MKE Streetcar: Personal Blog
Advantages of Streetcars
I've utilized The Hop in Milwaukee since its opening in 2018. Riding The Hop well over 3,000 times, I have observed its use and operation and studied academic and technical literature about streetcars and transportation. I've compiled a list of what I see are advantages of Milwaukee's streetcars used for transportation.
Please see my caveats about my blog before reading this.
These are what I see are advantages of streetcars used for transportation and city life, and, in particular, for the Liberty Modern Streetcars in Milwaukee:
- Emissions-free, quiet operation: People feel comfortable being close to the vehicles. (photo of people near The Hop at the Milwaukee Public Market) I noticed this immediately on using The Hop, and realized it most dramatically walking near a bus after riding The Hop: the smell of the bus fuel fumes was strong, and the idling sound of the bus seemed very loud. I have ridden buses for decades, but I suddenly could perceive how this day-to-day pollution and noise wears on you and degrades the rider experience. This is particularly important near outdoor dining areas near the stops--where the fumes and rattle of a bus would be unbearable. (photo of people dining near the tracks) The streetcar isn't silent, of course: on curves, when the track is dry, there is a considerable scraping sound, as well as the normal sounds of rail operation. However, the operation of the electric vehicle means that at stops, for example, the vehicle is absolutely silent. On straight stretches, a low whirring sound of the wheels on rails can be heard. The streetcar bells also sound, softly and not unpleasantly, to alert people nearby. While the electricity supply to run the streetcars is not produced entirely by emissions-free sources at power plants, the electric streetcars are ready for a transition to a larger mix of renewable power.
- Accessibility through large doors: Two large double doors open at the stops allowing many people to board and alight quickly and conveniently, even if carrying bags or using an assistive device. These large doors also provide excellent ventilation. During the 2020-2021 pandemic, ventilation was identified as a key for reducing the risk of spreading the virus. (photo) This is in direct contrast to bus boarding and alighting--where a narrow door, up steps or across uneven pavement or a curb, takes you into a narrow passageway past the driver, with often bunching of passengers in the front of the bus, making rapid or easy boarding very wearing in peak conditions.
- ADA-compliant, level-loading: People can access the streetcar platform along a gently sloping ramp and board all on one level, without stairs. (photo, photo) People using assistive devices board along with everyone at the same time.
- ADA-compliant, level-floor seating area: The interior middle section of the streetcar allows wheelchairs to roll to a seating area that has fold-down seats for people who need to sit in the level-floor area. (photo of wheelchair accommodation)
- A smooth ride: I've ridden buses for many decades of my life, and The Hop's movement on rails makes for a smoother ride than any bus I've ever ridden because the pitching, yawing, and rolling motions are dampened. Momentum due to starts and stops remains a caution (Newton's first law of motion). I noticed this the most when, during my recovery from heart surgery, I used a walker to board and ride The Hop. It was much more comfortable boarding and riding The Hop than using the bus during that time. When riding the bus, I felt that my chest sutures were going to bust open with the pitching, rolling, and yawing of the bus! On The Hop, I felt very good--the rails lock the streetcar to the ground itself. This insight helps me see how a streetcar is much easier and more comfortable for someone who needs assistance or is traveling to a medical appointment or elderly. Note that someone who needs assistance or is elderly or can't walk far is not going to use a bike, e-bike, or light electric vehicle (LEV). However, people do need to understand that the streetcar can move quickly when leaving a station, so they need to take a seat right away!
