Dave Reid

Brighten The Passage

By - Jul 13th, 2011 01:06 pm
Underneath I-794

A View from Underneath I-794

Walking from downtown to the Historic Third Ward can be an uncomfortable experience.  I-794 and the sea of surface parking lots on Water St., Broadway, and Milwaukee St. create an isolated and intimidating dead spot that deters pedestrians from walking between the two districts.  At night, it’s worse, because the bridge creates a darkened tunnel that fosters the perception of danger and distance.  Quite simply, I-794 disconnects the Historic Third Ward from downtown Milwaukee.

Thankfully, there is an effort underway to resolve the issue.  The City of Milwaukee in collaboration with the Historic Third Ward and the Milwaukee Downtown BID will be launching a design competition, known as Brighten the Passage, with the goal of turning this unforgiving wasteland in to an asset.  This concept of turning a blighting freeway overpass into somewhat of amenity is not unheard of, in fact Toronto recently broke ground on a $4.7 million project, which will create an urban park.  The park will have landscaped walkways, sports playgrounds and even cafes under the overpass creating an inviting environment for pedestrians to traverse.  On a smaller, more affordable, scale this is what the Brighten the Passage effort is intending to do.

The competition is open to students and design practitioners of any discipline and experience.  Design solutions could include ideas such as lighting, public art, landscaping, various forms of programming, while being creative, cost effective, and requiring minimal maintenance.  The solution should create an inviting pedestrian experience that feels safe at all hours, and shortens the perceived distance between the neighborhoods.

The imposing structure creates dark and uncomfortable spaces void of street life and interest, especially during the evening hours. This deters pedestrian movement between the two districts, and divides the downtown area.

5 thoughts on “Brighten The Passage”

  1. gleiss says:

    Big sigh. Did anyone notice how nice it was when the freeway was demolished, before reconstruction happened? At that moment, we had our answer of how to connect and knit the 3rd Ward and downtown together and watched it pass without a fight. I realize it hadn’t been that long since we had knocked out the Park East, but keep in mind, this elevated spur is just the southern version of the Park East. Maybe in 40 years when it is time to rebuild it again we can get it right. For now, this investment is just a band-aid to the bigger problem.

  2. Nick Aster says:

    Indeed, it’s a pity that free way stands at all. But I supposed making some lemonade out of it is better than nothing!

  3. Jeff Jordan says:

    I have the privilege of narrating the Historic tour of the Milwaukee River and Lakefront on the Milwaukee Boat Line. I know this is small, but the difference between the East side of the river and the West as we pass under the I 794 overpass is noticeable. First, there is the River Walk and that means we often see people traversing from the Third Ward to downtown. I’m sure that folks are moving back and forth to shop an dine or maybe just to enjoy the neighborhood and the river.
    The West side is a remnant of the old industrial use and the land abandonment for the construction of the freeway. It is unwelcoming and desolate.
    If you want to get scale on how much land we are losing to the overpass take a ride down St Paul Street all the way down to the interchange. This is premium location downtown property and all it is serving a place for weeds to grow and I don’t want think of the undesirable uses for this land.

  4. CJ says:

    How much of this would be wasted effort if that section of the overpass is set to be redone in the next 10 years? (Much of the covering overpass is from the lane switch bridging from the Marquette project) Sounds like a great idea, and I support brightening the area under the overpass, but would hate to put in an large expensive effort that would be torn out in just a few years.

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