Tag Archives: public transportation

A streetcar named desired

Update Feb. 10: The Milwaukee Common Council approved the streetcar connecting downtown to the lower east side the morning of Feb. 10. 

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Urban areas today are once again thriving engines of economic activity where Americans want to live, work and play. Large numbers of people, especially young people, don’t want to waste time and money on automobile commutes in exchange for a few more square feet of living space in isolated suburbs with strip malls and big-box stores. They prefer to live near where they work and enjoy the amenities that cities offer, including live entertainment, unique restaurants and shops, and a vibrant atmosphere.

That’s certainly the case with Milwaukee, but a key ingredient in the success of other cities is missing: Milwaukee is the most densely populated city in the country without a rail component in its transportation system.

Integrated, multi-modal transportation systems are major contributors to the phenomenal resurgence of urban centers throughout the nation — and the world. These systems utilize and connect with other modes of mass transit — trains, busses and streetcars — that are suitable for different lengths of travel and different areas of population density. For moving people around the most heavily populated areas, nothing beats streetcars.

Streetcars are coordinated to have stops along bus routes, encouraging more use of public transportation and thus less traffic congestion and pollution. Pedestrians, bus riders, train travelers, automobile drivers and bicyclists use the streetcars as a link to their final destinations. Streetcars are also useful to people who only want to park once and then go several places without having to move their cars.

Milwaukee’s proposed streetcar system eventually would cover an extensive area, but it would begin with a $124-million loop route connecting the densest residential neighborhood in the state of Wisconsin (north downtown) with the densest collection of jobs in the state of Wisconsin (east downtown); the loop would also encompass the Third Ward, the Lakefront and the Milwaukee Intermodal Station (Amtrak station). 

According to Rocky Marcoux, commissioner of the department of city development, this starter route reaches 90 percent of major downtown employers and 80 percent of hotel rooms.

Research shows that streetcars are especially desirable to the kind of talented young people who are leaving Wisconsin in droves because of its shrinking educational and employment opportunities. This is one of the grayest states in the country, and it’s growing grayer all the time.

Streetcars have proven to be outstanding economic generators in other cities. They leverage an astounding amount of private sector development activity, which is why the business community supports them so strongly. A major bank or other corporate entity is more likely to develop a downtown building if there’s an easy, convenient way to get people to work without having to build massive parking structures. New shops and restaurants will develop along the streetcar stops, expanding the city’s tax base as well as its amenities.

Milwaukee has been sitting for decades on a $54-million federal grant that can only be used for rail. Mayor Tom Barrett plans to use those funds for the streetcar system and raise additional money through tax incremental districts, so businesses that stand to benefit from the project will pay most of the rest. Money raised in this way helped construct Manpower International headquarters, the Harley-Davidson Museum, the Riverwalk and other projects that have proven vital to the city.

Conservative Ald. Bob Donovan, who clearly fails to grasp this key trend in urban development, is leading the charge against securing the final sources of funding. Contact your city representatives and other elected officials and urge them to quickly build and expand the proposed streetcar system. 

Milwaukee will ride it into the future.

Easy ways to help the planet

Here are some practical ways to observe Earth Day throughout the year.

Turn off electronic devices you are not using and unplug them. Clean and replace the filters on your furnace and air conditioner regularly. Those actions will reduce carbon emissions and your monthly energy bill.

Recycle as many household wastes as possible. Call your local department of public works or your private waste disposal company to learn what they accept. Encourage them and your legislators to expand recycling programs.

Recycle all electronic devices and hazardous wastes properly. TVs, computers, cell phones, etc., contain chemicals harmful to the environment. Contact your public works department or log on to http://cleansweep.wi.gov. This site includes dates and locations of special collections for household, pharmaceutical and other hazardous wastes.

Use alternative forms of transportation whenever possible — biking, car-pooling or public transportation. The Department of Transportation is now seeking public comment on the future of state transportation funding. Post your comments on the WisDOT website or speak out at hearings in Green Bay (May 7), Oshkosh (May 8), West Allis (May 20) or Kenosha (May 21). Google “Transportation Moves Wisconsin” for details.

Have your utility conduct a home energy audit. The results will give you practical ways to bolster insulation and become more energy efficient. Ask your utility about (and urge it to move toward) clean energy options.

Get a solar energy assessment for your home. The technology has become more affordable, with rebates, tax credits and financing available. Solar power cuts your energy costs considerably and does not despoil the planet like gas, coal and nuclear power. The Sierra Club works with H&H Solar Energy Services out of Madison, an experienced, reputable company.

