The largest French-themed festival in North America returned for the 38th year to Cathedral Square in downtown Milwaukee, highlighted by the first summer of service from the city’s streetcar.

The four-day event featured the Associated Bank Storm the Bastille 5k Run, a religious service spoken in French, and the signature Eiffel Tower replica constructed by the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE). Attendees participated in many culinary offerings, including a champagne and wine tasting, and special live music performances.

“Bastille Days brings all things French into the heart of Milwaukee’s East Town neighborhood. With roaming busker entertainment, chef demonstrations and a Mardi Gras parade, it’s easy to see why Bastille Days continues to grow in popularity,” said Sara Meaney, Secretary of Tourism.

Milwaukee’s new streetcar ran directly through Bastille Days for the first time in 2019. Celebrating the festival’s theme, The Hop was renamed as “Le Hop” on social media. The Cathedral Square stop was located at a prime location, right in the center of Bastille Days and adjacent to the festival’s iconic 43-foot tall Eiffel Tower replica. Sponsorship of the free rides by Potawatomi Hotel & Casino helped contribute to record ridership.

“The strong numbers we’re seeing are further confirmation that The Hop is delivering on its promise of creating a more connected city and providing an easy and efficient way for residents and visitors alike to access many of the incredible destinations and events that make Milwaukee special,” said Mayor Tom Barrett. “The benefits of the streetcar to the City are clear. It’s time to expand these benefits into the neighborhoods, adding more destinations to the route and providing even more access to our citizens to utilize this tremendous asset.”

Beginning with the opening of Summerfest on June 26 and continuing through the close of Bastille Days on July 14, The Hop saw 3,821 riders per day during the 19-day run, a 107% increase over the pre-launch projected ridership of 1,850 per day.

Those numbers included a single-day high for the system of 8,968 riders on Saturday, July 13, which eclipsed the previous mark of 7,798 set back on Saturday, November 3 during the Grand Hop-ening Weekend. Streetcar ridership for the month of June was 65,239, continuing the upward momentum The Hop enjoyed throughout the spring.

“The positive rider experiences these great summer festivals generate will bolster our momentum and encourage more and more riders to incorporate The Hop into their daily lives,” Barrett added.

The Mayor said it was time to expand the streetcar’s benefits into the neighborhoods, adding more destinations to the route and providing even more access for citizens to utilize the transit asset. Proposed extensions include Bronzeville, Walker’s Point, and creating the Vel R. Phillips Plaza on Wisconsin Avenue.

Also debuting this year at the festival were the interactive love locks sculptures, sponsored by The Master Lock Company. The idea for the three 4’x6’ metal sculptures was based on by the Pont des Arts, a famous bridge in Paris where couples once placed padlocks as a symbol of their love.

“We were so excited to showcase this piece of art, inspired by the beautiful love lock tradition that started in Paris,” said Emily McElwee, East Town Association executive director. “Because our theme this year was ‘MKE Mon Amour,’ which translates to ‘Milwaukee My Love,’ having such a strong symbol of love at the event that attendees could interact with was very fitting.”

The sculpture came to fruition through collaboration with local artists Melissa Courtney and Reggie Baylor at Reginald Baylor Studio, as well as students from Bradley Tech High School under the direction of welding instructor Mark Hoedel. The two organizations worked with East Town Association for several months to design and build the sculptures. One key goal of the project was to keep the romantic tradition of the original Paris bridge alive but in a more environmentally friendly way.

“When Reginald Baylor Studios came to us asking if we were interested in working on this project, it was a definite yes,” said Hoedel. “Community projects like this allow our students to take what they learn in class and bring it to life.”

Lee Matz and Claudio Martinez