- System design connecting walksheds centered at stations: The stations are set along the route so that the streetcar connects passengers to walkable areas covering the entire corridor. (A walkshed is the area around the station that people can be expected to walk to or from the vehicle; a distance of about 400 meters is often used as this walkshed distance. (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, 2016; PedShet.net)). It doesn't mean that people won't walk more or walk less, it is just used as an approximation of how far people have shown they are willing to walk to or from the vehicle). These connected walksheds make for a continuous corridor in which the "hop on-hop off" nature of the streetcar can be utilized throughout to support the of a passenger trip. (photo) I've seen this in my own use of The Hop--I can walk further in the downtown area because I can use The Hop as a central spine of transit, allowing a rest and ride in hot or cold weather in between stretches of walking. My personal walkshed distance is much more than 400 meters, and this gives me even more of an extended walking area. This proximity of the stations confuses people who are unfamiliar with public transit or the design of transit that serves connected walksheds--they think that because one could walk from one station to the other easily, the streetcar isn't "useful." They fail to understand how the purpose and design of the overall system is intended to serve a corridor of connected walksheds. The analogy is an elevator: an elevator in a 20-story building isn't "useless" if someone could walk from floor 5 to floor 6 using the stairs or run up the stairs three floors and beat the elevator if it has to stop for passengers. The purpose is to connect areas at the stations closely, so that people can walk or use assistive devices to any destination point along the corridor. Moreover, The Hop serves people who find walking long distances difficult. Being able to gain 500 or 1,000 meters along their trip via streetcar, particularly in hot or cold weather, could be the difference that enables people to get from point A to point B. This advantage is magnified as people travel distances more than a couple of stations apart. Indeed, the route's utility value is increased greatly by expanding the system by even one additional station, as the number of connected destinations added is captured within the walkshed area increase, and the walkshed area is a function of the square of the walkshed distance.
- Low-resistance rail operation: The rolling resistance of the streetcar's wheels on rail is much less than rubber-tired vehicles on the pavement. This efficiency factor is estimated by different sources. The Steel Interstate Coalition estimates that rail reduces rolling friction by 85-99% versus rubber tires. The article "Why Rail Has 20X Energy Saving Advantage Over Rubber Tire Road Vehicles - The Science of Locomotion" also explains this efficiency. This fundamental fact of physics makes streetcars more energy-efficient to operate than a wheeled bus system. This energy advantage enables electric-powered rail transit vehicles to run in cold weather. The Hop demonstrated its ability in cold weather when running during polar vortex conditions. An electric bus, requiring more power, may never achieve this advantage. People who don't understand this efficiency don't appreciate how the tremendous rolling resistance efficiency of rail allows for electric operation with less power.
- Fixed rail infrastructure placement: The predictable-path travel of rail means that the streetcars can be placed closely within pedestrian-oriented areas. This may seem so "obvious" that it is widely discounted and the significance of it is not even understood. Quite simply, it means that streetcars fit exactly into areas where people are at markets, public squares, shopping areas, and outdoor plazas (such as at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee) because people can see the tracks and know exactly where the vehicles are traveling (photo , video). Streetcars can serve narrow road widths, because the placement of the vehicles can be engineered to fit into the setting and defined precisely by the tracks, ensuring passage of the vehicles. Buses have a hard time navigating narrow streets.
- Fixed rail infrastructure commitment: The fixed nature of the streetcar tracks connotes an investment in an area's infrastructure that captures attention for land use decisions. In brief, the streetcar tracks signal a long-term commitment that a developer nearby can rely on. Residents also can rely on this commitment for choosing housing or employment. People choosing a place to live near the streetcar can have assurance that the streetcar will be there. Buses will never give this benefit, as their routes can be cancelled or moved easily. Placement of streetcar tracks along known corridors of density and activity supports development and this development supports the use of the streetcar service. This is evident in patterns of streetcar placement from centuries ago correlating to present-day density and productive land use. This infrastructure commitment is the same as the commitment to public sidewalks, streets, highways, and bridges that are paid for and built for common use. When people ask, "Why should I pay for the streetcar when I don't use it?" The answer is right under their feet: the public streets all over the state, as well as public highways and sidewalks and bridges are in specific, fixed places that most citizens might not ever visit, but they are built for the common good, as part of the collective stewardship of public infrastructure that has been a tradition in human settlements for centuries.
