Milwaukee targets reckless driving with four street design strategies


Milwaukee roads are unsafe. Ask residents, elected officials, business owners, police officers, community leaders and even children – all will have a story to tell about the reckless driving they’ve seen, the headlines they’ve read and the infamous “Milwaukee Waterslide”.

A record 107 people were killed on city streets in 2020, followed by 87 deaths in 2021 and at least 40 so far this year.

One of the most discussed solutions is the intensification of law enforcement by the police. MPD now tows unlicensed vehicles involved in reckless driving, and the city launched an unusual lawsuit last month in hopes of making an example of a reckless driving offender. And at least three special efforts have been launched since 2018 to ramp up citations and enforcement.

Others point to educational campaigns, including giving MPS students cheap driver training. Mayor Cavalier Johnson hopes to fund universal drivers through insurance companies.

But there’s another, less flashy way the city is trying to make its streets safer: changing the streets themselves.

It’s subtle. You may see additional construction in your neighborhood, but the work is otherwise quite modest. A new sign here, some paint there, maybe a roundabout or two.

Bit by bit, street by street, transportation engineers and planners are giving Milwaukee a design facelift, trying to influence driver behavior without drivers really noticing. They’re using both old and new tricks in the design toolbox, hoping to advance the city’s “Vision Zero” safety goal of zero road deaths.

Here are four street design strategies Milwaukee is already deploying.

Rapid Implementation Projects

They take a long time to describe, but quick implementation is one of the most immediate and least expensive solutions to a dangerous intersection. Often referred to as “paint and pole” projects, the Department of Public Works can lay bright pavement markings and use poles to build wider curbs and pedestrian islands. In some cities, painted roads have also served as public art.

“Rapid implementation provides immediate safety improvements while allowing us to test new ideas before more permanent concrete changes are built,” DPW Acting Commissioner Jerrel Kruschke wrote in a statement. hurry.

Traffic moves along Capitol Drive near North 61st Street in Milwaukee.  To keep traffic out of the far left parking lane, the city plans to install sidewalk extensions at various intersections along Capitol Drive between 67th and 47th streets.

A “pinned” curb extension creates a slightly more permanent alternative to posts and is also cost effective.

This strategy simultaneously gives pedestrians more room to walk and reduces the space drivers have to maneuver, resulting in slower speeds.

Last month, DPW announced a list of 30 intersections that will receive this treatment.

Road diets

Traffic moves along Villard Avenue at 64th Street where the city recently completed a road diet in Milwaukee.  Road schemes are where four car lanes will be reduced to two car lanes, with cycle lanes and left-turn lanes added.

The perpetrators of the “Milwaukee Slide” – the social media description of drivers using bike or parking lanes to overtake cars on the right – could find their options limited by road diet. This strategy aims to reduce the width of the lanes or completely eliminate an automobile traffic lane, adding in its place more parking lanes or bicycle and bus lanes.

Road diets have been around for a while in Milwaukee, and the city just completed several along Oklahoma Avenue, Villard Avenue, King Drive and Van Buren Street. DPW is touting lower speeds, fewer accidents and greater use of cycle lanes in places where road diets have been used so far.

“We’ve done road diets – we’re trying to do more,” said Mike Amsden, DPW multimodal transport manager. “Road diets have been used for many, many years and have been proven to reduce accident frequency, speed and also help prevent people from driving on the right.”

There are no active road plans being built, a DPW spokesperson said. But they will be a tool in the $19 million box invested in street safety this year.

Roundabouts and Roundabouts

Installing traffic circles and roundabouts are two ways Milwaukee is reducing reckless driving.  This image is an aerial view of a series of roundabouts in New Berlin.

No, they are not exactly the same. Roundabouts and roundabouts look the same, but roundabouts have dedicated channels to enter intersections, making them more suitable for high-traffic urban areas. Roundabouts, on the other hand, are more common in slower residential areas.

Roundabouts have generated much controversy over the past decade because they are unpopular with motorists (and sometimes lawmakers). But even if they do not reduce accidents to zero, roundabouts and roundabouts can help reduce the severity of these accidents. So traffic engineers and insurance companies are fans, even if drivers are not.

“They eliminate the potential for the most serious types of crashes – a frontal crash on the centerline, the potential for a T-crash,” Amsden said.

One of the city’s latest additions is a roundabout on Galena Street, as part of its Active Streets program which partners with various community organizations to strengthen the pedestrian environment nearby.

Cycling infrastructure

On-street parking bays and poles create a buffer between bicycle and car traffic along Kilbourn Avenue in downtown Milwaukee.

Vehicle drivers are not the only ones to benefit. The national spike in traffic deaths has prompted cities across the country, including Milwaukee, to invest more in cycling infrastructure.

Becher Street is the most recent example. After the street was torn down and rebuilt, the city added an elevated bike lane at curb level, completely separated from vehicular traffic.

“We hear over and over again that people want to be able to ride their bikes safely and comfortably, and do it for more than recreational purposes,” Amsden said. “Numerous studies across the country have shown that providing a separate space for people to ride reduces accidents and allows a wider range of people to ride.”

In the short term, new bike lanes can be added with pavement paint and poles in the same vein as rapid implantation projects. On-street parking spaces can be used to create a buffer between bicycle and car lanes. This strategy is already being used outside City Hall on Kilbourn Avenue.

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