Edited by John December
This is a summary of options for transit in and around the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area, with a focus on public transit systems1. Milwaukee has supported a wide range of transporation systems during its history. Streetcars, trains, bicycles, trolleys, horses, buses, boats, and people walking have all played a role in transit, and this legacy remains in some areas of downtown. Today, Milwaukee's role as a major air, rail, highway, and water hub give you many choices in getting to and around Milwaukee. Is something missing or incorrect? Please send a correction. Like this page? Bookmark this page and return when you are ready.
|Milwaukee has some great Walk Scores approaching 100 on the East Side. Indeed, it is possible to live car-free in Milwaukee.2
|There is a very good system of county (the "Oak Leaf Trail") and city bicycle trails. For maps and resources, check out Milwaukee By Bike or the Wisconsin Bike Fed.
|"The Hop" Streetcar
|The Hop streetcar connects popular destinations in the heart of Milwaukee along a 3.5 km Main Line. See TheHopMKE. My MKE Streetcar Destination Guide gives a resident's-eye guide to the streetcar corridor. My tiny.cc/mkesc Google Map describes, routes, stops, and destinations.
|Bublrbikes.com is a bike-sharing program where you can pick up a bike from a self-service bike rental kiosk and return it to any other kiosk.
|You can use car-sharing in Milwaukee: Zipcar and Zimride for UWM provide memberships. 3
|You can use Uber, lyft, or yellow pages. Be cautious about taxi services that promise "a driver might be in your area in 30 minutes"--they will delay forever. Verify in advance that your taxi will accept a card payement (credit or debit), as some drivers will try to convince you to pay in cash. Cabs can be difficult to get during summer festival or event weekends--be prepared to use MCTS buses, The Hop Streetcar, or ridesharing options instead.
|Limo and van service to/from Milwaukee's Mitchell / Chicago's O'Hare or Midway airports. See
Airport Town Car Express,
Corporate Limousine Service.
Note that Milwaukee County Transit Bus GreenLine also stops at the MKE airport.
American MedTrans for non-emergency medical transportation
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Concept in development. See EastWestBrtMKE.com for the latest information on the plans.
MKE North-South project to improve transit along the 27th street corridor.
|Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS)4 serves Milwaukee County and provides transit for festivals and home games of the Brewers and Bucks. Use real-time tracking online or by text message. Plan routing using Google Transit. Phone (414)344-6711.
|FlexRide Milwaukee offers transit service to suburban job sites to bridge the gap from MCTS for the first 1.6 km and last 1.6 km distances.
|Wisconsin Coach Lines connections include Milwaukee's downtown, UW-Milwaukee, Marquette Univ, MKE Airport, Waukesha, Racine, Kenosha, Oconomowoc, Delafield, Mukwonago; and Chicago's O'Hare and Midway airports. Phone (877)3-AIRPORTS.
|Badger Bus provides rides to Madison and Milwaukee. Stops at Milwaukee's Intermodal Station as well as a stop at Milwaukee's Mitchell International Airport. Phone (414)276-7490.
|Greyhound offers frequent service from Milwaukee south to Chicago, west to Madison, and north to Green Bay. Greyhound's station is at Milwaukee's Intermodal Station. Phone (800)231-2222.
|megabus.com connects Milwaukee to Chicago, Minneapolis/St Paul, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and more. Ticket sales online and by reservation only on Web site. Station at Milwaukee's Intermodal Station.
|FlixBus.com connects Milwaukee to Chicago, Indianapolis, Columbus OH, and more.
|Ozaukee Transit connects to Ozaukee County with stops in downtown Milwaukee.
|Washington County On June 14th, 2023, the Washington County Board of Supervisors voted to eliminate the Washington County Commuter Express. The last day of service will be September 29th, 2023.
|Indian Trails Bus
|Indian Trails provides service from Milwaukee north via Sheboygan and Manitowoc to Green Bay and the UP. Station at Milwaukee's Intermodal Station. Phone (800)292-3831.
