Milwaukee Transit and Update

On Transit in Milwaukee…

Last time I checked in, I promised to discuss public transportation in Milwaukee.  Much has been said about it already, and I don’t want to repeat what anyone who cares about the issue already knows.  Most people who are not led by ideology who has looked at the situation understands that Milwaukee needs to expand its system of public transit.  It has the potential to provide substantial economic and societal benefits to the area.  The current system is broken.  The politicians have not gotten it done.  Etc etc.

Here’s is something that I wrote on the topic for another purpose:

Across the U.S, people are driving less, transit ridership is on the rise, and cities everywhere are bolstering their public transit systems.  The price of gasoline makes this virtually inevitable.  Likewise, the potential economic and social benefits of robust transit make it a compelling option everywhere. Why, then, has Milwaukee not yet joined the party?

There are many theories.  Community activists like Gretchen Schuldt and Jim Rowen place much of the blame on SEWRPC, a powerful policy commission that seems to value highways and suburbs more than trains and urban centers.  Others blame the politicians, who mostly agree that something must be done on transit but cannot agree on much of anything else.  As was on display at the recent UEDA-sponsored summit on transportation, the politicians blame each other, and talk radio.  Quality leadership is lacking.

Certainly, suspect planning commissions, warring politicians, and conservative commentators can all bask in the glory of fault when it comes to the transit failure.  However, politicians fight each other everywhere, planning commissions are never perfect, and talk radio is ubiquitous.  Those looking for the true cause of the inaction are going to have to come harder than that.

If they’re allowed to get away with it, the preeminent leaders in Milwaukee County seem content with either squashing public transit for purely ideological and political reasons (Scott Walker) or proposing modest, risk-free plans knowing that inaction will not have political consequences at this time (Tom Barrett).  So long as voters don’t punish their elected officials for not moving on this issue, surprise, they will not move on this issue.

So, why haven’t citizens raised their voices loud enough to force action?  Milwaukeeans are an intelligent bunch who will move towards a good deal when they see it.  This is the city that clips the most coupons and wasn’t afraid to vote overwhelmingly for the physical embodiment of change, Barack Obama.  The expansion of transit, for a litany of well-documented economic and social reasons, is right in Milwaukee’s wheelhouse.

Could it be that the always lurking specter of racial tension is playing a role here?  Milwaukee is a city segregated not just by where people live, but also with where people work and play, and whom they do it with.  Though translated to “gathering place” in Ojibwe, Milwaukee in reality is a series of isolated neighborhoods.  Many folks only know of other neighborhoods what the local TV news offers them, which is not helpful.  Many simply won’t step foot in certain neighborhoods because they don’t have to, or can’t, or just don’t want to.

Expanding public transit in the area means moving people to places they wouldn’t normally go, and it means people sitting by those they normally wouldn’t sit by.  What is a non-issue for a system like Washington D.C’s Metro is hopelessly complicated and difficult for Milwaukee.  People here care if they’re on a train or bus with people who don’t look like them, and they may not want to ride or support public transit because of it.

Until the citizens of the region fully discover that they are all in this together, racial tension will continue to be a considerable source of inertia, forever slowing down forward thinking and necessary developments to the detriment of all.  This is true whether we care to acknowledge it or not.  So long as the local leaders consider this area’s racial tension to be a third rail worthy of being either exploited for political gain or completely ignored for lack of political loss, goals like expanded transit will be far more difficult than they should be.

On Life Update…

I find myself back in Bloomington after finishing up my summer in Milwaukee.  It hurt to leave the hometown.  I had a great summer there, learned a lot, had a lot of fun.  I’ll be back soon enough.

Much has changed here in Bloomington.  Jess made a lateral move in her job that now has her working in Bloomington rather than an hour east of Bloomington.  We figure that the move gives her 7.5 hours/week and $2,000/year in time and gas savings, so it was a pretty big deal.  They’re very impressed with her and she’s been doing great in the job.

