Milwaukee has a message for drivers: Chill out – slow down, be careful and quit passing on the right already.
And if you haven’t heard that message from city officials – or from a police officer handing you a ticket – you will be hearing it from the streets themselves.
From 2022 through 2024, the Milwaukee Department of Public Works is spending $19.3 million from federal pandemic aid and tax-incremental financing districts on traffic-calming measures designed to reduce deaths and injuries from reckless driving, plus more projects backed by other state and federal funds.
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“Our intention here is to slow down traffic in the city as a whole,” says Public Works Commissioner Jerrel Kruschke. At the same time, he says, city officials are seeking to “activate streets and make them appealing to all users,” including pedestrians, buses, bicycles and scooters – not just cars and trucks.
Public works officials consult extensively with neighborhood groups, business improvement districts and alders to decide which techniques to deploy in each location, Kruschke says. Some of these approaches have been used for several years but are expanding to more parts of the city.
Here’s a look at some major traffic-calming measures:
Stretches of raised pavement, 41/2 inches high and a foot wide, extend across a residential street, requiring drivers to slow down to avoid a tooth-jarring bump. DPW was on track to install 272 speed humps in 2022, up sharply from 96 in 2020 and 116 in 2021.
Raised concrete circles in the middle of neighborhood intersections – smaller than full-scale roundabouts – force drivers to slow down. Citywide figures aren’t available, but DPW installed several in Sherman Park in 2022.
Pedestrian refuge islands
Strips of concrete in the middle of major streets provide a place for pedestrians to wait safely if they can’t make it all the way across the street. In 2022, they were sometimes paired with pinned-on curb extensions – smaller islands separated from curbs by a gutter – for a combined total of 59 refuge islands and curb extensions in six federally funded projects across the city.
Platforms placed next to curbs extend into streets, usually in parking lanes, often adding outdoor seating for restaurants and bars. In 2022, the third year of the program, 21 businesses held parklet permits.
Raised intersections and crosswalks
Like speed humps, larger sections of raised pavement – covering an entire crosswalk or intersection – force drivers to slow down. This approach was first used at several South Side locations and is being considered near Humboldt Park; for North Avenue on the East Side; and for Van Buren and Water streets Downtown, among others.