September 15, 2009

Analysis: KRM is the 'game-changer' Racine needs

A bi-level, diesel-multiple-unit car that would run on the KRM commuter rail line.

A RacinePost reader sent in this email Monday:
There was a shooting on the 1100 block of Romayne Ave. on Sat. night @ about midnight. 7 shots fired from a small caliber handgun into the windshield of an SUV. The perpetrator got out of a car and walked into the front yard of 1102 Romayne and fired the shots. No one was hurt. This whole neighborhood north of Gould to 3 mile and between Douglas and Main is getting hit big time by more serious crime. Racine is going to lose a lot of taxpayers and see another neighborhood go down in 10 years or so if we don't do something NOW!

I think we are moving, since this happened near us. You lose a family of 5 with 2 professionals and 3 kids in RUSD plus many others like us.
This email sums up the difficulties facing the city. How does Racine remain a viable city over the next 10 or 20 years with people worried about the future of their neighborhoods?

Problems will be exacerbated this fall when city officials consider the 2010 budget. State shared revenue is plummeting, local tax revenues are, at best, flat and likely down, and the need for police services, as well as job-training and social service programs, is on the rise. The city needs a game-changer.

By "game-changer" I mean something that radically alters direction. In a familiar sports context, it's like needing a yard for a first down and instead going for the 50-yard touchdown pass. Is there risk? Of course. But there are time when playing conservative doesn't work. You need a radical shift in thinking and action.

I can think of two game-changers that would have an immediate impact on Racine. Both are controversial, but could have real impact on the community.

The first is some sort of decriminalization of drugs. Arresting, jailing and prosecuting local residents for marijuana possession is expensive, time-consuming and ineffective. Does anyone doubt they could buy pot in Racine if they wanted to? Our police officers have better things to do (like preventing violent crime), and our taxpayers have better things to pay for, (like preventing violent crime) than busting people for small amounts of marijuana.

Setting that aside (for now), the second game-changer is the KRM commuter rail. I attended SEWRPC's listening session Monday night on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement on extending commuter rail from Kenosha to Milwaukee. It was a procedural step en route to applying for the federal money needed to make KRM a reality. No new information was presented; it was simply an opportunity for the public to submit comments on the train service.

But the hearing did provide perspective on why the train is being considered. Walking through a series of signs set up on easels through Gateway's hallways, one sign display jumped out. Here it is:

Existing Land Use around the proposed KRM station in Racine
(Click to Enlarge)

Future Land Use around the proposed KRM station in Racine
(Click to Enlarge)

The two maps date back to 2006. They were created by a consultant and the future map is only a projection of what could happen if the station is built. But the transformation makes sense, particularly along the Root River.

The current use along the river is largely industrial and storage with a mix of single-family and multi-family homes in the surrounding neighborhood. The projected future use is open green space and residential, with some commerce mixed in, surrounded by single-family homes. No doubt it's a rosy future for an area know for high crime rates. But the KRM station has the potential to be a game-changer.

The city right now is competition with its neighboring communities (Mount Pleasant, Caledonia, Oak Creek, Franklin, Somers, Kenosha, etc.) for residents. In many ways, the city doesn't have a lot to offer. It's property tax rate is high, it's crime rate is above surrounding areas, there's not a lot of jobs, the schools aren't great, driving to the Interstate is a pain ... all the problems we all know are facing the community.

Years ago the state considered extending Highway 794 along the lakefront into Racine. At the time the community fought the idea because it would divide the city and significantly change the urban landscape. Unfortunately, we're paying for that decision now because of Racine's isolation from Milwaukee and Chicago. Kenosha is growing because of its ties to northern Illinois and cities like Oak Creek and Franklin are growing because of their connection to Milwaukee. Racine sits on an island in the middle.

KRM is the city's new opportunity to plug into the neighboring urban areas. The beauty of the project is the federal government would cover a big chunk of the start up cost - more than $100 million. That's a direct investment into Racine and southeastern Wisconsin's infrastructure, one the community would be foolish to pass up.

I understand the counter argument. The ridership numbers may be optimistic/unrealistic, a rental car tax seems like a questionable way to pay for the trains and more money will probably be needed to run the trains. Racine certainly doesn't need higher taxes, and it's bordering on absurd to ask Burlington and Waterford residents to pay for a train they'll never ride.

