Saturday, March 14, 2009

Tom Barrett gets his trolley, Milwaukee citizens get a new source of constant irritation

Hand Tommy some paper towel, he needs to clean up.

Modern streetcars resemble light rail vehicles, but are smaller and less expensive. Otherwise, they spur the same kind of debate as light rail: Supporters say a fixed rail system stimulates economic development and provides a transportation option that is attractive to both visitors and residents, while opponents say it's too costly and isn't as flexible as a bus line.

As envisioned by Barrett, the streetcars would run in a three-mile loop that links downtown destinations to the Amtrak-Greyhound station. It would connect not only with existing trains and buses but also tie in with proposals for commuter rail and high-speed trains.

That loop could be viewed as a starter system that could be expanded later, said Barrett and Ald. Bob Bauman, another supporter.

"Once you have something in the ground, the debate will change from 'This is the end of Western civilization as we know it' to 'How do we get this line extended to Miller Park,' " the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and other destinations, Barrett said. That has been the pattern in other cities where light rail lines became popular despite the controversy that preceded them, he noted.

Unfortunately for Milwaukee citizens and visitors, the very thing that make the trolley the choice of Barrett and Baumann, were the things that doomed Milwaukee's early street car system. Steel rails will make the trolley a permanent fixture in Milwaukee, fulfilling their dreams of a metropolitan rail system. But those same rails will mean noise, uncomfortable rides, and delays for other vehicles on Milwaukee's street.

Claim as they will that their trolley is a "modern" form of transportation, their system will have all the features that led to the demise of Milwaukee's earlier streetcar system, 60 years ago.

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