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Transit = Insurance

June 6, 2009


(photo from ten minutes)

(photo from ten minutes)

The Milken Institute recently released their list of technology hot spots. Coming in at 49th was the Kenosha-Lake County region.  Chicago was 14th on the list. 

Absent from the list: Milwaukee.  

As much as water is being touted as the “future of Milwaukee,” it’s important that we hedge our bets and invest in opportunities to bolster a wider range of job sectors in the event that water research work “dries up” (sorry). Connecting ourselves to two high-technology regions will allow us to contribute to and benefit from the ongoing job activity in these areas.  

A lot of people continue to argue that we can do this without adding commuter rail between Milwaukee and Kenosha (or high-speed rail between Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago). Just like we ought to seek out a wide range of job sectors in order to reduce the risk of overdependency on one job sector, we also need to plan for a wider range of transportation options in order to prepare ourselves for future energy uncertainty.  

As gas prices have risen $.48 in the past month, it should become more apparent to us that our dependency on gasoline represents a major impediment to future progress in Milwaukee.  A 100% increase in the price of gasoline represents a 50% decrease in drivers’ mobility per dollar.  It’s not a question of if the price of gas will increase, it’s only a matter of time before it does.  Even seeing the writing on the wall isn’t enough for so many of the anti-transit curmudgeons among us because it costs money — notice how little the reliably pro-auto argued against spending upwards of $2.3 billion for the Zoo Interchange.   The downtown streetcar proposal is going to cost 5% of that figure, at best, and provide an alternative option for downtown workers.  

Milwaukee is trying to position itself to benefit from future job markets and resource scarcities, yet we’re displaying an absolutely mind-boggling inability to pivot into an era of high-priced gas and decreased reliance on automobiles.  Notice that last sentence didn’t indicate the “end” of automobiles: it’s not that they won’t be around, but that they will cost significantly more to operate than the average middle-class family will be able to spend.  This “freedom” to drive will no longer feel as sweet as it does right now; providing people with options now will lessen the pain that is likely to come when the automobile is no longer an affordable option.  

In terms of energy and jobs, transit acts as an insurance policy against the unforeseen events in an individual’s life and the collective events that stand to reshape how we all get around.  Doing more now to diversify our transit options by providing bike racks on buses, investing in commuter rail and reinvesting in our bus system will pay for itself in the future when more of our community relies upon it.


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