- The ability to support development: The Hop supports new housing, offices, jobs, and businesses by bringing passengers near to their front doors. These newly built or existing destinations then generate passenger trips that the streetcar can fulfill. This is the fundamental dynamic of the streetcar as a catalyst for growth--the positive, mutual support of development and transit. While some people might want to have research showing streetcars "cause" development, a synthesis summary of literature and documentation on streetcar impacts on the built environment concluded with "the need for further empirical analysis" (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2010). Later, researchers Mendez and Brown (2019) studied Portland and Seattle and found that "in certain contexts streetcars are associated with increased development activity." The results also suggest the need for a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between streetcars and development." These researchers caution that the function of the streetcar system as transportation is key: "the more effective a streetcar is as a transportation service, and the more widely used it is by patrons, the more likely it is to have development effects" (Brown and Mendez, 2018). Ramos-Santiago, Brown, and Nixon (2016) examined the role of streetcars for transportation strategy as well as development motivator and pointed out both functions are being pursued. Other research shows that streetcars have been used for spatial planning but not transit planning (King and Fischer, 2016). Researchers Brooks and Lutz (2019) examined land use and population density near historic streetcar stops on The Los Angeles Railway. They observe that even after more than fifty years of not operating and into the 21st century, the land near the historic streetcar stops shows statistically significant higher population and building density that diminishes with distance from the historic stops. They suggest that "the weight of the evidence as most consistent with land use regulation and agglomeration acting as mutually reinforcing pathways" (Brooks and Lutz, 2019). This research seems to indicate that a relationship of streetcars to development is one of catalytic, dynamic, and mutually-reinforcing factors. On The Hop route, I see the value of streetcars as supporting development that is existing, emerging, and planned, and then that development, through trip generation, supports the use of the streetcars--in a relationship that is dynamic and interdependent. Each of the components--development and streetcars--must each meet their goals well and be oriented to supporting and gaining from each other. This may have been the factor behind Portland's success, where development and streetcars were planned together (City of Portland Bureau of Transportation). Portland has seen housing development along its streetcar line, including affordable housing. Since The Hop's opening in 2018, construction along the route has continued, including the completion of BMO Tower, The Huron Building, the Dwight and Dian Diercks Computational Science Hall at Milwaukee School of Engineering University, the Cambria Hotel, and the hotel group, Tru by Hilton, Holiday Inn Express, Home2 Suites by Hilton. The construction of The Ascent and The Couture began. Work on The Kinn Guesthouse on Broadway and Michigan, the Central Standard Craft Distillery, the MSOE Hermann Viets Tower, 321 N Jefferson St, and the Milwaukee Athletic Club, continued. Notably, many of these building sites provide more productive use of the urban land on what had been automobile storage areas.
- The ability to run in all weather: The Hop has run in snowstorms, cold (including the polar vortex when air temperature reached -28 C (-20 F) and wind chills -40 C (-40 F)), heat, and blizzards. photo photo video
- Hybrid battery and overhead-wire energy system: The Hop can draw power from the overhead wire through the pantograph photo pan up or through onboard lithium-ion batteries photo pan down. This allows for reduced construction costs and lengths of the route on which no overhead wires need to be constructed (Booth, 2019).
- Record of safety: The Hop's record of safety during all of its operations has been exemplary.
- Capacity: The Hop can accommodate a total of 103 passengers: 30 on fixed seats, 4 on flip-up seats, and 69 standees, according to the Brookville Equipment Corporation (Brookville, 2021). There are also seats for operators in each enclosed end cabin. Informal observations during Bastille Days has shown this capability with standees also using floorspace in the end seating sections and holding on to the overhead straps, giving a bit more capacity. This flexibility allows The Hop to serve many people during peak-demand periods. (photo, photo)
- Operator cabin secure: The operator of The Hop is in a locked cabin, with video and audio contact with the interior of the streetcar; this improves the safety of operation of the vehicle as well as removes the choke-point on buses where the driver is at the entrance of the bus, causing considerable delays as passengers board and pay their fares, stand, or chit-chat with the bus driver while the bus is in operation. ( photo, photo )
- Well-designed interior: The layout and seating areas are distinct, with the two sections offering seating facing toward each end of the streetcar (that is, forward in the direction of travel in the front, and backward to the direction of travel in the back (just to note: I find it completely satisfactory to ride facing either direction)). The middle section offers level-floor seating and room for standees. The result is a flexible layout that allows for larger passenger loads or social distancing. The volume of space is impressively greater than that of a bus, and the aisle distances and the ground-level area make it easier to get around. I like the same-direction seating on the end cabins. I like this interior layout better than any transit vehicle I've ever ridden. photo photo photo photo
