Dave Reid

Wells St. Two-way Street Conversion is Long Overdue

By - Jun 22nd, 2011 04:04 pm
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Wells St. Crash

Wells St. Crash. This driver attempted to turn left from the center lane.

At Thursday’s Public Safety Committee meeting a file will be voted on that would authorize the conversion of Wells St. to two-way operation from 6th St. to Prospect Ave.  According to the Journal Sentinel, the Wisconsin Center District Board voted to oppose part of this conversion, in particular from 4th Street to 6th Street, due to “safety” concerns.  These concerns miss the big picture and can be handled while bringing the benefits of making Wells St. two-ways in downtown Milwaukee.

Well Street’s one-way configuration brings an assortment of issues that negatively impact the neighborhood it passes through.  In particular it is common to see cars continuously circling the block, because a parking spot is not easily accessible without circling the neighborhood.  Another direct result of Wells St. being a one-way street, with little congestion, and having multiple travel lanes is that people speed excessively.  This is an all too frequent occurrence.  Additionally, crashes occur when drivers attempt to turn left from the center lane, because the nature of the street doesn’t fit with the location, causing an accident. Finally, it is all to common to see are drivers heading in the wrong direction along Wells St.

A two-way street conversion would alleviate these issues while bringing benefits to the city.  A benefit is that a two-way conversion will make Wells St. more pedestrian friendly, as no longer will one need to cross a “freeway” to get across the street.  It will bring enhanced visibility to retail establishments, drawing in more of the infrequent drivers passing through the neighborhood.  Additionally, for automobile drivers it will actually enhance connectivity by reducing the need to loop around to find a parking spot or a missed intersection.  Finally, it will reduce traffic speeds along Wells St., improving safety for both the pedestrian and the automobile driver.

This change is long overdue and hopefully this is just another step toward a more connected, accessible, and safe built environment in downtown Milwaukee.

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11 thoughts on “Wells St. Two-way Street Conversion is Long Overdue”

  1. Chris says:

    This is long overdue. The City needs to make this happen, despite the WI Center District’s short/narrow-sighted views.

  2. Devin says:

    Maybe it wouldn’t be such a freeway if they didn’t time the lights so that you need to travel 40+ mph to avoid stopping three times between 6th and Prospect. State street between 4th and 16th used to be timed properly where if you drove the speed limit you wouldn’t have to stop but if you went too fast you hit red lights. I’ve noticed that they’ve altered that much to my disappointment.

  3. Dave Reid says:

    @Devin Light timing certainly plays a role. But so does one-way traffic with so many lanes. People generally drive to the design of the street, not to the speed limit. So a two-way conversion significantly improves the situation, as it has on State St.

  4. gleiss says:

    Thanks Dave! Another good note/reason for changing one ways to two ways is the improvement it makes for visitors to our city. An easy grid of two way streets gives people the most options for how they move through our city. The street grid is designed to distribute vehicular traffic and provide a rich network of options for mobility. Creating two way streets maximizes these benefits and provides the most predictable pattern of getting around downtown.

  5. Dave Reid says:

    @gleiss Thanks thanks for the extra points… I could go on forever about why two-way streets are better!

  6. Keith Morris says:

    Columbus converted Gay St from a multi-lane one-way freeway into a pedestrianized (traffic calmed) two-way downtown street at the end of 2007. The result was not only calmed traffic, but empty storefronts filled in over the next two years providing motorists a safer driving environment and plenty of reasons to actually want to park here what with the new restaurants and bars. Since then, however, the city has not seen fit to apply similar treatment on languishing commercial strips elsewhere in Downtown. Hopefully, Milwaukee won’t stop at one revitalized commercial street and call it a day.

  7. speedy gonzalez says:

    As a delivery driver, I cannot support this in full. Wells is arguably the easiest and quickest method to move west to east in downtown. Two-way traffic means more SPOTLIGHTS, disrupting the almost always uninterupted flow of traffic throught that corridor. Not every driver who travels in downtown intends to spend time there.

    I could support adding streetscape improvements and narrowing the street to 3 lanes. A narrower street with parking on both sides means fewer excessive speeders. People travelling the wrong direction is simply the result of too little signage in a sporadic, colorful environment peppered with other things to draw the attention of spacey drivers. I see no problem with people circling the block – that’s a nonissue to be honest. Its part of the game of downtown parking, and anyone could do the same recreationally. People will circle the block for many reasons other than seeing an empty spot on the street. I’ve taken family for looping tours through the city. Additionally, people turning through lanes to make a turn happens anywhere. This city is full of bad drivers. I see it on farwell frequently, and was nearly involved in an accident at the cvs on brady when an inattentive driver tried turning into the parking lot from the right lane. People are idiots sometimes. That’s not a reason to punish everyone else 😉

  8. Dave Reid says:

    @speedy gonzalez I think your handle explains your position. But we shouldn’t be using a local street as a racetrack which is what Wells is today. Quite frankly, right now it is resident and pedestrians that are being punished.

  9. speedy gonzalez says:

    Indeed, and I’m not intending to convey anything different. Driving down Wells, there’s little in the way of existing store frontage. The majority of the street-level frontage are irrelevant, blank walls. Instead of worrying about the lack of retail space and how, likewise, pedestrians are losing, we should ensure that our EXISTING retail strips on already-successful streets remain successful. Wells serves a valid purpose: moving people. It helps keep downtown uncongested. Again, I could support partial conversion, just as State St has recently become two-way for a number of blocks. But I cannot imagine Wells bottle-necked like it become further west near Marquette. We have numerous two-way streets with lots of existing retail and quality frontage, and we can’t fill all of the existing space as it is. I remember some time ago on SSC, before I was banned for no good reason, there was discussion about converting Farwell to two-way. All the same arguments were made in favor of such a conversion, and the same criticisms of that plan remain relevant here, in my humblest of opinions. 🙂

  10. Jesse Hagen says:

    “The majority of the street-level frontage are irrelevant, blank walls. ”

    Is this the chicken or the egg?

    I can imagine Wells street redesigned and judging by the current lack of traffic, this won’t cause any congestion issues. It might help people drive the speed limit as they are legally required, but congestion is a non-issue in Milwaukee.

    I differ on Farwell & Prospect, I think their current configuration is best… the only improvement would be adding a streetcar.

  11. speedy gonzalez says:

    And thats a bandwagon I can jump on. (The streetcar) 🙂

    Regarding the chicken or the egg analogy, this still doesn’t make up for the fact that we already have a good amount of vacant frontage already. What better way to lower the value of existing properties than throwing 30 more empty store-fronts on the market. If business owners in Milwaukee were strapped for options and we had occupanies in the high 90s, I would happily concede the need for more street-level frontage. :p

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