Complete Street Makeover for S. 2nd Street?
S. 2nd St., in Walker’s Point, is another street in Milwaukee that is more than ready to go on a diet. In fact there is an effort by a group of local business and property owners to have S. 2nd Street in Walker’s Point rebuilt as a transformative catalyst to build momentum in an area of Milwaukee where the disparity between potential and reality is vast. The street already has “great bones,” meaning it has pedestrian-scaled buildings with timeless architecture, local business operating on the street, and the urban fabric is still fairly well intact, which makes this street an attractive candidate for this kind of revitalization. Green features such as additional street trees, rain water retention strategies, lighting powered by renewable energy, and additional plantings have been high on the list of improvements desired, but the concept goes much further by reducing the street from four to two lanes of motor vehicle traffic, the addition of bike lanes and curb bumps outs, the use of enhanced pavement materials, and the widening of sidewalks.
The goal behind the plan is to help create an identity or brand for the area, to bring more life and vibrancy to the business district, and in turn spur further economic development in the area. Clearly, this is not just a good idea, but one that could help transform a street into the next vibrant Milwaukee district. This complete street design could be the little push this area needs to get it over the top. For example, projects such as the recently redeveloped Everit Knitting Company building could reap the benefits of this improved design because the area would become visual more appealing, offering a feeling of safety and security instead of deindustrializing deterioration which could help attract tenants that may have otherwise been uncertain of the area. With the help of graphic artist Kieran Sweeney the stark difference between the current street and just one example of what could be accomplished is shown below.
Despite the desires of local property and business owners, somewhere within the walls of City Hall, possibly within the Department of Public Works, or likely on the freeway to Madison this idea has encountered one large speed bump. This speed bump isn’t because it isn’t a great idea or one worthy of effort, it surely is, but because of the funding mechanism which is intended to be used to fund the repaving of S. 2nd St. In this case it appears a future 2nd St. repaving project will utilize state funds which unfortunately come with design guidelines inconsistent with an urban environment, because these guidelines are based on traffic count baselines developed solely to facilitate motorized travel. These guidelines include things like high speed turn lanes, multiple travel lanes, wide roads, little or no streetscaping, and the elimination of “vehicular obstacles” (trees) all of which are generally speaking road features designed for Brookfield, not for a walkable urban environment. Although, WisDOT regulations and the fear of losing out on funding is holding this concept back at this time, Alderman Bob Bauman has shown with his efforts on State St., that it is possible to direct state road funds towards more creative uses than new asphalt.
Hopefully, state and local officials will realize the value of rebuilding S. 2nd St. as more than an automobile sewer, so that it can spur economic development and become an example of how streets should be rebuilt throughout the City of Milwaukee.