That all makes sense. But what's lost in the argument is the need for radical change. City and state officials need to do something for Racine, and they've needed to do it for a long time. The city suffers from chronic unemployment, poverty and the resulting violent crime, and has done so for decades. (Some say the crime rate is a matter of exaggerated perception - an argument I'm sympathetic to. But I'm also sympathetic to stories like the one above. If there was a violent shooting on our block, I'd move, too.)

People need reasons to move to Racine and reasons to stay in Racine. The lake, affordable homes and a nice Downtown are good examples. But they're not enough if people are unemployed or fearful for their family's lives.

The problems described in the opening email stem from the high-crime near the KRM station. The property values in the area are depressed, the home-ownership rates are low, there are few jobs and a limited number of viable commercial businesses. The area needs massive stimulus, and right now, the only one on the table is the new KRM station.

There's a good underlying question here as to whether the station will lead to new development and an invigorated neighborhood. It worked in Kenosha and, I'm told, Highland Park, Ill. But Racine would require a substantial transformation that's difficult to envision. Still, what's the worst that happens? The train service starts, no one rides it, expenses skyrocket and the RTA turns to Racine and other communities to pickup the tab. If it's outlandish, the city will say no. It's largely federal money - money collected from our taxes that will be spent elsewhere, if not here - and fees on rental cars that's at stake.

Here's the key: What's the best outcome for Racine? KRM is an opportunity for the city to acquire a massive investment in an ailing neighborhood in desperate need of change. The region would do well to support that investment as a way to invigorate eastern Racine County's economic center and bring a new resource to a community competing for jobs and people.

Of course, there's always the alternative of decriminalizing drugs and hoping that brings people to town. But when it comes to game-changers, KRM is the best option.


  1. Please understand no one coming to Racine. For what The Uptown Art Project? The Downtown that's I see it forbids Black Hispanic or Korean Business?

  2. How is KRM paid for? How do you keep paying for it when no one rides it?

  3. Please tell the man stabbed on Jones
    St Sunday night that he only perceived to be stabbed

  4. Urban Pioneer9/15/2009 3:27 PM

    Dustin you Wrote:

    Here's the key: What's the best outcome for Racine? KRM is an opportunity for the city to acquire a massive investment in an ailing neighborhood in desperate need of change. The region would do well to support that investment as a way to invigorate eastern Racine County's economic center and bring a new resource to a community competing for jobs and people."
    If we spent 30 Million dollars on the neighborhood in question it'd be Park Ave!! Spending it for a train that no one will ride for 20 years. is folly!

  5. I am not convinced on the train. We have great coach buses and no one rides them.

    No one wants to switch trains. I drive plenty more than I ride the train to Chicago suburbs because I would have to switch trains.

    If we are going to buy trains and invest money it should be done right the first time.

    This plan is silly.

  6. As a railfan, a person who enjoys and spends time in Chicago and a poor person who pays little taxes I can support this. Me and my daughter wont have to go to Waukegan or Kenosha to see the "Metra Trains".

    We could hop on this and ride down there and have all kinds of fun. This in will no shape or form replace my hot Mustang or Big SUV, both of which I also love driving to Chicago as well.

    Coal powered electric trains or diesel electrics ?

  7. legalizing drugs...

    Good, because it takes power away from gangs. They make money and have addicts to do their bidding because of drugs. They are violent and have to protect their turf.

    But, what about drug addicts? We do not have enough decent drug rehab programs.

    We do not have decent drug education/prevention programs.

    Legalizing would have to be well thought out.

    But money from the organically grown pot could fund train.

  8. Anyone....please post the name of any large company who will commit to coming to Racine because of the KRM ......I'm waiting!

  9. Yes, our community is flush with money to fund this boondoggle.

    This project replaces service that already exists and barely anyone utilizes.

    Racine ain't Chicago folks, there is a reason that METRA stopped in Kenosha, they did not see the market to extending the line any further.

    Additionally KRM is projected to run at an 83% loss. That's a projection; I can guarantee you that losses will actually be higher than that.

    How you ask?

    Look at the projections.

    Projecting 1.4 million riders annually, 14 trips on weekdays, 7 on weekends and holidays. Do the math and that breaks down to an average of 341 riders per train in order to meet that projection.

