Investing in Transit “Because Millennials” is a Bad Idea

I’m guilty of using this point when I want to win an argument. Millennials want options, especially in transportation.

If cities want to attract new talent, younger residents and diverse citizens, you need to invest in transit. Right? Well…

It’s not that cut and dry. The idea of investing in transit “because Millennials” is just plain stupid. It actually negates the whole idea of a good transportation system, ya know, one that works for everyone.

Case in point, the controversial, overpriced Milwaukee streetcar.

I am not a huge fan of the Milwaukee streetcar. I think it’s a big gamble funded with federal money and has no real need. This is not to mention that the streetcar has seen more than a few setbacks since starting construction, making it that much more pricey to Milwaukee residents. My parents who live in Milwaukee, are even less fond of it because it doesn’t help them at all. My dad especially. He’s the principal of an inner-city school and can’t really figure out why they’re not spending the money on something like education.

In a recent article on the streetcar system, Mayor Tom Barrett was quoted saying “The streetcar brings a lot of value,” Barrett said. “The Millennials want to move around the city with ease.”

First off, if political correctness has taught me anything it’s that adding “the” in front of any group of people is a sure way to get them to hate you.

Second, if you’re investing in a expensive streetcar system “because Millennials,” stop.

If you’re going to bank your transit system on a highly unemployed group of people who are loaded with debt and notorious for moving around, you’re probably not doing transit right.

The problem stems from the idea that cities need to progress and grow, ergo, they need a constant stream of people to fuel their development. If you as a mayor want to add some shiny new transit that is really slow just because you think it’s good for the “youngens,” then you ought to stop, re-evaluate and figure out your return on investment instead of pandering to a demographic.

Again, I’ll hop back to the Milwaukee streetcar. It’s a pretty small, pretty expensive piece of transit. And in a city like Milwaukee, where crime and poverty are abundant, it does little for mobility of the poor. But hey, Millennials!

Likewise, Detroit, a city essentially in ruin, is shelling out a ton of money for a streetcar. Why? I don’t know, it doesn’t really make me want to move to Detroit and I’m a 25 year old designer with no kids and I’m even wearing a plaid flannel shirt RIGHT NOW. How much more Millennial can I get?

I know it sounds like I’m hating on streetcars, I’m not. I’m hating on the idea that someone put an idea out there that streetcars=millennials=cool people=jobs=a better city. I don’t want my generation being a driving force in bad transit investments just because we’ll like them for a few years before we may end up in the suburbs anyway resulting in less people moving into the city to replace those that left.

Again, with the Green Line in The Twin Cities, am I the only one that thinks that eight breweries along a single transit line is a bit of a millennial-inspired bubble? This isn’t to say that the green line was built because of those breweries or that other things won’t build there in the future, but I think the notion of Green Line as recreation over transit is percolating.

Now, this isn’t to say that we should build roads “because cars” or we should do anything “because anything else.” Rather, this is aimed at the fad sweeping the nation that Millennials will save your city (which might be true) if you build them transit first. Honestly, I would value a strong sense of place over transit any day, but that might just be personal opinion.

Biking has seen a massive explosion not only with the young, but with older generations as well.  Bike lanes, painted or protected, are way, WAY, cheaper than a full transit system. Cities need to start small and add when it makes financial sense.

This absolutely ridiculous “quiz” showed up on my news feed asking how “Millennial” my transportation habits are. I scored (what I assume is good) a “forever young” telling me that:

You’re so Millennial, you must have been born in 1990! Millennials are increasingly choosing all sorts of options when deciding how they’ll get around town, and public transportation options are an important part of that mix. Whether you’re 18 or 99, your transportation habits are just like these tech focused, social media savvy Millennials. Put your earbuds in and ride!

Gee thanks! I’m glad that I could be boiled down into some Saved by the Bell watching caricature. AND I WAS BORN IN 1989 THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

I think the problem is that, like a lot of things in America, we’re polarizing millennials as pro-any-kind-of-transit. This means we’re being used to fuel unnecessary projects that cost a lot of money and may end up hurting the cities we live in.

To fix this, be an advocate of financial responsibility, productivity, and common sense. If a city wants to build a transit, great, but ask why, where, cost, and efficiency instead of letting it get masked behind “because Millennials.”

Cover photo from Brad Hammonds on Albumarium

Matthias Leyrer

About Matthias Leyrer

Matthias Leyrer is a resident of Mankato looking to restore a fraction of its old glory. He writes about the economic, aesthetic, practical and financial issues facing the city of Mankato going Follow him @mjleyrer