"Subways are the hope for the world." At least that is what my mother told me before I left Milwaukee for New York City, after graduating four years ago.
There are so many practical reasons why commuter rail and street car systems are a good idea, from economic to environmental; all of which have been clearly illuminated by the supporters of the KRM (Kenosha Racine Milwaukee) line. However, what often lacks from the discussion is a basic humanistic approach.
To explain, I work for the Brooklyn Borough President, the executive political officer for the borough of Brooklyn in New York City, and I take public transportation – the subway. Each working day of the week, I walk from my home to the subway station three blocks away, or approximately a quarter mile. On my way to borough hall, I pass a grandmother and her autistic grandchild who waves to me every morning as he waits for the bus outside their apartment building.
I then cut through the small concrete playground and give encouragement to two young women who are performing their morning calisthenics. Then I grab my cup of coffee that is waiting for me at the local deli in front of the entrance to the subway: black, no sugar and piping hot, just the way I like it.
Right before I enter the subway, there is a gentleman, Charles, in his 50s, who waits just outside the station every morning and greets commuters with a smile and an enthusiastic "Hello." No one knows what he does, but he is a local and is always there. Hey, this is New York, don’t ask questions!
This experience is real and it happens all over the world in cities, towns and villages that depend on efficient rail networks. High-density developments spring up around rail stations and encourage social and economic interaction amongst patrons and rail encouraged enterprises. Businesses and communities can depend on rail being their in the future and structure investment around pedestrian traffic generated by stations and exchanges.
This efficient, best land use that results from rail development stands in stark contrast to the type of development that results from a car-dependent metropolitan region. The automobile gutted the great cities of the world, literally and psychologically; and especially the Midwest cities not constrained by geography. Sprawl resulted in congestion. And in cities like Milwaukee, sprawl took the very fabric of social interaction from the urban core.
The KRM should be the beginning of a push to bring an efficient and fixed public transit network back to the southeastern Wisconsin region. Why not build commuter lines running north along Interstate 43 and west along I-94? Or, as in the case of Atlanta, Ga..’s new Beltline project, refurbish our old, and underutilized freight lines that run through the Menomonee River Valley and brewery valley to serve as new transit-oriented development corridors?
It is possible that with vision, conviction and intelligent planning that instead of your typical southeastern Wisconsin commuter getting up, walking half a step to the garage, driving to work alone, parking at work and never once speaking with or interacting with a single other human being (angry talk radio hosts don’t count), we can experience what city dwellers were meant to experience – other people.
Andrew Steininger is the community assistance specialist at the Office of the Brooklyn Borough President in Brooklyn, N.Y. He is a former Wisconsin resident. He is responding to previous Milwaukee Biz Blogs about the proposed KRM (Kenosha Racine Milwaukee) rail project.