Get politically active and vote. Wisconsin’s 2013–14 legislative session just ended and Mother Earth took more hits from the GOP-controlled Senate and Assembly. The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters will post its biennial scorecard on its website this summer, just in time for voters to see their representatives’ records and to make decisions for the fall elections. Look for the scorecard at: http://conservationvoters.org.

The League has endorsed Democrat Mary Burke for governor over Scott Walker. Its members believe Burke is far more environmentally conscious and will work for renewable, locally-generated energy initiatives; the expansion of organic farming; new technologies for safer handling of livestock waste and wastewater; stricter regulation of sand and open pit mining; and the creation of more clean energy jobs.

Get involved with the League, Clean Wisconsin or the Sierra Club. The websites of each have information about current environmental issues, from mining and industrial farming to water pollution, energy efficiency, nuclear power, and plant and wildlife preservation. All these groups allow you to sign up for alerts, which keep you updated on issues and provide avenues for action.

The Sierra Club has a statewide chapter and a dozen local chapters you can connect with. Visit http://wisconsin.sierraclub.org/about. Sierra Clubs are committed to “explore, enjoy and protect the wild places on earth.” While serving as watchdogs over the environment, they sponsor hiking, canoeing, camping and other adventures that enhance your appreciation for the outdoors and enable you to connect with other nature lovers.

Being an environmentalist isn’t just a long list of “shoulds.” It offers solidarity with other committed people and the satisfaction of knowing you are doing what you can to respect and nurture a livable planet. Get involved today!

Ride on: Public transportation use reaches 57-year high, but not in Wisconsin

Americans took 10.7 billion trips on public transportation in 2013, which is the highest annual public transit ridership number in 57 years.

“Americans in growing numbers want to have more public transit services in their communities,” said American Public Transit Association board chair Peter Varga, who also is the CEO of The Rapid transit system in Grand Rapids, Mich. “Public transportation systems nationwide — in small, medium and large communities — saw ridership increases. Some reported all-time high ridership numbers.”

But the trend didn’t carry over to Wisconsin: Madison’s system reported a slight bump in bus use, an increase of 1.02 percent, but Port Washington reported a decrease of 2.78 percent. Milwaukee reported a decrease of 2.36 percent and Racine’s system reported bus ridership dropped 3.7 percent, according to APTA.

The public transit agencies reporting record ridership in 2013 included Ann Arbor, Mich.; Cleveland; Denver; Espanola, N.M.; Flagstaff, Ariz.; Fort Myers, Fla.; Indianapolis; Los Angeles; New Orleans; Oakland, Calif.; Pompano Beach, Fla.; Riverside, Calif.; Salt Lake City; San Carlos, Calif.; Tampa, Yuma, Ariz.; and New York City.

Ridership was up 37.2 percent since 1995, outpacing population growth, which was up 20.3 percent, and outpacing vehicle miles, which was up 22.7 percent since 1995.

“There is a fundamental shift going on in the way we move about our communities. People in record numbers are demanding more public transit services and communities are benefiting with strong economic growth,” said APTA president and CEO Michael Melaniphy. “Access to public transportation matters. Community leaders know that public transportation investment drives community growth and economic revitalization.”

Another reason behind the ridership increases is the economic recovery in certain areas. When more people are employed, public transportation ridership increases — nearly 60 percent of the trips taken on public transportation are for work commutes, according to the APTA.

In the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’s most recent report, Wisconsin ranked 35th in job creation.

“The federal investment in public transit is paying off and that is why Congress needs to act this year to pass a new transportation bill,” said Melaniphy.

The report showed:

• Bus ridership increased by 3.8 percent in cities with populations below 100,000. Nationally, bus ridership in communities of all sizes remained stable.

• Large bus systems with increases were reported by Washington, D.C., Houston, Cincinnati and Seattle.

• Subway and elevated train ridership increased by 2.8 percent across the country as eight out of 15 transit systems reported increases.

• Commuter rail ridership increased by 2.1 percent across the country, with 20 out of 28 transit systems reporting increases. With a new rail line that opened in December 2012, commuter rail in Salt Lake City saw an increase of 103.3 percent. Meanwhile, double-digit increases were reported in Austin, Texas; Harrisburg-Philadelphia; Anchorage, Alaska; Lewisville, Texas; Stockton, Calif.; Minneapolis, Minn.; and Portland, Ore.

• For light rail — modern streetcars, trolleys and heritage trolleys — ridership increased 1.6 percent in 2013 with 17 out of 27 transit systems reporting increases.

Wisconsin lags

As for public transportation bus trips, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation says there’s been a decline from 76.4 million in 2000 to 65.7 million in 2012. 

Transportation experts cite state funding cuts as a reason for the decline.

