Everything's better if you include a beer garden, isn't it?
Milwaukee's street car remains a tough sell to some who say the still-in-its-nonage “Hop” is a waste of money, a boondoggle and the reason there's no longer a springtime in Wisconsin. Alderman Tony Zielinski is using the issue as a way to separate himself from Tom Barrett whose job he'd like to have next time it opens up. Short-time Alderman Bob Donovan is nothing if not consistent in saying money spent on the line is cash that could go to other municipal needs, an argument that gets cred to those who are hearing him make it on the car radio as their auto bottoms out on one of the epic craters dotting Milwaukee streets. They make their cases as Hizzoner revealed the details about a proposed Hop extension to Wisconsin Avenue ahead of the 2020 Democratic National Convention, one that might include a new plaza between 4th and 5th Streets, a place where those waiting for their rides might just be able to enjoy a new downtown beer garden.
Mmmm. Beer garden!
The Hop's biggest problem is the fact it doesn't go anywhere. Mayor Barrett's trying to fix that but streetcar detractors claim top priority should go to what they deem other, more pressing needs, like street repair. He joined us on Wisconsin's Morning News earlier this month to chat up his proposed Hop extension, acknowledging that peak pothole season is upon us and bemoaning the lack of outside money–read “state” and “federal” to fix them.
That was the end of the pothole portion of the chat.
The argument can always be made that no city–Milwaukee included–shouldn't commit to something considered a luxury until more pressing isses are taken care of. “We shouldn't do (insert project here) until (insert massive civic need here) is fixed,” they say and, to their credit, believe. Fact is, we've been spending lots and lots to do just that for years and damn if those messy issues don't keep hanging around? That's because many are caused by things you can't buy away. MPS woes in general/trauma in schools in particular leap off the page, problems that are societal, generational and yes, economic.
You would think, though, that potholes are another story. They're not a surprise–they happen every year. Like snow removal, the severity varies depending on the weather but it's a safe bet we don't reach spring with roads like glass. The surface of the moon, maybe. Waiting for shared revenue from Madison or Milwaukee is an exercise that dates back to the days of Barrett's long-departed predecessor Henry Maier who often moaned about what the community as a whole pays in while getting little in return. He was making that case, in fact, when the city still had some electric buses roaming the streets.
Mayor Barrett says he doesn't want to spend property tax money on The Hop–a wise choice indeed. Instead, he says six TIF Districts should cover the tab for the Wisconsin Avenue extension and preliminary work on two others. It's great that homeowners won't be on the hook for that, It would also be nice if a reliable funding mechanism could be found to cover routine street maintenance, to make sure we aren't cracking axels the way a lot of us pop our knuckles. That could go a ways in making the Hop an easier sell, if not a less viable target for naysayers who'll never buy into it, much less ride it.
Wherever people gather, there will be needs and wants, be it in a family or in a city like ours. Having nice things while trying to fix the bad ones isn't a mutually exclusive endeavor. Timing is key, as is creativity. The TIF money for streetcar extensions? Brilliant. Waiting hat in hand for Washington or Madison to pony up for potholes? Not so much.
There are some who'll never buy into The Hop, folks who'd gladly grab the nearest crowbar to manually dig freshly laid tracks from the street if it wasn't illegal to do so. City Hall needs to give them one less log to toss on the anti-streetcar fire. Sure, there'll always be that “better place” where transit funds could go. Mayor Barrett and other like-thinkers need to make some of the things on that list a little less obvious, because nothing probably riles a pothole-weary driver more than seeing The Hop gilding by on rails as smooth as silk.