Public speaks out on streetcars

Streetcar 4617, recently donated at no cost to Kenosha Transit, is towed by one of the city’s existing streetcars. /Earlene Frederick photo

At Monday afternoon’s Transit Commission, Ron Iwen, transit director, and other members of the Transit Department heard from the public on their views on the proposed streetcar expansion.  The city’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) includes $10.2 million for the proposed expansion of the streetcar over the next two years.  The project, which would have all but $2 million of its costs covered by federal funding, could extend the streetcar through downtown with a track going south on Eighth Avenue and north on Sixth Avenue from 50th Street to Library Park.

Several people were concerned about traffic congestion and traffic jams which might be caused by the slow movement of the streetcars in the traffic lane of the street.  Iwen said that “mass transit hauls more people faster than cars.  At Bradford High School, it took 68 seconds to dump 70 students.  This will not cause congestion.”

Ken Hebior, who owns Holly Henderson Interior Design located at 4908 Seventh Avenue, said that people have to come into town to ride the streetcar.  A transit system only works in densely populated areas.  People have to drive here to get on it.  It’s causing more problems and traffic.”  Iwen disagreed.  “We have six or seven parking lots in the city which are underutilized.  We are working to educate the public on where the parking lots are with the new signage that’s coming.”

Iwen mentioned the Kenosha Area Business Alliance (KABA) study.  He said that the survey results pointed to the fact that 92% of the business owners want the added loop.  Hebior stated that he “pays into the Business Improvement District (BID), and no one asked me.”

The residents of Library Park who were present spoke out against the proposed north/south route extension of the streetcars.  Mary Dixon said that she “couldn’t fathom putting street car tracks around Library Square, how it would round the corners.  There are four lanes on Sixth Avenue, two for parking, and two to drive on.  How will a person parallel park?” she said.

Merike Phillips, also a property owner in Library Square and a member of the Historic Preservation Commission, said that she loves the trolley.  She said that she rode it today.  “It was empty, but it was wonderful, picturesque, and colorful.”  However, she spoke on several flaws that she saw in the Lakota Group’s plans, including the wires and poles every 80 feet along the route, and the hazardous conditions for bike riders.  The fact that the plan calls for “only ten feet for cars was not enough,” she said.  “At least fifteen feet is needed.  Also, I was floored when I saw the plans.  They will travel in front of historic homes, mine included,” she said.  She suggested that possibly there were other ways that the downtown area could be helped, like providing free tokens, promoting trolley events, etc.

Another woman said that people pay $1 for a trolley ride.  “If it’s supposed to be such a draw for people to come to the downtown area, why not charge $2, $3, or $4 for a ride?  Or, possibly provide a weekend pass?”  Iwen state that streetcar fares were doubled three years ago.  “Possibly, once the expansion is in, we can raise the fares.  The money being received is for capital expenditures.  There is not a lot of operational money out there.  I am always looking for more money.  What makes it good is that it’s 80/20 money.  Eighty percent (80%) comes from the federal government, and twenty percent (20%) has to come from the city.  There are no added costs for the streetcars unless we add hours.”

Kathy Brand asked if money set aside for the streetcar could be used to increase bus service.  Iwen said that the money cannot be transferred to other work.

A question was raised about the streetcar ridership.  Iwen said that 50,000 people ride the streetcars annually, which equates to about 800 a week.  “And, remember,” said Iwen, “that the streetcars don’t run on the weekdays during January and February.  And, in March, we run on reduced hours, only four hours on Mondays through Fridays.  Buses are sometimes standing room only, especially during the hours from 6 am to 8:30 am, and 2:30 pm to 4:30 pm.”

Commissioner Steven Herr stated that we need the service to make the system viable.  His point was that every transportation link created tends to create the demand for itself.  He gave an example with an airline opening up a new route.  “Development will follow.  It may lead to businesses redeveloping themselves with apartments up above their stores.”

People wanted to see the streetcar system go somewhere.  Suggestions were 52nd Street as far as the money would go.  Iwen stated that the city has enough money to lay down two miles of track.  Carthage College was also mentioned, but that’s farther than two miles. Other locations were also mentioned, like the Chrysler Kenosha Engine Plant on 30th Avenue and 52nd Street.

Iwen said that “it’s one of the tools in our toolbox to draw in businesses and people to the downtown area.  We also have to remember that when the tracks are laid down, all of the roads that are torn up get redone.”  He also stated that the funding will be lost if the city doesn’t utilize it.  The two grants that have been received will provide construction jobs, electrical and cement work.

Chairman Eric Haugaard said that he had another meeting to attend, and Iwen then offered to address any additional questions and concerns after the meeting.  He also provided his phone number if anyone had questions that they’d like to raise.  His phone number is (262) 653-4290.  Iwen also offered any citizens to make arrangements with him for a tour of the street car barn.

After the meeting adjourned, Iwen stayed on for further discussion.  He reminded everyone that no streetcar plan has been approved yet.  It will have to come before the Transit Commission, then the Finance Committee, then the Common Council.  “The layout has not been set in stone,” Iwen said.

Iwen stated that the streetcars are very historic, the oldest cars in the United States.  “They are called PCC, Presidential Conference Cars.  They are the most beautiful and elegant cars.  They were built in 1951, and they are not made any more,” he said.

The streetcar expansion will be voted on by the city’s Committee of the Whole on Tuesday, November 27th, and face final approval, along with the full budget and Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) in front of the Common Council on Wednesday, November 28th.


4 Responses to Public speaks out on streetcars

  • Jake says:

    I feel that the tracks should be laid out towards Carthage and as the years go by add more out that way. In the future I foresee it being used by the campus community.

  • Bob says:

    Build it, the sooner the better.
    then run it in the morning rush hour for work and to get to the train station


  • Dave says:

    I agree continue the tracks toward Carthage. This would provide the highest volume of use in the least amount of time. However if the tracks could be extended out to the interstate it would become greatly useful to connect the downtown, the Metra and the bus services to Milwaukee. Making this a viable option of service for attracting visitors.

  • Eric S. says:

    Most Metra riders are not from Harbor Park. We should focus on tourism instead of early or late runs. I think either a circulator as discussed or a run toward Carthage that also brings park dwellers to downtown. Carthage would be a great destination since it is inconvenient for students to drive, but unfortunately there are not enough funds to build a bridge over the river to go all the way yet. One day Carthage may wish to expand after they run out of space by the lake and may do so along the streetcar line. If we can get to Carthage, there may be less infrastructure needed to get to Parkside. In the meantime a northern route would serve as a scenic ride and convenient for festival goers and those enjoying our parks that want to head downtown for a byte to eat. It would also be close to the ends of the streets on the near north side. Downtown is walkable, so it may make more sense to bring people near downtown instead of around downtown. The circulator would be a good idea if we also have a plan to bring enough tourist oriented businesses in to make it a destination. Nobody is going to take the streetcar for an in and out stop. They will take it to enjoy a day full of activities.

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