Meanwhile, Jess and I moved to a larger place closer to campus.  We love our apartment, and the location.  I’m able to walk to all of my classes again which is great, and we have more than enough space.  The cats love it as well, as they now have ample space to chase each other and cause mischief.  They’re still vigilant in their protection of the place, but this did not stop a drunken (I assume, since it was late) hoosier from stealing one of my lawn chairs (a Wisconsin one was also out there and it got passed over).  I’m going to have to increase the defense budget.  More kitty treats?

SPEA

The biggest change for me was the semester long move to SPEA full-time.  Law school to grad school.  Law to policy.  It’s only been two weeks, but I can already see major differences.  Firstly, I’m proud to say that I’m going to make use of my graphing calculator again!  It used to be my best friend in undergrad, and now I get to whip it out again for classes in statistics, economics, and budgeting.  Lower level math I suppose, but it’ll do.  I’m a quick draw with the TI-83+.

The material, obviously, is different.  I’m learning all the core stuff this semester, which I know will be helpful.  But, the pace has been terribly slow, and I have a tendency to shut down when I’m not being challenged.  Unless the pace picks up, I’m going to have to modify my motivations by challenging myself to stay focused on slow material rather than come through when the material is difficult.  I don’t know which is a harder challenge.  Hopefully, the material will pick up soon.

The populations are completely different.  The cynic in me says that my new classmates aren’t heartless, but I guess that’s a bit unfair.  What is clear is that my classmates haven’t gone through the law school process, and it’s very refreshing.  They seem more down to earth.  At the same time, I’m a bit skeptical as to the level of performance compared to the law school.  It’s early though.

Unfortunately, the difference in populations extends to diversity.  With my background, my definition of diversity is a minority-majority city and a colorful family reunion.  The law school isn’t all that diverse really, but at least they have a little something.  SPEA has some ESL students, but virtually nothing in the way of American racial diversity.  I got used to being the only colored feller in the class on UW’s engineering campus, and I’m just going to have to get used to it again.  At least there’s genuine gender diversity this time around.  Sigh . . . I’m looking forward to returning to Milwaukee.

Perhaps the biggest difference between SPEA and the law school is how the classroom itself is viewed.  It has been emphasized repeatedly that competition is discouraged at SPEA.  We work together, not against each other.  Of course, the law school is the complete opposite of that (though recruiters always pretend that Indiana is that one school that doesn’t have a competitive atmosphere).  I’ll admit that I usually enjoy competition, but I certainly don’t enjoy the type of personalities and behaviors that frequently stem from it, especially in the legal realm.  It’s a breath of fresh air to be away from that stuff for awhile.  When you’re immersed in law for long enough, it’s easy to start to see all of life as a zero sum game.

On other stuff…

Politics

I’ve been paying close attention to the Presidential race, as I’m sure anyone reading has.  I have a million things to say and nothing to say all at once.  Obama’s goal is pretty simple: make this election about the issues.  People can pooh and pah all they want about this or that, but it all really comes down to self interest.  We see how the country is, we know change is needed.  Which candidate will make a majority of Americans better off with his Presidency?  The one who will continue the economic policies that got us where we are today, or the one that will change those policies?  Republicans can yammer on with their same old same old economic arguments all they want.  Our eyes don’t deceive us.  They made those same arguments, won the political argument, and we saw what happened.  It is time to give a Democrat a shot here.  If Obama wins and is catastrophic, the fiscal conversative can say “I told you so.”  Giving the Democrat a shot is better than sticking to more of what got us to where we are.  I think a majority of Americans will come to the same conclusion.

Badgers

After a slow start against Marshall, Wisconsin starting revving up the passing game.  I’m a bit concerned about their defense, and I’m not completely sold on Evridge yet.  They’ll have an opportunity to really make a statement when they travel to California to take on Fresno State on Saturday.  Many people don’t think Wisconsin will win the game, so here’s the chance to prove them wrong.

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