Raina J. Johnson is a Milwaukee writer and daily transit rider. She offers ideas on how to attract and retain millennials on the move and to cure what she calls the “in constant motion, but going nowhere” syndrome of Milwaukee’s transportation infrastructure.
I ride the bus system every day and typically my path leads me to various neighborhoods – from Silver City to the Third Ward, up to the East Side and as far west as Uptown Crossing. Sometimes, on standing-room-only buses, my daily commute tells me that I’m not alone in my reliance on efficient public transportation.
We all know our bus system has had its share of challenges in recent years, from work stoppages to budget cuts. But, there have been some bright spots like the addition of bike racks, converting to the M-CARD and the user-friendly transit smartphone apps; all have been great in conjunction with express bus lines. Even greater potential is on the horizon with the proposed Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, from downtown to Wauwatosa. Those things are all well and good but as a millennial transit rider, it feels like I’m in constant motion but going nowhere on the current bus system. I’m confident that more can be done to increase efficiency and attract more millennial riders to public transit as a first choice in transportation.
I don’t think the band-aid solution of a mostly-downtown street car is the answer to solve our millennial transit problem, but as the research suggests, businesses are looking for tech-savvy workers, and developing our public transportation infrastructure is one way to attract and retain those workers. Results from a 2015 online survey by the Public Policy Forum found that many millennials already living in Milwaukee placed importance on pedestrian-friendly streets, effective mass transit and bicycle-friendly streets.
The saying, “build it and they will come” will prove true and extremely vital to our city’s future when discussing sports arenas and streetcars. Those discussions cannot and should not overlook ways to expand and modernize our current public transit system, as well as increase biking and pedestrian options and lanes to decrease environmental impact, and ease the economic burden many millennials face in this tight economy.
The future of urban survival is heavily reliant upon millennials’ lifestyle and trends, especially in the digital age. Providing the necessary transportation combined with employment and housing opportunities will be the magic formula that leads to millennials staying in Milwaukee.
There’s no shortage of evidence that strong, reliable and efficient transportation needs to connect the millennials to events, and happenings, especially in the “city of festivals.” We’ve seen a boom in transportation-share options like Lyft, Uber, Milwaukee’s own Bublr Bikes and the car-sharing platform, Zipcar, so what more can a city like Milwaukee do?
For starters, I’ve love to see the same zest and energy for transit development, access and options around areas outside of downtown. Once those conversations move into inner-city neighborhoods and we start to see a real, viable connection between transit flow to regional areas and jobs in Kenosha, or the WOW counties, it will be easier for many to get to and keep jobs.
Investments in continually updating the speed and efficiency of the current transit system to meet the needs of real people and real families would be a true game-changer. Other investments should be made in technology. For example, being able to connect citywide to Wi-Fi and wireless-charging technology would be reason enough for many millennials to get on the bus.
Those digital-age upgrades would double as an opportunity to allow riders to easily access transit schedules on their devices. Just like waiting rooms at the doctor’s office, donated books and magazines on the buses could be great for both children and adults as another way to pass the time.
Overall, city landscapes no matter their size are bending towards investing in the future of the millennial generation’s needs and wants. Improving public transit infrastructure is one important step in that process to get us off busses that are in constant motion to nowhere and actually begin to take millennials right to the center of where they want to be.