Milwaukee’s Proposed Complete Streets Practice Already Paying Dividends

"People are moseying around in the neighborhood. That walking traffic definitely didn't exist beforehand."

Milwaukee's city council is poised to pass a complete streets bill. (Photo by Nate V via Flickr)

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The city of Milwaukee hasn’t yet formally adopted a complete streets policy, but already its efforts to make the city more bike and pedestrian-friendly are paying off, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports.

South Fifth Street was recently rebuilt to include wider sidewalks and bike racks, which has led to more outdoor seating for restaurants like MobCraft Beer’s brewery and taproom, and more pedestrian traffic, owner Henry Schwartz told the Journal-Sentinel.

“People are moseying around in the neighborhood,” Schwartz told the newspaper. “That walking traffic definitely didn’t exist beforehand.”

Vanessa Koster, the city’s planning manager, added that larger numbers of cyclists and pedestrians give visitors the idea that “this looks like a great place that I’d like to visit,” and traffic-calming measures entice motorists to slow down and notice shops and restaurants.

Scott Richardson, of developer Linden Street Partners, told the paper that the redesigned South Second Street was a factor in the developer choosing to build a five-story apartment building there, rather than leaving Milwaukee.

Economic development is, of course, not the only reason the city is pursuing safer streets. The advocacy group MilWALKee Walks has found that pedestrian deaths are on the rise in the city, with the majority of them occurring in low-income communities.

“There is [sic] not many crosswalk signals, the painted lines are faded, and drivers do not respect pedestrians,” Hector Alvarez Santiago, a pedestrian safety advocate, said at a safer streets community meeting earlier this year, according to Strong Towns. Research has found that in Milwaukee, drivers yield for pedestrians only rarely, even when the pedestrians are following traffic rules or had the right of way.

This is not exactly Milwaukee’s first try at complete streets. The Wisconsin state legislature passed a Complete Streets Law in 2009, the Wisconsin Bicycle Federation explained in a 2015 blog post. But Gov. Scott Walker repealed the policy in 2015. Walker’s office said that the move was designed to “reduce the regulatory burden on the Department of Transportation,” according to the Journal Times, and estimated that the repeal would save $3.7 million annually (a nonpartisan estimate pegged it closer to $1.2 million).

Even with the new complete streets policy, Milwaukee’s hands are somewhat tied, Urban Milwaukee reports. Many road projects in the city are actually state highways, and so the state Department of Transportation has final say on those roads.

The city’s Public Works committee unanimously supported an ordinance to adopt a Complete Streets Policy in early October, reports Urban Milwaukee. The full council has yet to vote on the ordinance, but committee chair Alderman Robert Bauman told Urban Milwaukee that he expects the full council to unanimously support the proposal when it goes up for vote Tuesday.

If passed, Milwaukeeans can expect more widened sidewalks, protected bike lanes, and bump-outs coming to a (complete) street near them.

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Rachel Kaufman is Next City's senior editor, responsible for our daily journalism. She was a longtime Next City freelance writer and editor before coming on staff full-time. She has covered transportation, sustainability, science and tech. Her writing has appeared in Inc., National Geographic News, Scientific American and other outlets.

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Tags: walkabilitymilwaukeecomplete streets

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