- Attention-getting service to diverse destinations: From The Hop's opening to the present, I see people look at and notice The Hop and, pre-covid, would make a point to ride it. This helps Milwaukee's tourism industry. The Hop was noted in an article by former Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz entitled "Civic envy: Milwaukee has eclipsed Madison in two big ways," with the two ways being food offerings and the streetcar (Cieslewicz 2019). The Hop is also for residents: as a resident, I have used the streetcar for day-to-day needs, and I've observed others doing so, including stops for groceries, medical appointments, travel to restaurants, libraries, schools, historic sites, parks, and more. photo photo photo photo The idea that The Hop "doesn't go anywhere" is demonstrably false, as I've documented in in my streetcar destination guide. Moreover, there are many more individual business and job locations on the streetcar route that I don't list in that guide because they are private businesses or not of general interest. Most importantly, although some think of a streetcar as for tourists or "bar-hoppers" only, this is simply not true. The practical destinations on the route--grocery stores, doctor's offices, bank, parks, post offices, UPS and Fedex shipping, many churches, two high schools, a middle school, an engineering college, government buildings, historic buildings of note including two national historic landmarks and five historic districts, 52 buildings over 30 meters (and more on the way), cathedral square park, athletic clubs, cafes and restaurants, and more--make The Hop's route useful for daily transportation needs. I've used the streetcar over the past year to see my primary doctor, eye doctor, cardiologist, medical lab (x-ray), dentist, and bank--those are true, useful residential-oriented destinations. I wrote out a listing of where the streetcar takes you trying to express the diversity of what is in the area, and a list of 52 buildings over 30 meters tall near the Hop route. The Hop's route was designed to be placed within trip-generating destinations and within a density of people living and working.
- Strength in supporting development, including affordable housing: Buildings can be placed right near the streetcar stop and allow for transit-oriented efforts, including affordable housing or even car-free housing. This is particularly true in the ability of The Hop to support housing with less parking built along with it, as a study showed excessive amounts of unused parking in Chicago apartment buildings, with the result being housing costs were higher because of it (The Center for Neighborhood Technology, 2016). Erasing parking requirements from new housing helps make more affordable housing (Magrino, 2018). photo While efforts are being made to establish equity for transit-dependent neighborhoods where streetcar extensions are planned, there are concerns about equity as used in development for the streetcar extensions (Diciaula, 2019). Anti-displacement oriented planning is identified to evaluate equity in these developments (Thomas, 2020). The goal is to create a neighborhood-centric transit network. The commitment represented by the tracks and stations could provide a range of benefits for small business, high-speed Internet access for people, and access to a range of neighborhood services.
- The ability to draw and increase ridership for a transit route: A report (Tennyson, 1989) shows that the transit mode does matter in how people choose transit, with rail being favored. Gaining ridership is a major challenge for a transit agency, and having a mode that is shown to appeal to people can significantly help in this effort. The appeal of rail is an ongoing attraction and retention factor.
- Support of walkable urbanism: The streetcar's nature as a connector of walksheds and its emissions-free, quiet operation makes it a perfect fit for areas that are oriented toward urban design patterns that place people first such as in New Urbanist concepts. (photo of Third Ward sidewalk scene)
- The ability to carry bicycles: People can make use of The Hop to move through the downtown without worrying about automobile traffic while at the same time transporting their bicycle. This allows The Hop to be an extender of bicycles used for transportation. Bublr bike stations are also near Hop stops.
- Use as a walk extender: The streetcar can serve needs outside of its walkshed limits by using a streetcar trip as part of a longer trip involving walking. For example, I used The Hop to first travel to Walker's Point, then walk further down to a meeting at the Anodyne Walker's Point cafe. photo illustration This use assumes the passenger will walk beyond the 400-meter walkshed limit, but I find my walking limit is further, and that the use of the streetcar as a starting point of my journey greatly expands the walking area I can access. Philip Langdon in his book, Within Walking Distance: Creating Livable Communities for All, describes case studies of cities and neighborhoods that have increased the walkability of their communities. One example he gives is the Pearl district in Portland and the streetcar that began operating there in 2001. He outlines the successes of the streetcar as "an economic engine" motivating new housing and commercial development and a population increase of 35% in the corridor--almost triple the growth of the city as a whole (p. 170). Langdon's point about the streetcar is that "[its] aim, in dense urban settings, is to act as a 'walk extender,' helping pedestrians cover more ground and reach more destinations than they could otherwise do in several minutes." (p. 173). One Portland resident is quoted as saying, "I pretty much manage my life along the streetcar... It's easy to have a good, productive life here without using a car." (p. 172).