    You might be able to make a case that given time peak rush hour routes could build to that, but every train on every day? No flipping way.

    Last night it was stated that since people like trains so much more than busses 5 times as many people would ride the train. (If you buy that logic)

    Even if this is correct have you ever seen 68 people on a KRM Coach bus? I think not. Less than 10 is more the norm.

    If the ridership number is too high, the revenue generated from said ridership will also fall short creating even a greater loss. Yes, this project will run at greater than the 83% projected loss.

    Racine you are being sold a bill of goods by people who view a choo choo as the saving grace to our community. People who refuse to admit the actual problems in this community: schools, crime, drugs, out of control spending and taxes.

    A train will fix absolutely none of that.

    KRM will do nothing but add an additional tax burden on an already declining community.

    Given that the author is of the opinion that legalizing drugs would also be a help to this community, I think they may have been in an altered state when they formulated their opinion.

  10. Real Debate - you don't have to use drugs to see that the punishment does not fit the crime. And Anon 3:41 is right, we need more drug prevention services and rehab programs. Additionally, better school systems, better employment, better healthcare...they would all significantly contribute to decreasing drug use. I wonder what you have done to help people receive better quality services in Racine?

  11. How about doing it the old fashioned way and hire more police officers to patrol the city.

  12. Dang and i thought the post was different than the times...i have not read the journal in years now and am better for it. This is the same buddy buddy scratch my back kind of manure that has been plaguing racine for years now. I remember the insidious "Sustaineable Developement garbage that sam "the sham man" johnson foisted on the entire community. NObody, back then knew about the author of that line of b.s. was mikhail gorbachev. He inserted that into the 1977 soviet union constitution. Sam prolly did it as a favor for getting into the david rockerfeller's favor.(CFR)

    Here we are factory less, all alone, and getting poorer by the days.....

  13. Concerned Citizen9/15/2009 5:33 PM

    Anon 5:20 -

    Dustin and Pete have changed from the days when they first created this site. Long ago, this site was refreshingly new and fun to read. Now, they are robots, plain and simple. Many people are starting to see this. Sad, very sad.

  14. Aaron:

    The people in this city hate cops. You should know this by now. You're idea is a great one, but not with this current "City Government" (and I use that term VERY loosely).

  15. Racine will never be an industrial city again. It will either be a suburb of Chicago or Milwaukee and KRM will provide transportation to where the jobs are. Nothing any of you can say or do will change this so either accept it or move.

  16. Yes, all of those jobs in Lake and Cook County that only people associated with the train in Wisconsin seem to be smart enough to know about. I'll put it this way: as many people will be riding the train to get to jobs elsewhere as will be riding to Racine for the jobs here.

  17. Let's build another useless COP house in the neighborhood. Look what a difference they are making for the rest of the city. Crime at an all time high, people can't walk down streets at night without being robbed, etc. We need effective leadership at the Racine PD and a chief with something between his legs.

  18. Nothing any of you can say or do will change this so either accept it or move.Quote......

    I have heard this my entire adult life, and it just gets worse. One of these days it is going to get real bad real quick as opposed to this slow thirty year decline of living quality.WE are sheeple....

  19. The beginning of this article was where the answer is. Years ago extending 794 was considered. it's time to Reconsider it. and Dustin that too will be mostly Federal Money. the difference is that it WILL bring jobs, and opportunity to our City. it will improve access, both coming to and getting out of Racine. Run it along the KRM proposed corridor. pave over the Blight in the map. and with on off ramps at assorted intervals people will rebuild, and revamp those areas! It also improves access to our Lake and our downtown. and make s getting around the City even better.

    Expand School choice into The City of Racine, Lower taxes ate all Racine levels of Govt. and you'll have to build a wall to keep people out of our new city!

  20. "Racine will never be an industrial city again. It will either be a suburb of Chicago or Milwaukee and KRM will provide transportation to where the jobs are. Nothing any of you can say or do will change this so either accept it or move."
    Exactly. This is why Kenosha has recovered so well after AMC/Chrysler tanks - its rail link to Chicago thanks to the Metra has allowed it to become a far-flung suburb with a very low cost of living. The most common employer (other than the KUSD) is Abbot Labs - which is based in North Chicago, IL.

