Dave Reid

Rebuild the Grid

By - Apr 23rd, 2010 08:34 am
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A variety of infrastructure improvements can be utilized to build a quality city, big items such as well designed parks, and little things such as eliminating unnecessary curb cuts can all play a role.  Recently, the City of Milwaukee has been moving forward with street improvements such as the “complete street” reconstruction of S. 2nd Street in Walker’s Point which is scheduled for construction this summer, and the conversion of one-way streets to two-way streets such as the E. State Street project currently under construction, but there is more that can be done to enhance streets in Milwaukee to build a better city.  Just as transit allows people another transportation option, an intact street grid offers users a variety of travel options to reach their destination, and unlike cul-de-sac, end of the road style street networks, the grid shortens travel distances and times.

This connectivity, is useful for all of a users of the public right-of-way, including pedestrians, bicyclists, or automobile drivers.  For automobile traffic the grid allows for a variety of routes, which can alleviate bottlenecks when streets become congested, and even provides a measure of additional parking.  But pedestrians and bicyclists benefit even more than automobile drivers as the negative impacts of limited choices are greater in time, effort, and distance for these users.  Quite simply, by shortening travel distances biking and walking become more convenient, and in turn more likely.


Although the street grid is fairly well intact, to improve the connectivity and access for users the city should look to rebuild and preserve the grid system wherever possible.  One example of a section that should be considered for reacquisition is Jackson St. in the Third Ward.  The street ends before reaching Erie St. adding a couple of blocks to a pedestrians trip, which makes a quick trip to Riverfront Pizzeria or Riptide less likely for those who live, as the crow flies, just two blocks away.  There are likely numerous other street sections in Milwaukee that are worth considering, when reasonable, and of course these acquisitions couldn’t happen overnight, but each year attempts should be made to put street sections back on the grid.

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13 thoughts on “Rebuild the Grid”

  1. Max says:

    I hope you realize Dave, that your example could potentially decrease parking for the Summerfest grounds!!!

    We need those acres of surface lots, empty 80% of the year, so when festival season rips up, they can get $15 per car…

  2. Dave Reid says:

    @Max Well if it did I’m definitely not worried about it:) In fact I intend to do an article on that very topic soon.

  3. Max says:

    It’s sad when one looks at the satellite view of the area bounded by Clybourn, Jackson/Erie, Milwaukee River and 794 – hazarding a guess, but 90% surface parking lots? The only significant buildings are the Italian Community Center, Charter Wire and Salvation Army.

    The proximity to Downtown, the Lakefront and Third Ward must make this some of the most expensive vacant land in the State and all we can come up with is surface parking???

    And the recent news of Summerfest buying a Charter Wire building to tear down to create more parking…..ugh!

  4. SS says:

    If the land is worth so much more than a parking lot, why don’t you or someone else buy it and develop it?

    The Charter Wire building sale was between 2 private entities. Anyone else could’ve bought that building and did something besides pave the lot. You are all quick to decry more parking, and I grant you that its empty 80% of the year. But the developers have realized they way overbuilt the 3rd ward. There’s half empty, extremely ugly condos all over the place. How many more art galleries and over-priced boutique stores can the 3rd ward support? I guess at some point people realized that living between an overhead freeway, a loud crowded music festival, a sewage treatment plant, and overlooking commercial harbor traffic isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

    Anyway, your suggestion to be extending roads through parking lots in order to get to a dead end road more easily is laughable. Considering the condition of all the rest of the roads and alleys in the City that residents and businesses actually use, I think there are better priorities for road dollars.

  5. Dave Reid says:

    @SS They turned my offer down:) No, but apparently seriously critiquing the project isn’t allowed or it’s automatically correct because someone did it? I’ll remember that.

    “But the developers have realized they way overbuilt the 3rd ward. There’s half empty, extremely ugly condos all over the place. How many more art galleries and over-priced boutique stores can the 3rd ward support?”

    I’m pretty sure there are two development projects under construction today in the Third Ward, so no developers have not fled the area. Further, there are only about two developments in the Third Ward with a high number of empty units. Finally, adding density (people) would allow the Third Ward to support more retail.

