How To Get A Streetcar System In Jacksonville

July 26, 2011 34 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Milwaukee provides us with a step-by-step blueprint for implementing a streetcar line in less than five years. What excuse can we come up with now to continue to do nothing to improve fixed-transit connectivity and bring economic redevelopment to downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods?

About The Milwaukee Connector Streetcar Project

The downtown Milwaukee Streetcar is a two mile starter Streetcar system being recommended to connect the heart of the central business district with the Milwaukee Intermodal Station and high-density residential areas just north of downtown. The Streetcar would provide many benefits, including increased mobility, enhanced multimodal connections and economic development.

The initial system will have five vehicles powered by an overhead electric contact system. The vehicles operate in mixed traffic with 10-minute headways throughout most of the day and 15-minute headways during early morning and late evening hours. The vehicles would be modern low-floor Streetcars similar to those operating in the City of Portland. The initial route would have 12 station pairs strategically located within walking distance to numerous parking structures to facilitate Milwaukee's "Park Once" concept.

Two route extensions that would add 1.55 miles and seven stations to the initial route are also recommended. The 4th Street extension would connect the Intermodal Station and several large entertainment venues within the Park East and Brewery redevelopment areas. The Prospect/Farwell extension would provide Lower East Side residents and the Brady Street commercial district with a direct connection to downtown. Service characteristics would be identical to the initial system, however, the additional route length would require one more Streetcar vehicle to maintain the planned headways. Federal funding under the Exempt Discretionary Program Grants (Section 5309) for Urban Circulator Systems is being requested to implement the extensions. If funding is approved, the goal would be to implement the extensions concurrently with the initial route.

Goals & Objectives

General goals established for the Streetcar include:

• Improving transit mobility to and between key residential, employment and activity centers.

• Developing a connector system that is economical and efficient.

• Increasing transit use.

• Supporting and enhancing economic development.

• Improving transit service to help attract conventions, tourists and residents.

• Preserving and protecting the environment.

Within the framework of the general goals, specific objectives of the Streetcar include, among others:

• Improving transit access to key origins and destinations.

• Providing a downtown core system that can be expanded in the future to provide a larger, more effective transit network.

• Maximizing transit accessibility and choices for residents, employees and visitors.

• Providing transit service between residential areas and job centers.

• Providing transit options for people that depend on transit.

• Promoting transit-oriented developments.

• Providing intermodal connections.

• Integrating way-finding to enhance the pedestrian environment.

• Serving existing development and planned developments.

• Contributing to job creation.

• Promoting the "Park Once" concept for downtown visitors.

Why Streetcar?

"This is about development. This is about growing our tax base." - Milwaukee Mayor Barrett.

Why the Milwaukee Streetcar?

Milwaukee has world-class corporations, cultural attractions, educational institutions and architecture. Soon, Milwaukee will have a world-class fixed transit network. The Milwaukee Streetcar system will project an image of a modern and forward-thinking city that will help attract outside investment, business and talent.

The Milwaukee Streetcar will:

• Spur significant economic development because the infrastructure created by a fixed route provides a framework for making investment decisions, as experienced in every city that has built a streetcar system.

• Strengthen and promote downtown Milwaukee as the premier office and business location in the region, creating and providing access to jobs for Milwaukee residents.

• Connect commuters and visitors arriving via high-speed rail, commuter rail and regional bus service at the Milwaukee Intermodal Station to jobs and attractions in Milwaukee.

• Expand the tax base through new development, new and expanded businesses and higher occupancy rates, resulting in a lower tax burden for everyone and allowing important city services to continue.
• Tap into the potential of underutilized properties by making connections to important residential, business and cultural centers.

• Attract and retain young talent needed to grow Milwaukee’s economy, support the creative class and fuel a culture of entrepreneurship.

• Provide a new perspective on quality transit in Milwaukee, encourage people who previously did not see themselves as transit patrons to consider using all forms of transit and establish excellent transit as an important aspect of a high quality of life.

• Establish a successful initial system that will allow for practical expansions in the future as funding allows and market demand dictates. Without this start, a modern, fixed-rail transit system that connects people to jobs and daily needs will never expand city-wide.

• Shape the brand and identity of Milwaukee, which has been established as an important city-wide priority and will attract residents, businesses, visitors and investors.

• Provide an environmentally responsible transportation alternative that is energy-efficient, quiet, clean, comfortable and has the potential to use renewable, locally created, energy sources.

• Increase the overall economic activity in downtown Milwaukee, serving as a demand generator for hotels, retail, office and housing, as experienced in every city that has built a streetcar system.

Rocky Marcoux, commissioner of city development, called the streetcar line "a city-building tool" that would give developers the confidence to invest in buildings along the route. Consultant Wallace White, a former sewerage district chief and onetime streetcar operator, said streetcars are "pedestrian accelerators" that bring more customers past storefront windows and ultimately drive retail business.

Planning Timeline

Mayor Tom Barrett first proposed the streetcar line in 2007. Last year, a study committee voted to advance the project into preliminary engineering. Design is now 30% complete.