  21. justice committee9/15/2009 7:17 PM

    I strongly agree!!!

  22. Looking for a game changer? Racine has been run by big government liberals promoting big government ideas for the last fifty to seventy years. A game changer would be a switch to a small government, freedom oriented approach. Piling on even more government "solutions" like KRM is no game changer. It is the same game we have been playing, and losing, for generations.

  23. Concerned Citizen (5:33). Your point is well-taken. Some would say the site began to change about the same time Dustin & Pete began to ask for contributions or some sort of financial support. They were newsguys first & liberals second before that time. Has the need for funds to expand the site influenced the editorial content?

  24. No way they are making money at The Post.
    My guess is that Transit Now- Tom T and others are being very nice

  25. All the negative posts just set the tone for a great success story. You have to start somewhere. I would like to know what the complainers have ever done to take action. Or do they just complain. Racine Post keep up the good work!

  26. Anon 7:15 - so Abbott employees will now start to move here so they can ride the train? Maybe the train people can get Abbott to sign a contract stating that Abbott will hire a few thousand more employees if the train is built here. Abbott has voluntarily killed most of its own ability to do R&D - maybe you could sell them a train as a sexy M&A . . .

  27. No Dustin, it is not "radical change" that is needed. This is the solution clueless people - who happen to be leaders - often have for problems. It is changes in FUNDAMENTALS - including crime and taxes - that will put Racine on the right track (bad pun). THOSE are the hard things to do for people that have limitless supplies of taxpayer money and who couldn't get a good deal for siding installation on their own homes.

    This state is a joke from top to bottom. We bought trains on a no-bid deal and what are we going to do with them? Maybe they can be placed on a flatbed truck and hauled all around Wisconsin to promote the train. That would be a great source of billing another $ million or so on the consultants. The JT notes that the trains "will replace the Amtrak trains and will run at 110 miles per hour". Really? On the current tracks? It wouldn't surprise me a bit if the trains arrived and some low-level emplyee gets out a tape measure and concludes that the trains won't even fot on the tracks. Then we'll have to hope AND change.

  28. Racine has a lot to offer. Having spent 4 of the last 5 years on the east coast - the potential is amazing. The comments have been about transporting people out. Of course that will happen. What about those people taking the rail into Racine for the weekend. We already see a fair amount of IL license plates on the weekend. I am not suggesting that Racine will become the new Door County - but it might be another option. All good for the local business community. We have the lake infrastructure to support it. Not that many more hotels will be looking to come here with the tax rates.

  29. 11:14

    Where do you see these cars? Should you not drink and post

  30. Funny, Pete allows one poster in a different article (Barrell Boys article) to call someone a "DICK" (Is that not profane????), yet will censor and delete comments by people who are disgusted with Tom Tousis for letting young female employees wear T-Shirts that say "I like the creamy white sauce" (THIS IS A FACT, GO GET A GYRO AT GOOLD AND DOUGLAS AND SEE FOR YOURSELVES!!!)....What a hypocrite putz!!!

  31. Anyone who has taken the Metra on the weekends knows that it is full if not packed.
    What is up with all the naysayers, plenty of people will ride such a transit once it's in place.

  32. That makes no sense. To cut back on crime we just make the crime legal. Duh. Crime will also go down if rape and murder are legal. Oh, by the way can anyone name one instance where cops "Prevented" a violent crime?

  33. Well Racine just keeps going further and further into the toilet? Why? The crime rate is unreal to start with. There are no answers as that crime rate just climbs higher and higher daily. How anyone chooses to stay in Racine must be finance related..can't afford to move? Racine USED to be a good place to live, to work, to raise a family. But it has NO charm now. Visiting Racine makes me very sad to see the progress, or lack there of. Its like visiting Chicago in "the old days" - God forbid you accidently happen to drive in certain are begging for trouble. Stop for the red light, you may loose your hubcaps if you are lucky. Racine has NO answers as its just not a small town anymore. Stop the gangs and violence?? How?? Too many businesses as well as good families have left for higher ground where it is is now to the point where even admitting that "Racine is my home town" isn't fun to say...

  34. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  35. Anon 6:14 - Enough with your fascination with T-shirts. The only person making a big deal about this is you. If you don't like it, don't eat at Gus's. But stop with the comments ... we get it, you think the shirt is profane. Move on.

