, primarily the millions of dollars it takes to build and upkeep such a project. In my opinion, a biased one at that, if Milwaukee wants to take steps in being more tourist-friendly and move forward, a streetcar would go a long way in doing just that. But that's where the problems stem: Where would the streetcar go exactly? Would it expand to all the hot spots? Would it really be convenient, easy and accessible? While I am in favor (and awe) of the idea of Milwaukee receiving a street car, the reality is that it may be easier in theory than ... reality. The fact of the matter is that the streetcar must be an alternative to buses; I don't think it can wipe the buses out completely. Will the streetcar be all that reliable or faster than buses? And as the economic model always ponders, do the costs exceed the benefits? If they do, the streetcar won't be a great addition. And last but not least, do we have a big enough population that will be utilizing this new attraction? Unfortunately, I don't have my handy dandy notebook of Milwaukee County Bus statistics to prove or disprove this question, so only time (or bulletproof accurate stats comparing other city's streetcars, population and Milwaukee County Transit County bus riders) would tell. And that would be the ultimate answer whether or not Milwaukee needs a streetcar.

A street car would bring a shot of San Francisco to Milwaukee. It would raise the city up a league and bring a new brand of "class" to Milwaukee and Wisconsin as a whole. It'd be going from driving your perfectly satisfactory '98 Toyota Corolla car, to a nice brand new Lexus I.S. sedan (with that new car smell, leather seats and seemingly useless yet 100 percent amazing seat warmers). It's comparing your old useful Walkman player to the latest iPod with an app for every need you've ever imagined. It's like the Wayne's World sequel: Awesomely excellent, but not necessarily needed. I believe if the street car is efficiently engineered and placed in the right locations, it would be a wild success and accomplishment for the city. The underlying significance of a streetcar would be the economical benefits (from both a tourism standpoint to a local Milwaukee perspective) it brings to the city. So, the question we must keep in mind is ... If we build, will they (surely) come? 

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