A Look at 4 of Milwaukee’s Most Overcomplicated Intersections

A closer look at some of our favorite overcomplicated MKE intersections

MUCH OF MILWAUKEE is blessed with a simple, easy-to-navigate street grid. Much of it. But these off-the-grid knots in our urban fabric speak to history and ambition, and the threads go back a long way.

Lincoln at Clybourn

One part on-ramp, one part intersection, the lakefront crossing of Lincoln Memorial Drive and Clybourn Street is home to some 24 lanes of traffic that cruise toward Downtown, Discovery World, Interstate 794 and the Third Ward. The nexus took its current expanded form in 2016, and the city took the opportunity to install sensors under the pavement that adjust its whopping 22 stoplights on the fly. Despite the snarl, no serious accidents happened here in the first six months of 2020.

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KK at Lincoln and Howell

Kinnickinnic Avenue started out as a Native American trail and took on its current name in 1865, after the nearby river (itself named after a Native American smoking mixture, thank you). The current focus of human settlement is where the angled KK makes a funny triangle with the gridded Howell and Lincoln avenues and the crosswalks number 11. In 2011, the city commissioned an angular, $320,000 “Art Stop” bus stop for the area, but it weathered poorly and was condemned in 2018.

Highway 175 at Lisbon

This relic of a never-completed freeway is what happens when you ram highway traffic into a neighborhood and call it done. Highway 175 cuts off Washington Heights from verdant Washington Park, but most cruel is its chaotic “interchange” where it ends at the angled Lisbon Avenue, which tangles with North Avenue a short block away. One of four plans proposed in 2017 would make the upper part of 175 a boulevard, wider than the current street but slower than the freeway to its south.

Highway 119 at Howell and Mitchell Airport

The Airport Spur (Highway 119), completed in 1978 after a long controversy, slips between two hotels and a large private parking lot to hurl itself at the airport’s doorstep and split off in countless directions. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation says the resulting tangle was a product of two needs: to feed the airport’s many transportation services and avoid nearby runways. The highway has a long history – some type of artery has existed in the area since 1919.


This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s October issue.

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Matt has written for Milwaukee Magazine since 2006, when he was a lowly intern. Since then, he’s held the posts of assistant news editor and, most recently, senior editor. He’s lived in South Carolina, Tennessee, Connecticut, Iowa, and Indiana but mostly in Wisconsin. He wants to do more fishing but has a hard time finding worms. For the magazine, Matt has written about city government, schools, religion, coffee roasters and Congress.