- Large windows: The big windows in the seating areas allow you to look out over the city as you ride, see businesses, and see the life of the city. This is tremendously important, and one of the major features I've enjoyed. video
- Permanence as infrastructure: The Hop motivates development because it is built as part of the city's public infrastructure. Other public infrastructure such as streets, sidewalks, bridges, utilities, sewage, and other systems make up the public offerings of the city, and are the basis for attracting and retaining residents, private development, and supporting commerce, culture, and civic life. The streetcar's funding comes from the same recognition that a fixed infrastructure in one part of the city benefits the whole city as well as the region and even the state. The logical fallacy of opposing the streetcar because it is in fixed location contradicts spending on fixed location infrastructure of all kinds--from sewers to sidewalks, from bridges to airports, from city streets to parks of all kinds--each has a location, in a specific place. In fact, it is the fixed nature of this built infrastructure that is of benefit just as the fixed natural infrastructure, like the lake and rivers and land, is of benefit. The streetcar tracks define a fixed transportation route, just as streets, highways, and other transportation infrastructure, and this shapes the city (Marshall, 2000; Reader, 2004). photo
- The ability to alleviate the need for automobile storage at destinations: A good example is the Hop stop at The Milwaukee Public Market, where dozens of people at a time can be placed at its doorstep by The Hop. Those people don't have to drive or store a car nearby. (photo, video)
- Reliability: I've seen the streetcar consistently perform on-time, and there is a set schedule for the streetcar to arrive at each stop. Delays have usually been caused by illegally-parked automobiles. Signal priority techniques (Li, 2008; Pitstick, 2018; Li et al, 2011) help the streetcar travel through intersections more quickly, creating a kind of "virtual right-of-way" that addresses many problems of not having a physical right-of-way. Real-time mapping is available and very useful to determine the position of the streetcar. In my experience, The Hop is so reliable that a glance at my watch tells me approximately where the vehicles are, and I use the Transloc app only in the case of a delay to determine the position of the vehicles. (photo of Transloc app) Note that every mode of transportation ever invented in the history of the world has had delays, stoppages, accidents, and problems completing a trip.
- Traffic calming and safer passage for pedestrians: The Hop's presence on the street seems to somewhat motivate drivers to obey traffic laws, obey parking laws, and generally slow down and observe their surroundings while passengers on The Hop are protected on their ride from these drivers. This in itself is a positive effect on the street for pedestrians and all street users. Riding the streetcar is also much easier than walking because a pedestrian can travel by streetcar without having to deal with the automobile drivers failing to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks and making walking difficult and even dangerous. In this way, reckless drivers and automobile drivers speeding and operating illegally are big contributors to the value and appeal of the streetcar. Pedestrians can ride the streetcar and, for a brief time during their journey, be protected.
- Curb space benefits: The streetcar utilizes the curb space for bringing people to and from destinations much more efficiently than an individual vehicle. The Hop vehicle itself takes up less space on the road than if its passengers were in individual vehicles. Curb space management is a key to the success of an urban area, as the dropoff and loading areas to major stores or attractions tend to be poorly managed--with either the space given away for free which encourages traffic congestion in a hunt for "free parking" or illegally-parked cars, illegally-idling Uber or Lyft vehicles, or illegally-parked delivery trucks. The mismanagement of curb space slows the productive use of urban land near activities that are enjoying particular success--curb space competition is a sign of good business. The streetcar offers a transportation mode that can help solve this through high-capacity passenger delivery to attractions. The streetcar thus opens up possibilities for modern parking reform (Shoup, 2018). The management of curb space, particularly the reduction of illegal or "free" parking, may improve the success of these businesses even more. Successful cities never have enough room for individual automobiles; unsuccessful ones have "plenty of free parking."