Job Creation

With the extensions, the project would create 625 construction jobs and 455 jobs at suppliers, plus 35 operating jobs. Milwaukee Composites President Jeff Kober drew applause by promising to donate the streetcar floors his company could produce.

Economic Development

The Streetcar project is a critical element in Milwaukee's efforts to promote economic development downtown and along the route. In fact, fostering economic development is one of the primary goals of the project established at the onset of the Alternatives Analysis. The City identified vacant and underutilized parcels in the study area and evaluated alternatives alignments based on, among other factors, their proximity to these parcels under the recognition that fixed guideway transit service will promote transit-oriented development and/or more dense development.

Economic development potential within 1/4-mile buffer of the initial route and extensions over the next 20 years could generate approximately:

• 9,000 new housing units (63% increase)
• 13,500 new residents (55% increase)
• 1,000,000 square feet of new occupied retail space (31% increase)
• 4,000,000 SF of new occupied office space (28% increase)
• 20,500 new jobs (23% increase)
• $3.35 billion in new tax base

Strengthening Urban Connectivity

The development of a successful Streetcar starter system is the foundation for future route additions and expansions. The locally preferred route alternative can be easily expanded to nearby neighborhoods and destinations. This future extension map shows the potential for extensions that build upon the proposed starter system.

An important focus of the Streetcar project has been to enhance existing and proposed transit in Milwaukee. Connecting to the Milwaukee Intermodal Station on St. Paul Avenue has been an important component of this focus. The station currently serves approximately 1.4 million existing annual users with service provided by AMTRAK, regional bus service and Milwaukee County Transit. The enhanced Milwaukee to Chicago rail service and proposed new High Speed Rail service between Milwaukee and Madison (operational in 2013) will further increase activity at the Intermodal Station. The proposed Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail service will introduce additional users as well. The Intermodal Station's current capacity could more than triple over the next decade to more than 3 million users. The preferred Streetcar route will connect these additional transit users to downtown and nearby destinations, hotels, jobs, attractions, homes and businesses.

Estimated Project Costs

Capital Costs
The streetcar project would be financed by $54.9 million in long-idle federal transit aid and $9.7 million from a tax-incremental financing district set up for the Cathedral Place mixed-use development. City officials plan to seek federal aid to extend the line to E. Brady St. and to the Pabst Brewery redevelopment, boosting the total project cost to $104.8 million.

Annual Operations & Maintenance
The estimated annual operations cost for the initial route is $2.62 million and $3.85 million for the initial route and route extensions. The annual operating costs are intended to be financed through the City's parking fund, farebox revenue, and state and federal transit aid; however, if a new dedicated revenue source for an RTA is approved by the State Legislature, the operating costs for the Streetcar should be financed by that source.

Who Will Operate The Streetcar?

Milwaukee's new intermodal transportation center will soon include streetcars as well.

A local transit provider under the direction of a Regional Transit Authority (RTA) is the preferred owner/operator for the Streetcar. Such an authority may be available to operate the proposed Streetcar prior to project completion. However, until the RTA option is feasible, the City of Milwaukee will be the owner and operator of the Streetcar. It is anticipated that the City would contract for system operation and maintenance.

Overcoming Opposition

The $54.6 million in federal aid that would be used for the streetcar was originally part of $289 million appropriated for a Milwaukee-area transit project in late 1991. Since then, Congress has taken back $48 million and state and local officials have agreed to use $149.5 million for other transportation projects, while rejecting plans for a bus-only highway, a light rail system, bus and car-pool lanes on I-94, a guided electric bus system and an express bus network.

Barrett and Gov. Scott Walker, then Milwaukee County executive, deadlocked on the final $91.5 million, with Walker seeking all of it for buses and Barrett pushing to use part of it for streetcars. In 2009, with his fellow Democrats in control of Congress, Barrett pushed through legislation that gave $54.9 million to the city for the streetcar line and $36.6 million to the county for buses.

The city's share cannot be spent on anything other than a streetcar system, Federal Transit Administration chief Peter Rogoff said in a letter to Bauman.

Streetcar Next Steps

“We want to see Milwaukee thrive with increased jobs, an expanded tax base, a revitalized downtown area and a boost to our city’s overall image. It will take cars off the roads, encourage cycling and walking, and will attract creative talent. Milwaukee Streetcar has the power to accomplish these goals. This is just the sort of public investment that our city needs,” wrote the Fowlers and Miller of Alterra.

It's time for Jacksonville to move into the 21st century.

Milwaukee is proving, right before our eyes, that it doesn't take long to implement a streetcar project when city leaders truly buy into the fact that these systems have been proven to stimulate job creation and sustainable economic development.

With the 2030 Mobility Plan and Fee set up to generate the funding to construct Jacksonville's first streetcar line, why not follow Milwaukee's lead in moving quickly from the planning to the implementation phase without raising taxes?

Some photos/graphs courtesy of

Article by Ennis Davis.