What Happens When Jobs Are Out of the Reach of Transit

The Milwaukee region has a big problem. Over the last few decades, most jobs were added in far-flung suburbs that tend to be completely inaccessible by public transit.

Click to enlarge. This map shows transit service from Milwaukee in green, and industrial parks outside its service area in purple. Image: Public Policy Forum

This map shows transit service from Milwaukee in green, and industrial parks outside its service area in purple. Image: Public Policy Forum. Click to enlarge.

Meanwhile, the majority of jobless workers live in Milwaukee, and many of them lack access to a car.

At a recent meeting of regional leaders covered by Michael Horne at Urban Milwaukee, there was widespread agreement that poor planning and inadequate transit are hurting the region’s economy. Horne gathered this testimony from some of the speakers:

David Karst of MRA, an employers group, said his perspective is that “people in the city of Milwaukee want to work. Take down the obstacles.” He formerly worked for Buy Seasons, when that company hoped to build a distribution center in the Menomonee Valley, close to workers and transit. The plan was derailed by the opposition of Ald. Bob Donovan, and the above-minimum wage jobs went to New Berlin, where the company hires private buses to transport some 400 workers to their jobs…

You’d think after a quarter century or more of talking about it, we might get around to creating a regional transportation authority of some sort, [Public Policy Forum President Rob] Henken suggested.

Panelist Steve Scaffidi, mayor of Oak Creek, was quick to respond, saying, “You put ‘Authority’ on the back of anything around here, you will have opposition.” The population of his city has gone from 20,000 to 35,000 since 1990 and is considered 99 percent urban, but you’d never know it from its transit status.

“There is resistance in suburbs to expanding bus service,” Scaffidi said. “There are reasons I don’t need to tell you and I don’t believe in.” Scaffidi said his town is growing with such development as the Drexel Town Square, some 600 apartments by Rick Barrett and Matt Rinka, a medical facility, retail, and a Four Points by Sheraton Hotel. “I don’t have 1,000 parking spaces for workers just to sit there all day,” he said, adding that the elderly need transit.

Unfortunately, even with the matter-of-fact admission from suburban leaders and employers that poor transit is a problem, there seemed to be pervasive doubt that the region can muster the political will to address it. “There needs to be some bravery on the part of elected officials that we don’t have now,” said Mayor Scaffidi.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Cyclelicious explains the concept of a “bike train,” which is enticing new bicycle commuters in San Jose. Spacing says Toronto’s car-dependence is inhibiting its growth, but the political will to change doesn’t seem to be there. And Stop and Move says the details of a new Walmart proposed for Frenso indicate that the retail giant might be adjusting some of its sprawling ways — but not all.