- Appropriate speed: The Hop is a public transit vehicle so it makes stops to pick up and discharge passengers. The door design makes this very rapid. The progress of the vehicle along its route is appropriate for the speed limit of the streets, the safety of pedestrians, and matches similar bus service speeds. With signal priority (Li, 2008) and enforcement of parking laws along the route, The Hop's speed could be made higher. However, as a passenger, I find the speed perfectly adequate, and I don't consider speed the sole value of the streetcar, but I value the connectivity the streetcar gives to destinations, its reliability, and the quality of the ride. According to the Brookville Equipment Corporation, the maximum speed of the Liberty Modern streetcar is 48 mph (77 km/h) (Brookville, 2021). (photo showing Hop speed at 31.9 km/h)
- Addressing climate change and meeting the challenge of the changing nature of cities: The Hop fits into Milwaukee's plans for addressing climate change and environmental issues (City of Milwaukee, "Environmental Collaboration Office (ECO)"). Powered by electricity, the streetcar is ready to use renewable sources. While electricity generation currently uses only a portion of renewable and sustainable energy sources, more can be developed. A streetcar in Nottingham England aims for all-renewable power (Reid, 2019). In cities of the future, the vision is for less car-centric development (Kunzig, 2019) and more opportunities for people to take center stage. The Hop meets environmental concerns and fits well into walkable urban areas.
- Cost considerations: The perception that the high initial costs of streetcar construction alone removes it from consideration for urban transit seems to be a misguided one when considering maintenance, life cycle, energy, staffing, ridership attraction and retention, and land use costs and benefits. Streetcars ride smoothly on wheels in contact with rails and never touch the pavement of the street, unlike bus tires, and thus the vehicles and the pavement don't endure the damages resulting from bouncing of the vehicles. Streetcars have more capacity and enable a single operator to carry more passengers. Energy costs are much lower due to the physics of rail-travel efficiency. Streetcars also capture the attention of potential riders and provide a smoother, more satisfactory ride, and thus could lower ridership attraction and retention costs. The required ADA-compliant features of the streetcars are integrated into the design of vehicles, allowing level, equal-access. The initial costs are high--construction of tracks--but the long-term operating and life-cycle costs may be less than expected. Further, savings due to air quality improvements, noise pollution reduction, and the ability of the streetcar to minimize distances (and hence save land value costs) to and from pedestrian areas and businesses, should also factor into cost analysis. Moreover, Milwaukee has an already-constructed Operations and Maintenance Facility and five American-made Liberty Modern Streetcars. See also: Bell (2017) and Litman ("Evaluating public transit benefits and costs," 2020).
- Award-winning, modern American-made streetcars and rails and award-winning engineering: The Brookville Liberty Modern Streetcars are designed and built in Brookville, Pennsylvania, USA (Brookville, 2021). The rails used are American-made steel. In 2015, the Liberty Modern Streetcar won the Technical Innovation of the Year for its onboard energy storage system (OESS) at the ninth annual Global Light Rail Awards in London. At the 12th annual Global Light Rail Awards in London in 2018, Brookville was awarded Manufacturer of the Year. The Hop and its engineers at HNTB Corp won the Engineering News-Record's Best Airport/Transit project in the nation in 2020. People who mistake the streetcar as something from the "1800s" don't understand that these are 21st-century vehicles with modern features, infrastructure, and operating techniques.
- Proven ability to meet transit needs for people all over the world, including places like Milwaukee: There are hundreds of operating streetcar systems throughout the world that meet people's needs for transportation every day. Some systems have been operating for more than a century into the present. A good comparison to help people understand why streetcars work in Milwaukee is Helsinki, Finland which has been running electric streetcars (called "trams") continuously since 1900. The climate of Helsinki is a bit colder and snowier than Milwaukee, and Helsinki's population is just over Milwaukee's population. Helsinki's tram operates quite well today, with expansions planned.
Milwaukee's weather allows for streetcar use. I have been used to car-free strategies and dressing for the weather, so I have had no problem using The Hop and walking as my transit modes in our climate. There are only some weeks during the year of extremely cold weather and some weeks of uncomfortably hot weather. The vast majority of the time in Milwaukee, with proper clothing, it is wonderful to be outside. I find that using a simple waterproof jacket and dressing in layers, I have no problems with rain or cold. The shelters at The Hop stops can cover a few people for rain and wind, but in my entire time of using the Hop, I've never been inconvenienced by rain. I've never encountered a problem with weather except for the extreme cold during the polar vortex.
