Saturday, June 16

Like gag me with a spoon*

On the front of Madison.com today there's an article on the city's streetcar debate that just won't die. Other than the fact that it's from the Capital Times, it starts off innocently enough but quickly turns into a suck-up-to-the-Mayor-fest.

In Kenosha's tracks? How a streetcar system works in southeastern Wisconsin

First of all, I lived about half an hour west of Kenosha, in the other end of the county with the same name from the time I was two until I left for college, so I'm familiar with the place. Heck, I've even ridden on said trolley, and believe you me, it is most definitely not a 'system'. It's a dinky, yes dinky little loop, around a new housing complex and Kenosha's tiny pointless museum. Did I mention it doesn't go anywhere and it's only cool the first time around?

Look at it! You can see the tracks, I drew the lines outside where it runs.


So what does this article say about the trolley?

Streetcars are the kind of thing you need to ride on and see to truly appreciate, according to Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz.

And Kenosha, just a two-hour drive from Madison, is the closest place to look at an operating streetcar system.

The mayor said he went there as a tourist last year and rode the city's restored vintage trains that make a 1.9-mile loop around two dozen downtown blocks that include the city's newest museum, built in 2000 along with the streetcar route. When the project was conceived nearly 10 years before that, Kenosha's downtown was suffering from manufacturing losses and other economic pressures that were leaving empty storefronts.

Lou Rugani, a Kenosha radio personality and streetcar skeptic who has been won over, told Cieslewicz that one out of every three people who go to Kenosha go to ride the streetcar.

"It a boon to tourism," Cieslewicz said. "And tourism is one of the reasons for a streetcar here."

However, on a recent Monday, there wasn't a tourist in sight on Kenosha's downtown lakefront.

It goes on to talk about costs.

Bingo! Like I touched on earlier, one loop and 4 cars is not a system. Also, since the beginning a few years ago, they've always tried to make the trolley a tourist destination. Kenosha, however is not where anyone really chooses to go, voluntarily--there's nothing there. The only things to do are shopping, along Interstate 94 at the edge of the city, the grayhound track, the site of the proposed Indian casino that got Doyle tied up, boating on Lake Michigan, and a Jelly Belly distribution center that gives tours.

As the article states, no one goes there for tourism, trolley or not. One-third of 100 people is still no one. To have Kenosha using trolleys as tourism as a model for Madison is quite frankly more unrealistic than what the mayor usually is.

Kenosha is in a bad spot since the downtowns of Milwaukee and Chicago are both within an hour's drive, so there's really no competition. Madison is different, we've got museums and culture performances, parks and lakes, the Capitol, and the University all attracting people to come. I don't think anyone's decision on whether to visit the city would hinge on whether they can ride in an over-sized model train set doing loops around the Capitol.

It's easy to glance over the reality presented in the article with Madison's pink tinted glasses, but it says that for Kenosha's $5 million trolley, they get 50 riders weekdays and 200 on weekends (that's per day, not at one time folks)--and that cost was after they went as cheap as possible on everything. So if the mayor spends $50 million, perhaps he could get 500 riders? As one of the comments on the article even says, giving limo rides would be cheaper.

It's all quite silly. Trolleys in small cities don't work well enough to justify their cost. Kenosha's has come off as more of a moving monument to government waste. Tourism is not a good argument for Madison. What kind of people would a trolley attract? Could Madison really handle more than one Mayor Dave?

If they want to boost business, they should zone blocks as 'enterprise zones' and give tax incentives to businesses and perhaps eliminate some of the inefficient micromanaging laws. That plan would cost a few sheets of paper and some ink.

* I really don't mean to be ripping on Kenosha. I guess it's a nice little city. They try hard.

2 comments:

Erik Opsal said...

That article was complete crap. Kenosha can't compare in any way to Madison, so it was completely pointless. If they had compared Madison to Portland, then it would matter.

Anonymous said...

Actually Kenosha's tourism draws nearly a quarter billion dollars a year into the community, up from less than $100 million in 1999, and the streetcar line carried over 63,000 passengers in 2007. Those figures almost certainly will be surpassed when the 2008 figures are tallied. Mile per mile the streetcars carry far more passengers than do the city buses, and they use only domestic energy.