    “Anyway, your suggestion to be extending roads through parking lots in order to get to a dead end road more easily is laughable.” The location in question would cut through what is now a grass field, and would connect residents with retail. That said, as someone who bikes on our streets often I definitely know they are in bad shape, but again as a long term planning initiative rebuilding the grid, when reasonable, makes for a better connected city, even for those who love to drive.

  6. SS says:

    I have no problem with you or anyone else critiquing projects. I can have an opinion too right?

    There’s so much vacant land adjacent to dense areas in this city, I roll my eyes every time you go complaining about someone building a parking lot as if land here is as expensive and rare as Midtown Manhattan. The City (and surrounding area) has no where near the population to support all the crazy stuff you want to build. Who do you think is going to shop at all these stores, eat at all these restaurants, live in all these condos?

    It’s not 2004 anymore, isn’t pretty obvious now this isn’t working? You say “adding people” like you can just build stuff and it will fill up. People aren’t moving to the city, certainly not people who are going to be able to support and create the density and atmosphere you desire downtown.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-Milwaukee. I wish downtown was more dense. I live in the City and I want things to improve. You want talk about the problems with urban development and the future of Milwaukee neighborhoods? It’s not cutting bus routes, or no light rail, or no RTA, or too much parking, or not enough city assistance for coffee shops. The #1 problem is the schools. But I guess it’s easier to pretend this is a SimCity game and we can just plop buildings and trains on the map and watch the city grow.

    As far as Summerfest, good for them to expand. Maybe someday they can convert some of those lots into additional stages. For being one of the #1 tourist attractions in the state, that brings in millions and employs hundreds, they sure don’t get much help from the City like say, Alterra.

  7. Matthew says:

    Wouldn’t extending Jackson St. southward help with congestion in the area during summer fest, right now a small segment of Erie street serves as the outlet for 1200 summerfest parking spots(soon to be 1700 spaces), by extending Jackson you could diffuse the traffic more during the rush periods by providing an alternative route. I would think that the city might want to do a traffic analysis of the area before allowing additional parking to be created on the site to ensure that the existing roadways can handle the traffic loads which will occur if additional parking is constructed.

  8. SS says:

    > Wouldn’t extending Jackson St. southward help with congestion in the area during summer fest

    It would be minimal if anything. And I couldn’t tell you for sure which ones, but they close some of the cross streets to eliminate 4way stops in order to help traffic funnel out. The problem with Summerfest congestion is there’s only a few ways to get out of the 3rd ward because of the rivers. Also, so many of the attendees don’t spend much time downtown and don’t really know where they’re going. And nearly everyone wants to get on the freeway because that’s the way they came in, but none of the on-ramps really serve that area well.

  9. Brent says:

    Jeez SS, way to crimp on everyone’s style.

    As far as Dave’s article goes, the only possible problem I can see is gridlock (usually a nonissue), but a grid is still much more efficient than some stupid curvy roads that go nowhere. The Jackson Street design fail definitely gets in the way of many motorists….

  10. JCG says:

    Right in line with the HTW Neighborhood Plan.

    pg 47: “Extend streets where the street grid has been interrupted or is incomplete. These extensions will improve access and clarify connections between neighborhood districts. Reconnecting streets will provide pedestrians and motorists with alternative routes that will ease congestion at peak periods and improve circulation and access.”

    pg 94: “Extend Jackson Street from its current terminus at Corcoran Street south to the Milwaukee River.”

    Unfortunately as the recent acquisition by MKE World Fest, Inc. of part of the Charter bldg to add more surface parking for Summerfest shows, the plan is useless and carries no weight (the plan says additional surface parking lots should be prohibited, and calls for the elimination of most of the existing surface parking wastelands on the east end, to be replaced by parking structures and better mass transit connections for the peak drunk suburban tourist times).

  11. Matthew says:

    No, SS is just advocating for the lowering of the Hoan Bridge, and for converting it into a Blvd to create more connections for peak traffic loads during Summerfest.

  12. JCG says:

    Indeed…I was speaking to the original post.

  13. Dave Reid says:

    @JCG I guess I should of checked out the plan, apparently not an original idea (though one planners agree with). That said I think this concept is applicable in more areas than just the Third Ward.

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