The 30th Street Industrial Corridor has a rich history as an industrial and manufacturing employment hub west and northwest of downtown Milwaukee, particularly for Milwaukee’s African American community. The neighborhoods that grew as a result of the postwar economic boom once had one of the highest standards of living for African Americans in the United States.
Due to globalization, changes in labor structure, the closing of factories, technological changes, persistent segregation, discriminatory policies and practices, and various other factors, the area has seen declining property values, significant unemployment, high crime rates and a legacy of brownfields. Despite these socioeconomic challenges, community stakeholders including nonprofit organizations, business associations, resident groups and local government agencies have been working together to build momentum for positive changes and implement projects in the corridor.
A low-volume active rail line travels through the corridor, providing an opportunity to develop a shared-use trail paralleling the rail line (also known as a “rail-with-trail”). According to a recent analysis by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), 4 in 10 Milwaukee residents lack good bike routes that can connect them to grocery stores, schools, libraries and hospitals within two miles, while 6 in 10 lack routes to get to an employment center within the same distance. Such a trail could offer nearby residents a safe place to be active outside and active transportation options to employment and education centers around the area.
RTC’s BikeAble study, which measured residents’ connectivity to trails, determined that completing a trail along the 30th Street rail corridor is the most important trail investment in the Milwaukee region in terms of creating more equitable trail access for users of all races, ethnic groups, and incomes. BikeAble is discussed in more detail in the Introduction section of this report.
This study analyzes the feasibility of a shared-use trail along the 30th Street rail corridor as part of the Route of the Badger initiative to answer important technical questions that will likely arise as project development continues. This study also sets the stage for a community process to define how a trail could best meet community needs.
Local support has been expressed for considering commuter rail along the rail corridor at some point in the future. Commuter rail would unlikely be able to share the existing track(s) with the active heavy rail line; however, installation of the shared-use trail would not prevent conversion to commuter rail where necessary. A proper study of the feasibility of commuter rail to utilize the rail corridor should be conducted if the commuter rail concept advances.
This study finds that a shared-use trail project along the 30th Street rail corridor is feasible and that various on-street connections are possible to fill gaps where the corridor is narrow or obstructed. The next step for a potential trail project is to craft and implement an equitable development strategy that will incorporate neighborhood leadership on the intersectional issues at play in the neighborhoods around the 30th Street rail corridor. If a trail project moves forward from there, funding would need to be acquired for the design and engineering process of a trail, which would then inform the construction costs and timeline for eventual trail construction. A Working Group consisting of members of 12 different organizations collaborated to develop this study, and the potential development of a trail will rely on continued collaboration of these organizations and many more across the region.