  36. Dustin, I know this is off-topic and not the blog for it, but seriously, whether or not the T-shirts are profane, they are exploitative of women. Extremely insulting. I would think that a liberal guy like you would be up on the sensitivity issues. This is not OrbsCorbs being a wiseguy. Talk to some of your feminist friends. Treating women like sex objects is very disturbing behavior for someone who tries so hard to impact our community.

  37. I meant Tousis, not you, with that last statement.

  38. Tom Tousis for letting young female employees wear T-Shirts that say "I like the creamy white sauce quote Anoymous
    Well dustin it goes a long way in demonstrating the character of tom tousis. Here's an example the difference between a tom tousis enterprise and whole foods is class of management, consideration for employee dignity, quality over crassness.

    Racine is dodo city,oh how about the old zahn building...empty still! With all the so called great things about current racine...
    why is the old zahn building still empty? Oh yeah i remember it was supposed to be a kids museum..But milwaukee has a quality one already.
    How about a racine's stupid museum.

    Demonstrating the stupidity of the ones who run things, and the amazing grace of the ones who live here and tolerate the Big talking, nothing doing drama queens that have graced the racine theater of the aburd.

  39. The idea of transforming racine's uptown into the hamptons of the midwest, seems to be more absurd everyday. They put up banners and install what is supposed to be fine art pieces before any fine art establishment has opened up yet.
    Someone explain why things are done this way!

    The former Belle city of Lake Michigan is smelling worse now than when the foundries were running 24/7... at least they were running well.

  40. KRM is like healthcare in many ways. Both are noble causes but no one can come up with sustainable ways to pay for either. The only funding plans for both seem to be loading more costs on everyone for the benefit of a few. Loading more costs on everyone when the economy is in the tank and high unemployment is expected to be a problem for 10 years or more just doesn't make sense at this time in history.

    Both KRM and national healthcare supporters need to step back and quiet the drumbeat until better plans and funding sources are identified.

  41. If this wink-wink, nudge-nudge occurred over racial discrimination, the Post would be on it like white on rice, but it's only young female employees and Tousis is the Post's pal, so they look the other way. Just like the JT. Still no objective journalism in Racine.

  42. How about young African-American waitresses wearing T-shirts that proclaim I Like Dark Meat? Nothing wrong with that, either.

  43. Here's a game changer -

    Dissolve the City of Racine, give parts of it to the neighboring communities. Or better still, have the neighboring communities bid on parts of it. The parts can be carved out in such a way that some bad goes with some good.

  44. This is a very good article Dustin, Thanks!

  45. Hey Orbs - if these girls choose to wear T-shirts that you think portrays them as sex objects, who are we to tell them not too.

  46. I'd like to thank the naysayers here for spending so much time complaining to each other online while the rest of us are out there atending meetings and cheering on the project.
    It's what you do, not what you say. If you're not part of the future, get out of the way.

  47. A subway makes more sense....safer in winter without snow covered tracks and plowing costs. A subway wouldn't blight the neighborhoods and noise would be abated.

  48. Turn the tables with Turntec's.

  49. will someone please tell me about all the development around the Kenosha Metra station- would you want to stand on the train platform after dark ?? Its been there how many years ?? and NOTHING.

  50. Who says Metra and KRM will work together on scheduling? How does high speed rail fit in with KRM ??

  51. "Dustin Block said...

    Anon 6:14 - Enough with your fascination with T-shirts. The only person making a big deal about this is you. If you don't like it, don't eat at Gus's. But stop with the comments ... we get it, you think the shirt is profane. Move on.

    i'd like to sign up for making a big deal about the sexist , tastless shirts.

    'if you dont like it, dont eat at gus's' ??

    boy you got the backbone of a snail.

    as a man you should stand up for women.

    but i still remember that name jt article where you broke up with your girlfriend via email.

    i thought, man, what a loser

  52. The Ayatollah9/18/2009 2:43 PM

    I think that women should be covered from head to toe and only be able to expose their eyes. There are many countries that have implemented this dress code for women and I believe that the women of the country do feel liberated. I also believe they enjoy walking five feet behind their owners, I mean husbands. Think how much more liberated they would feel if we prohibited them from going to school and driving.