Milwaukee's early transportation network included streetcars--first horse-drawn and then electric-powered (Canfield, 1972). These historic streetcars served people during the walkable urbanism of those times (Gurda, 1999), and the streetcar networks grew because they met people's needs well, demonstrating the inherent ability of streetcars to connect walkable urban areas and the validity of providing streetcars as a connector of walksheds. The Hop is the state's only modern streetcar system and its only transit system built in the 21st century. The Hop improves on the historic streetcars' strength of meeting people at walking scale by using modern hybrid electric vehicles and operational methods. For example, The Hop's flexibility in its route design is shown by its ability to bypass the St Paul Avenue Bridge due to a bridge malfunction using a short run, on the lakefront line loop segment to bypass the tracks toward the bridge in the Third Ward.
- Benefits as public transit--economic, social, and environmental--with the added benefits of rail: The Hop streetcar is, of course, public transit and carries with it the general benefits that public transit brings to a community. Public transit benefits include energy and environmental benefits, economy and employment benefits, and health benefits (American Public Transportation Association). Rail benefits include "less traffic congestion, lower traffic death rates, lower consumer expenditures on transportation, and higher transit service cost recovery than otherwise comparable cities with less or no rail transit service. This indicates that rail transit systems provide economic, social and environmental benefits, and these benefits tend to increase as a system expands and matures" (Litman, "Rail Transit In America: A Comprehensive Evaluation of Benefits," 2020). As transit, it gives area young people a way to see and experience urban electric rail travel that they might have never ridden before, and an introduction to how urban transit is done in thousands of cities throughout the world.
- Access to practical, day-to-day needs like grocery stores, a pharmacy, medical care, and community sites: The Hop connects people with grocery stores and a pharmacy along its current Main Line now. This gives people from food deserts or who live far from these services access. I can attest that it is much easier to bring bags of groceries onto the streetcar because of its level-loading, wide doors, and layout. There are several health clinics, exercise clubs, churches, and parks along The Hop's Main Line. The access to the platforms of the Hop are up a short ramp right at the street level. This makes it much much easier, quicker, and more pleasant to get to The Hop than on underground rail stations (which have a different scale and purpose than streetcars). The Hop's characteristics work well for neighborhood-serving public transit.
- Revenue-generating possibilities: The Hop streetcar, like many transit vehicles and streetcars throughout the world for over a century, can provide advertising and promotional opportunities that can gain income. The Hop has been wrapped in special promotional graphics: Milwaukee Bucks Hop with special interior and launch, ComeBackcuisine.com Hop, Everstream Hop with special interior, MaskUpMKE health promotion, Milwaukee Bears--A Salute to The Negro Leagues with special interior, and RideWithPride / Massimals MKE: Ranbow promotion. In the spring of 2021, a CityPost Smart Kiosk was installed at Cathedral Square. These kiosks come "at no cost to the city, as Smart City will own and maintain the kiosks throughout the 10-year agreement while providing the city a share of the revenue generated through the platform." ("The Hop Unveils CityPost Smart Kiosk Initiative Digital kiosks to provide real-time arrival information and other civic amenities while generating revenue to support streetcar operations", Urban Milwaukee, February 20, 2020). This is an excellent example of a public-private partnership that can benefit both.
- Public service communication: The Hop's vehicles and information kiosks can serve community needs for health and other public information. For example, during the Covid pandemic, The Hop streetcar 01 had a distinctive mask design promoting the MaskUpMKE.org Web site. CityPost information kiosks also provide public service announcements and information.
- Equity opportunities: Rail-based public transit offers a way to rebalance the inequities that have been happening for nearly a century in the US and throughout the world: public expenditures for automobile-centric travel and development have dominated, oftentimes leading to the destruction or "cutting in two" of communities and social inequities. The high-quality transit experience streetcars offer reknits the urban landscape around people and can start to rectify this imbalance. In the great tradition of cities throughout human history, streetcars can build the shared infrastructure upon which commerce, culture, enterprise, and civic life can flourish.