Brady Street, which boasts some of the best street life in Milwaukee, has flourished thanks in part to the defeat of a nearby freeway spur and the redevelopment that followed. Photo: Steve Filmanowicz.
As mayor of Milwaukee from 1988 to 2004, CNU
President John Norquist made urbanism and livability top priorities. Some of his most notable achievements centered on the redevelopment of highway corridors with street grids and infill, culminating with the demolition of the Park East Freeway in 2002
-- one of the largest voluntary highway removal projects undertaken in America. Other projects, like the introduction of a light rail system, never reached fruition.
In the second part of our interview (read the first part here), Norquist discusses these victories and setbacks, and how federal policy can help cities and towns do the right thing.
Ben Fried: Expanding the transit system in Milwaukee has been a very long, protracted process. You wanted to build light rail. What sort of resistance did you meet from other public officials?
Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Buffalo, Detroit, Cleveland -- the regional planning commissions they have really aren’t looking out for city interests, they're looking out for the exurban interests.John Norquist:
Any time I had to fix a problem at one level of government, there was another one that would pop up. We had a Democratic governor, but then we had a county exec who was against light rail. The mayor wasn’t really for light rail. When I got elected mayor, I was for light rail but the county exec was still against it, that was Dave Schultz in 1988. And then we had Tommy Thompson as governor who wasn’t for it. He said he was open to it at the beginning when Schultz was against it. And then once Schultz left, then Thompson became more against it. The right wing talk shows went after it and so he followed their lead, you know the local Rush Limbaugh types. And then it just seemed like every step of the way, we get one group that had to be for it on the other side. The county runs the transit system, so it’s kind of hard to do it without them. If the city had run the transit system we would have been able to do it right away.
It’s frustrating, because Milwaukee was always ranked by the Federal Transit Administration as one of the best places to put in a light rail, because it was built around the street car system. There was over 350 miles of street car in Milwaukee at the end of the war, 200 miles of inner urban. We had a really, really good transit system and by 1958 it was all gone. But the land use patterns were all built around street car lines. Now I think my successor, Tom Barrett, has got himself some clout with this. They put an earmark in the budget bill that just passed that gave him control of a nice big chunk of money, so he might be able to get that street car going. Read more...