|Jefferson Lines provides service from Milwaukee to Green Bay and connections throughout the midwest. Bus from Milwaukee's Milwaukee's Intermodal Station. Phone (800)451-5333
|Lamers Bus Lines connects north to Fond du Lac, Oshkosh, Appleton, and Wausau. It also operates a regular route bus from Wausau to Milwaukee and on to Chicago. Phone (800)236-1240. Station at Milwaukee's Intermodal Station.
|Waukesha Metro Transit connects in and around Waukesha city and county. You can transfer at the Brookfield Square Shopping Center between Milwaukee County Transit Service buses to Waukesha Metro Transit buses. Phone (262)524-3636.
|RydeRacine connects in and around Racine County. Connections to Chicago, Kenosha, and Milwaukee.
|Kenosha Area Transit
|KAT (Kenosha Area Transit) connects in and around Kenosha County. Kenosha Transit also connects with Wisconsin Coach Lines at the Metra Station in Kenosha. Phone (262)653-4287. Also at the Metra Station in Kenosha, you can get the Metrarail service to Chicago.
|Amtrak connects to the US and Canada. Amtrak is located at Milwaukee's Intermodal Station, downtown at 5th and St. Paul Streets. (The Amtrak code is MKE for the downtown station.) There is also a Mitchell International Airport station (code is MKA). The Amtrak rail service connects Milwaukee south to Chicago via the Hiawatha and west to Minneapolis via the Empire Builder. Phone (800)872-7245.
|The Port of Milwaukee on Lake Michigan connects with the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway. Some Great Lakes cruise ships periodically stop in Milwaukee.
|The Lake Express is a high-speed ferry service across Lake Michigan from the Milwaukee terminal at 2330 S. Lincoln Memorial Drive, near the south end of the Hoan Bridge, to Muskegon, MI. Phone (866)914-1010.
|The SS Badger car ferry crosses Lake Michigan from Manitowoc, WI (about 128 km north of Milwaukee) to Ludington, MI (the northern part of the lower Peninsula of Michigan). Phone (888)FERRY-4U.
|You can ride on tour boats on the Milwaukee River and Lake Michigan. See Edelweiss, MKE Boat, Boat MKE, and Riverwalk Boats.
|MKE (Milwaukee's General Mitchell International Airport) is the largest airport in Wisconsin and connects to the US and world. The MWC Airport (Lawrence J. Timmerman Airport) is located on the northwest side of Milwaukee and serves the general aviation community.
For Further Exploration
- UWM Transit: a summary of options for transit serving the University of Wisconsin--Milwaukee (UWM) locations throughout the Milwaukee area.
- Wisconsin Department of Transportation Travel Information: links to Wisconsin resources on travel by air, bike, foot, public transit, rail, road, truck, and water.
- ParkMilwaukee.com: Directory of downtown public parking areas; See USA Parking for links to information about automobile parking and services that serve a national audience
- Center for Urban Transportation Studies: an academic department at the University of Wisconsin--Milwaukee which studies urban mass transit, management, land use, forecasting, futures, planning, ride sharing, port operation, rail operation, environment, and communities.
- Congress for New Urbanism: an urban design pattern that stresses walkability, mixed use developments, and the density that leads to urban efficiency and human interest. Critiqued for being overly nostalgic for the past or its reliance on gentrification, this movement nonetheless is a counterpoint to automobile-centric urban development theory and practice. The national convention for the Congress for New Urbanism was held in Milwaukee in 1999, and New Urbanist ideas have been influential in Milwaukee's downtown master plan. John Norquist, mayor of Milwaukee from 1988 to the end of 2003, is a past President of the Congress for New Urbanism. The CNU has offices in Chicago and DC.
- Books about urban forms: A list of books related to making places more attuned to the needs of people. Topics include works in urban criticism, planning, architecture, cultural geography, and demographics.