Al Stanek, parking and transit systems manager for Racine, said state cuts led the Belle Urban System to raise its fares but reduce its bus service hours by more than 10 percent in two years. “In the middle of the day, we went to buses running just once an hour,” he said. “It’s about the bare minimum you can provide service. If you missed the bus, now you’d be standing out in the cold for an hour, an hour and a half.”

Milwaukee County avoided cuts in bus service with a federal grant that runs out this year, said Brendan Conway, spokesman for Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele. But the county already had been raising fares and cutting services for more than a decade. Buses in the Milwaukee area travel 22 percent fewer miles than they did in 2000.

Wisconsin also discourages commuters with its lack of rail service and rapid transit, said Rob Henken, president of the Public Policy Forum. Rail services showed the biggest gains in riders in the APTA report, he noted.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker killed a high-speed rail project planned under former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle to connect Madison and Milwaukee.

To deal with the decline in service, a group of 15 state senators has introduced bills aimed at improving public transportation in the state. The proposals would:

• Require the DOT to submit a state rail plan every two years.

• Increase state aid for each class of mass transit systems in the state and restore transit cuts made in 2011.

• Require the DOT to establish a transit capital assistance program.

• Increase funding for the specialized transportation assistance program.

Sponsoring state Sen. Mark Miller, D-Monona, said, “Transit plays such a critical role in the vitality of our communities. The direct benefit to public transit users is enormous. For many Wisconsin residents, their only means of getting to a job, to go to a store or to the polls is by public transit.”

The AP contributed to this report.

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Public transportation use reaches 57-year high, but not in Wisconsin

Americans took 10.7 billion trips on public transportation in 2013, which is the highest annual public transit ridership number in 57 years, according to a report released from the American Public Transportation Association.

And for the eighth year in a row more than 10 billion trips were taken on public transportation systems nationwide. Vehicle miles traveled on roads went up 0.3 percent last year, but public transportation use in 2013 increased by 1.1 percent.

“Last year people took 10.7 billion trips on public transportation,” said APTA board chair Peter Varga, who also is the CEO of The Rapid transit system in Grand Rapids, Mich. “As the highest annual ridership number since 1956, Americans in growing numbers want to have more public transit services in their communities. Public transportation systems nationwide — in small, medium and large communities – saw ridership increases. Some reported all-time high ridership numbers.”

Public transit agencies reporting record ridership in 2013 included Ann Arbor, Mich.; Cleveland, Denver, Espanola, New Mexico; Flagstaff, Ariz.; Fort Myers, Fla.; Indianapolis, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Oakland, Calif.; Pompano Beach, Fla.; Riverside, Calif.; Salt Lake City, San Carlos, Calif.; Tampa, Yuma, Ariz.; and  New York City.

Ridership, according to the survey, is up 37.2 percent since 1995, outpacing population growth, which is up 20.3 percent, and outpacing vehicle miles, which is up 22.7 percent since 1995.

“There is a fundamental shift going on in the way we move about our communities. People in record numbers are demanding more public transit services and communities are benefiting with strong economic growth,” said APTA president and CEO Michael Melaniphy. “Access to public transportation matters. Community leaders know that public transportation investment drives community growth and economic revitalization.”

Another reason behind the ridership increases is the economic recovery in certain areas. When more people are employed, public transportation ridership increases — nearly 60 percent of the trips taken on public transportation are for work commutes, according to the APTA. “The federal investment in public transit is paying off and that is why Congress needs to act this year to pass a new transportation bill,” said Melaniphy.

The report showed:

• Subway and elevated train ridership increased by 2.8 percent across the country as 8 out of 15 transit systems reported increases.  

• Commuter rail ridership increased by 2.1 percent in 2013 across the country, with 20 out of 28 transit systems reporting increases.  With a new rail line that opened in December 2012, commuter rail in Salt Lake City, saw an increase of 103.3 percent. The following five commuter rail systems saw double digit increases in 2013: Austin, Texas; Harrisburg-Philadelphia; Anchorage, Alaska; Lewisville, Texas; Stockton, Calif.; Minneapolis, Minn.; and Portland, Ore.

• Light rail — modern streetcars, trolleys, and heritage trolleys — ridership increased 1.6 percent in 2013 with 17 out of 27 transit systems reporting increases.

• Bus ridership increased by 3.8 percent in cities with a population of below 100,000. Nationally, bus ridership in communities of all sizes remained stable, declining by 0.1 percent.

• Large bus systems with increases were reported from Washington, D.C., Houston, Cincinnati, and Seattle.

For Wisconsin, the results were mixed: Madison’s system reported a slight bump in use, an increase of 1.01 percent overall. Port Washington reported an increase of 1.47 percent. Milwaukee, however, reported a decrease of use — 2.39 percent overall. Racine’s system reported ridership dropped 4.28 percent.