Thursday, July 19, 2007

Light Rail and Milwaukee

Eugene over at From Where I Sit has weighed in on this morning's editorial in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about the ongoing light rail debate in Milwaukee. This post started as a comment on his blog, but I decided to post it here due to length.

A lot of the arguements for and against transit here in Milwaukee are the same ones that were floated in Minneapolis, before then-Minnesota governor Jesse Venture made light rail in that city a reality. To this day, the light rail is exceeding it's anticipated ridership, and the question of expansion is not if, but when. I suspect the city's layout has a hand in the success of that line, but I will say that it is extremely convenient and useful to residents there. My sister and brother in law have only been using one of their two cars in the time since they moved to a house near the light rail line (she works downtown, at the university), saving them money every month on parking, gas, and maintenance, not to mention she can do a host of other things while she rides the train. So much so, in fact, they are considering selling their second car, thereby freeing up their garage, and saving some money on their car insurance every month.

I'm not claiming to have all the answers to Milwaukee's transit woes, but I will say that Scott Walker needs to give light rail a fair chance, and Tom Barrett needs to let go of his idea of a three mile loop to nowhere downtown. I've said it before and I'll say it again: if we build a light rail that actually goes somewhere, and makes it easier and less stressful for people to get to work, it will be used, and it will be used a lot.

1 comment:

steveegg said...

BWAHAHAHAHA!!!! Thanks for the morning laugh.

Now that I've got that out of my system, allow me to retort. I'll lay odds that Minneapolis wasn't running a bus on that route that your sister uses; thus, that line is simply soaking up whatever riders that would have used the bus. The MCTS buses, on the other hand, go almost everywhere in Milwaukee County, with the exceptions of the majority of Oak Creek and Franklin (and those two communities are growing quite nicely without mass transit, thank you very much).

As for the "convenience" argument, mass transit, be it buses, light rail, heavy commuter rail, Chicago's El trains, or subway systems, is only convenient for those that both live and travel to destinations on or very near the line. There barely is enough population density to support a heavily-subsidized bus system; there is neither the population nor the money to support rail.

Along those lines, it's far easier and cheaper to change a bus route if the planners miscalculate how "much" it would be utilized than it is to change a rail route. All you have to do with buses is print a new route map and move the signs, while with rail you have to rip up more streets and construct more track (and optionally, rip out the now-unutilized track).

One more thing; when (if) the new transportation system fails, a rail-based system would be a complete loss. Not only would every street the tracks either are on or cross have to be reconstructed to remove the tracks (and overhead wires), but there isn't exactly a huge market for used light rail cars. At least with "express buses", there is a larger market for used equipment.