Why Improved Public Transportation is Necessary in Milwaukee

Improving public transportation can seriously impact the development (and re-development) of our city. Good quality public transportation that is accessible to Milwaukeeans has the power to bridge gaps in social and economic mobility, improve physical mobility options for those who cannot drive (such as seniors, teenagers, and the disabled), improve our environment and ecological sustainability, reduce traffic congestion, and lower the costs of many public services.

Good Public Transportation can help bridge gaps in social and economic mobility
Poverty is huge in Milwaukee and many poor families do not have access to an automobile. According to the 2000 US Census, there are 29,386 families living in poverty in the Milwaukee area, 81% of them live within the city of Milwaukee. Over 36% of those families do not have access to an automobile. In many of the cities poorest census tracts, over 45% of households do not have access to an automobile.

The majority of new jobs are located in the suburbs, out of the reach of inner city residents who rely on the bus. According to a 2004 report from the UWM Center for Economic Development, only 40.4% of businesses with a “strong hiring projection for entry level workers” are within a one hour bus commute of residents of Milwaukee’s Walnut-Hill neighborhood near the center of Milwaukee’s inner city. According to the report, this number falls to 32.4% for Milwaukee’s Near South Side. This means that almost 70% of all entry level jobs in the Milwaukee area cannot be reached within an hour for many South Side residents without a car!

Public transportation can help improve access to jobs for many Milwaukeeans. Expanded bus service as well as faster transit options such as express bus service or rail transit can give Milwaukeeans access to economic independence and better job opportunities, helping to lower unemployment rates in the city of Milwaukee. Experience with the Metrolink system on Milwaukee’s Northwest Side in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s shows the positive effect improved public transportation can have on job opportunities.

Good Public Transportation can improve the mobility of those unable to drive
Improved transit service can expand the mobility of those who are unable to drive. Many Milwaukeeans, especially the elderly, teenagers, and the disabled rely on the bus to be able to get around. Their current mobility is mostly confined to parts of Milwaukee County and small areas within the cities of Brookfield and Waukesha. Improved and expanded public transportation could allow all Milwaukeeans to have access to our entire metropolitan area, allowing everyone to lead a fuller life. The effects of cuts in transit service have been shown by the responses to this year’s proposed route cuts on the part of people with disabilities and the elderly.

Good public transportation can help improve our environment
Increased public transit use can help decrease air pollution. Public transportation use saved the emission of over 6.9 million metric tonnes of CO2 in the United States in 2005, according to the EPA. This is more than the total emissions of the state of South Dakota that year. According to the APTA, the average commuter can save over 4800 pounds of Co2 emissions a year by riding public transportation instead of driving to work. The Milwaukee area has the most dangerous air pollution in Wisconsin. According to the EPA, there were 24 days between 2001 and 2003 when Milwaukee had unhealthy levels of ground level ozone pollution, caused in large part by particulate matter from automobiles. Ozone is a prime component of smog, which can cause permanent lung damage.

Parking lots and roadways are a major source of run-off water pollution. According to DNR sources, run-off from roadways and parking lots is a large part of the reason why 1/3 of the lakes and rivers in Wisconsin are not considered safe for swimming or fishing. Increased public transportation lessens the need for larger roads and parking lots, thereby helping to control run-off pollution.

Automobile oriented sprawl is destroying undeveloped lands in the Milwaukee area. Automobile oriented sprawl is consuming rural areas in suburban Milwaukee counties. Developments in Waukesha, Ozaukee, and Washington Counties threaten important woodlands, wetlands, and farmlands. Public transportation based smart growth planning could channel growth into areas where it is ecologically sustainable and limit issues with run-off and air pollution through encouraging bicycling, walking, and public transportation in place of automobile usage.

Good quality public transportation can reduce traffic congestion
Expanded public transit can reduce traffic congestion and limit the need for costly freeway expansion. According to a report by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University, without the current level of public transportation in Milwaukee, we would require an extra 29 miles of freeway lanes annually to maintain current congestion levels. According to the report, congestion creates over 23 annual hours of delay for commuters in the Milwaukee area. Expanded freeways are known to have the effect of creating more traffic, and yet the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission’s current regional transportation plan calls for adding over 120 miles of new lanes to Milwaukee-area freeways at a cost of over $6.2 billion. For $6.2 billion, we could build a area-wide commuter rail and streetcar lines, and significantly expand bus service, which would go a long way towards permanently controlling traffic congestion and encouraging smart growth.

Good quality public transportation can lower the cost of providing many public services
Public transportation can help lower the cost of delivering public services and eliminate the need for many public subsidies. Milwaukee area governments regularly spend millions of dollars subsiding parking facilities for new developments and providing aid to those unable to find work. Sprawling, automobile-oriented growth increases these costs. According to the UW-Madison Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Wisconsin residents will have to spend over $4 billion to support expanding public services to new developments between 1996 and 2011. According to the department, Wisconsin could save approximately $25 million a year by promoting compact growth. Good public transportation helps to promote this compact growth by giving people an alternative to automobile usage. By improving our collective mobility, it also helps people get family-supporting jobs and off of state support.