Streetcars would improve quality of life in Milwaukee

    One of the many things I truly love about Milwaukee is its commitment to its past and its steady, although sometimes too slow and sure, movement through its innovative present and onward to its future.

    Streetcars, no doubt, are a testament to a city’s past but also to its success. Look at any modern, successful city and nearly all have integrated transportation systems that involve roads, sidewalks, highways, rail, streetcars, bikes, busses and more. 

    Milwaukee’s lagged way behind in the past 30 years, but now it’s poised to move forward in the transportation game. I know some cry about the costs. Honestly, its infrastructure that we need. I live downtown and rarely use the Marquette Interchange, but I pay for it and see its need. Sidewalks, roads and highways – they don’t “make money” but they do provide quality-of-life that we must have in greater Milwaukee.

    I also realize that we can battle back and forth on ridership. Projections, though, show that Milwaukee’s 3.6-mile modern streetcar line is estimated to generate daily ridership of 3,800 passengers, a level that exceeds the ridership of all 11 MCTS Freeway Flyer routes and 12 of the 29 MCTS regular routes.

    All numbers aside, it’s time once and for all to put petty politics behind and improve transportation in Milwaukee.

    Transportation isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue; it’s a simple, quality-of-life matter. 

    So, here are my 8 reasons why you should look forward to the new streetcar system in downtown Milwaukee

    It connects destinations and enhances connections.
    Milwaukee’s downtown has a fairly large footprint, and doesn’t easily lend itself to simple and walkable solutions. The streetcars will connect destinations and Downtown neighborhoods in a way that busses, roads and sidewalks can’t. 

    Face it; bus routes aren’t easy to remember.
    Nothing against MCTS, but visitors from near and far don’t take the bus. They do, though, expect an easy way to get around. Streetcars accomplish this while also providing a level of safety, accessibility, cleanliness and convenience. 

    Retail follows residential as development follows transit.
    Why do large retailers locate at highway exits? Density and convenience. Same goes for downtown transit, development follows transit.

    Streetcars add vitality and innovation to our downtown neighborhood settings, while increasing commerce and activity around every one of the fixed stations and stops. 

    A to B.
    Again, you wouldn’t or couldn’t take a bus from the Bradley Center to the Third Ward. And unless you’re super ambitious you probably don’t walk this trip either. But, after a game you want to get to the action in the Third Ward so streetcars offer high capacity, easy boarding and simple A to B travel. 

    New tax base.
    Projections show that economic development potential within 1/4-mile buffer of the initial route and extensions over the next 20 years could generate approximately $3.35 billion in new tax base. 

    Downtown needs to connect to other areas of the city.
    Check out this map. And, now think about the connections and opportunity for job growth. It’s easy to see.

    It’s fun.
    You can’t underestimate that fun factor. And, the “talk about it” factor. People love streetcars and they talk about them and enjoy them. Admit it, you told friends that you rode the trolley in San Francisco or the cable car in Dubuque.  It’s free marketing and affordable fun. Great cities need both and Milwaukee shouldn’t miss out.

    Let’s look forward to innovative and integrated transit, Milwaukee.  Onward and On Milwaukee!

    Jeff Sherman is the president of, a media partner of BizTimes Milwaukee.

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