Alderman Nic Kovac said it well: "We don't need a Downtown streetcar now, we needed it 10 years ago."
Indeed, Milwaukee is behind the modern transportation times. We don't effectively connect our highly populated areas to jobs, and we haven't used fixed-guideway transit and streetcars as tools to help focus and direct economic development.
We haven't, yet. But, we are or better yet soon will. And, it's about time.
All things, though, happen as they should and as Milwaukee gets closer and closer to realizing the economic potential of a streetcar system it's time to think of this project for what it is – a part of an integrated, modern transportation system that includes roads, cars, buses, trolleys, rail, bikes, trails and more.
The streetcar isn't just about Downtown Milwaukee either. It's a start, though and it's a natural place to start since Downtown is the economic heart of the state of Wisconsin. More than 80,000 people work in greater Downtown, and more than 15,000 people live there, 5.5 million visit Downtown every year and while the land in the area accounts for only two percent of the City of Milwaukee, Downtown has nearly 14 percent of the city's tax base.
So, here's the deal. This month preliminary engineering will be completed for a fixed guideway rail two-mile streetcar line from the lower East Side of Milwaukee to the Intermodal Station.
The streetcars will supplement bus lines and connect Downtown destinations. It's what you expect in a modern city like Milwaukee and it's similar to what Cincinnati, St. Louis, Charlotte, Atlanta, Portland, Seattle and countless others have already done or are doing.
Operation could begin as early as fall of 2014 providing a new perspective on quality transit for our area. If you don't ride the bus, you'll ride these and so will your mom.
Why's mom important? Simple. The Mom Test. If your mom can use a product, item or service then it's easy, right and good. Simple, yes and it's not a cut on my mom or yours but let's be real, some people just don't or won't take the bus but will take fixed rail because it's permanent, new and frankly more fun. Fixed routes are easily to learn/understand than numbered bus routes. But, remember, the Milwaukee streetcar won't compete with the bus, it will complement. A rise in transportation tides lifts all boats, if you will.
The streetcar also will shape the brand and identity of Milwaukee. Go to any city. They all have buildings, people, stores, etc. People talk about what's new, what got them from here to there. The Milwaukee streetcar will do this, and more.
The streetcar is about economic development and building a more sociable area. We already are a very sociable city, but it's hard to get from one part of town to another without a car. And today, people expect to have this option.
Jim Peters, president of the Responsible Hospitality Institute, put it well when he said, "What distinguishes one community from another are the people and the opportunity to share food, drink, music, and dance in safe and convenient venues. It is the social connectivity and relationships that make life worth living and that define a vibrant community.
"Sociable cities attract conventions, tourists, residents, and a creative class of talented professionals who provide an economic base that helps emerging industries that are clean and sustainable. Planning for people in a 24/7 economy requires adaptation and efficient management of resources through common vision, communication and collaboration."
Portland, Ore., has seen $3.5 billion in new investment since its line opened in 2001. More than 10,000 new housing units and 5.4 million square feet of office, retail and hotel have been constructed within two blocks of its streetcar route. Think of what the streetcar will do in Milwaukee!
Transportation isn't political, or as I've written before, it shouldn't be. This is development 101. This is our economic heart getting a new engine. So get on board, the future's going to be fun.
A life-long and passionate community leader and Milwaukeean, Jeff Sherman is a co-founder of OnMilwaukee.
He grew up in Wauwatosa and graduated from Marquette University, as a Warrior. He holds an MBA from Cardinal Stritch University, and is the founding president of Young Professionals of Milwaukee (YPM)/Fuel Milwaukee.
Early in his career, Sherman was one of youngest members of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, and currently is involved in numerous civic and community groups - including board positions at The Wisconsin Center District, Wisconsin Club and Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. He's honored to have been named to The Business Journal's "30 under 30" and Milwaukee Magazine's "35 under 35" lists.
He owns a condo in Downtown and lives in greater Milwaukee with his wife Stephanie, his son, Jake, and daughter Pierce. He's a political, music, sports and news junkie and thinks, for what it's worth, that all new movies should be released in theaters, on demand, online and on DVD simultaneously.
He also thinks you should read OnMilwaukee each and every day.