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Milwaukee Alderman opposes streetcar

By Sean Ryan

Milwaukee Alderman Robert Donovan is opposing the city’s plan to spend $54 million to build a new streetcar system.

The federal money earmarked for a Milwaukee transit project should be spent elsewhere, according to a statement Monday from Donovan’s office. The money is better spent on police and emergency services, paving streets or fixing Milwaukee Public School buildings, according to Donovan’s statement.

City of Milwaukee engineers last week announced plans to begin preliminary engineering and environmental studies for a new $95.8 million streetcar system. The planning includes future extensions, paid for with federal money.

In the plans unveiled last Wednesday, Milwaukee would build a new streetcar that would run from the Milwaukee Intermodal Station on St. Paul Avenue, up Broadway and through the downtown to the city’s lower-east side.


  1. Karen Jeffries

    Am I the only one amazed at the constant parade of political figures who never seem to grasp that when funds are earmarked for a specific project, as the streetcar funds have always been, that’s where the funds are to be applied, and nowhere else?

  2. @Karen Yeah, this is a pretty typical false choice that is proposed by opponents of well any project really.

  3. Streetcars and light-rail vehicles use clean, all-American-generated electric power off the grid, of which an ever-increasing amount is generated by wind, natural gas, hydroelectric and nuclear energy.

    Diesel engines by nature operate at peak efficiency running wide-open. (In fact, the largest diesel in the world tops out at almost 52% and weighs in around 2300 tons; it’s used on ships and spends most of its time running at its most efficient power setting.) Efficiency for current heavy-duty truck diesel engines operated at optimum speed is around 41%. City buses, on the other hand, spend a good deal of time idling, then accelerating. At idle, the cylinder temperature drops, resulting in incomplete combustion (i.e. lower efficiency) as well as wasting fuel waiting for traffic, etc. On re-acceleration, fuel efficiency once again suffers as the engine wastes fuel trying to get back up to optimal speed, accounting for those particulate-laden black exhaust clouds. For this alderman to infer that loud, fume-spewing diesel-powered buses are somehow superior to non-exhaust electric-powered streetcars is incredulous. I’d have no fear being in an enclosed space with fully-powered light rail vehicles or streetcars, but not any internal combustion engine.

    The OSHA requires enormous ventilation in motorbus and other motor vehicle garages, even with very poor air quality in those enclosures. The only ventilation required in streetcar maintenance sheds is what is necessary to remove the fumes from welding and painting; no additional ventilation is required. No one has ever become ill from breathing anything emitted from a streetcar.

    The emissions that cause the greatest problems are those that are emitted in near-proximity to the breathing systems of living creatures, and with diesel buses, there’s also no getting away from the other extremely hazardous pollutants involved: the used engine oils, the used transmission oils, the daily scrubbings from thousands of synthetic rubber tires (and their carcasses to be recycled), the costs of many extra maintenance employees needed to keep the diesels running, the cost of motorbuses at five times or more the rate of replacement for rail vehicles, the vastly larger inventory of spare parts required for the motorbuses. There’s no getting away from the far higher platform costs to operate the motorbuses as opposed to light-rail vehicles. With rail, especially in the main corridors, the first cost is, yes, higher than for poking motorbuses out on the roadways; however, the long-term operating costs and effects of emissions are far lower. “Pay me up front or pay me a higher rate later”; we still end up paying the cost. And the cost of doing nothing is far higher yet.

    The light-rail/streetcar lines in cities today record a percentage of passengers loadings far in excess of the percentage they occupy of each transit operations’ overall mileage. In so doing, they are very instrumental in reducing the local pollution created by motor vehicles within each line’s sphere of influence. This corresponds to a huge productivity improvement for both operating and maintenance employees as well.

  4. One other thing regarding energy consumpion. Streetcars and Light Rail Vehicles that are coasting or stopped require zero motive power, unlike internal-combustion engines that must consume some fuel at all times; the latter must idle – burning diesel fuel – when coasting or stopped in traffic. Also, streetcars are equipped to regenerate back into the grid system when slowing down using the traction motors as generators, thus assisting in the acceleration and powered motion of others in the same electrical block. These things further reduce the effective loading of streetcars upon the electrical grid. Moreover, today’s motor-control systems do not depend on resistances (which wasted power in the original streetcars) to control motor speeds and acceleration. Only that amount of power under any given circumstance absolutely needed is drawn for the motors in the electric vehicles, including trolleybuses as well as Light Rail Vehicles. Beyond that, the ability of streetcars and Light Rail Vehicles to move a larger number of people with far fewer vehicles results in a much more effective use of energy as opposed to moving that same number of people with internal-combustion motorized vehicles. A major contributor to air pollution in any area are the thousands of motor vehicles idling along in traffic jams.

  5. David J. Dell'Agnese AIA

    I know it doesn’t sound as **** and cool as a new light rail line, but wouldn’t it be cheaper, faster, more flexible, and put more people to work by just handing out $25.00 taxicab vouchers to everyone who might ever ride near this fixed loop? Is there any amount of other people’s money that we are not willing to spend on ill-conceived public projects?

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