- Links about transit and urban issues: A list of Web sites about human mobility, urban planning, and transportation issues. Includes organizations, public information, and advocacy sites that work to re-focus urban planning, architecture, and transportation policies and systems toward serving the needs of human beings
Articles of Note
- "Public Transportation Shapes Where Millennials Decide to Live," Michael Myers, Apr 23, 2014, rockefellerfoundation.org/blog.
- "Car-less on the east side: With a bike, a bus and a couple of feet, you can get to where you need to go," Kristine Hansen, Special to the Journal Sentinel, August 30, 2008. A freelance writer is car-free on the East Side of Milwaukee.
"We can achieve enormous social, economic, and environmental benefits at almost no cost simply by subsidizing people and places, not parking and cars."--The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald C. Shoup, p. 602.
"Place-based strategies that create walkable urbanism will attract the broad spectrum of talent required to build a great and vibrant economy."--The Option of Urbanism by Christopher Leinberger, p. 170.
"Having a real downtown, and, I would posit, having a sense of place at all, are not possible where the car reigns supreme."--How Cities Work by Alex Marshall, p. 183.
"If we want to make the most of our national highway program, we must keep most of the proposed expressways in abeyance until we have done two other things. We must replan the inner city for pedestrian circulation, and we must rebuild and extend our public forms of mass transportation."-- Lewis Mumford, "The Highway and the City," Architectural Record, April 1958.
"If you live in a city, you don't need to own a car."--William Clay Ford Jr., CEO, Ford Motor Company Ltd.
- I have used mass transit in New York, London, Mexico City, Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Macau, Beijing, Stockholm, Vienna, Chicago, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Seattle, Minneapolis, San Francisco, San Jose, Toronto, Montreal, Boston, Washington DC, Detroit, Atlanta, Baltimore, New York State's Capital District, St. Louis, Wichita KS, Honolulu HI, Madison WI, Kenosha WI, Racine WI, Waukesha WI, and Michigan's Upper Peninsula. I have been car-free since 1989.
- The Riverwalk extends along the Milwaukee River in the downtown area. The walking path along the shore of Lake Michigan stretches from Bradford Beach to the mouth of the Milwaukee River. Other good walking areas: Brady Street, The Third Ward, and Wisconsin Avenue. These places are often a bit more difficult for walking because unfortunately speed limits as well as the laws requiring automobiles to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks are not consistently obeyed in Milwaukee. Please note: as a pedestrian, use designated crosswalks, obey walk light signals, and don't suddenly move in front of cars. As a driver, you must yield to pedestrians who have started walking in crosswalks--it is not optional by law (although it is not observed by many motorists in Milwaukee). You might see YIELD TO PEDESTRIANS signs on various streets, but remember this law applies to every crosswalk in the State of Wisconsin, and the fine is $133. Pedestrians are regularly killed in Milwaukee (and elsewhere, around 5,000 per year in the USA). Please work to make streets safe for all users of the streets--walkers, bicyclists, and drivers of automobiles, trucks, and buses.
- The Wisconsin Department of Transportation has projects planned for southeastern Wisconsin. A big project is the $1 billion I-94 Freeway project expected to last until 2022. Taking care of the local streets is done by the City of Milwaukee Department of Public Works and the County of Milwaukee Department of Public Works.
- This is a good bus system. The system offers real-time tracking online or by text message. Phone (414)344-6711. The Milwaukee County Transit System was awarded the Outstanding Achievement Award--the highest award a transit company can achieve--by the American Public Transit Association in 1987 and 1999.
- As you go about taking transit, you will be asked for money by people. Don't show them where you keep your money or that you have cash. A good option is to donate directly to resources such as Key to Change MKE or the Milwaukee Homeless Veterans Initiative, and truly help people permanently and sustainably change their lives for the better. If you want to show off that you care as you are going about in downtown, you can put your spare change in the Key to Change MKE meters that are at various downtown sites. Take a selfie of yourself doing that and post it online.