Russell and Kinnickinnic Avenues
There lots of activity and businesses, but the traffic needs slowing and a roundabout would help.
Bay View is a neighborhood known for its laid-back atmosphere, popular restaurants and music scene. A bit off the beaten path for downtown Milwaukeeans, west siders or college students, Bay View feels like something of a secret jewel and when I lived there, I certainly enjoyed the peace and quiet. But one thing I did not enjoy was the intersection of E.Russell and S. Kinnickinnic avenues. If you’ve ever come across this intersection—whether by foot, car or bicycle—you’re unlikely to forget it. It’s a haphazard convergence of six different roads going every which way, confusing drivers, perplexing pedestrians and generally inviting mayhem into what should be a quiet commercial intersection. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but truly, this space is ugly and poorly designed, and could be so much nicer with just a little effort. There’s no need for pretension or glamour in this friendly, residential neighborhood, but with schools and seniors around, an attempt to calm the traffic should be made, along with a few improvements to create a more inviting place.
While the infrastructure is lacking, the businesses in the space are successful and significant. First, there’s the popular Sven’s Café which serves up coffee, breakfast, and deli fare in a community setting. I’ve spotted families, students and elderly people gathering in this place, amongst cozy chairs and posters for all manner of neighborhood events. This is truly a neighborhood coffee shop. Meanwhile, Hue Vietnamese—a Bay View restaurant so successful it just opened a branch in Wauwatosa—is also near the corner providing excellent noodle, rice and soup dishes with a similar neighborhood coziness. There’s also a bank to the south, a church on the eastern side, and an apartment and liquor store to the north. Overall, the intersection fulfills a lot of needs.
Let’s start with the collision of streets. Down the middle is the central thoroughfare of Kinnickinnic. The #15 bus runs along this corridor and just north of this intersection along Kinnickinnic are several well-liked local businesses offering a variety of food, drink, clothing and other neighborhood amenities. Then we have E Russell Ave, coming at Kinnickinnic from two different angles, both from largely middle-income residential neighborhoods where families and seniors reside. On top of these four non-gridded streets coming together, we have S. Logan Ave, which enters the intersection from the north and south creating an odd triangle with Russell, and confusion for everyone involved.
The stop light forces cars to stop (provided that they hit a red light). For cars coming from the southeast, they’ve been speeding along Kinnickinnic passing mostly residential blocks and suddenly they encounter the stoplight at this intersection, giving them a moment to take in the commercial district along this street. However, while the traffic light was presumably installed to calm the traffic in the area and allow pedestrian access between neighborhoods on either side of Kinnickinnic, it’s not working very well.
To get to the other side of the street as a pedestrian you’re almost guaranteed to have to wait for at least two different stoplights, and similarly, in a car you’ll probably have to stop at both a stop sign and a stoplight, in the span of just a few yards.
Unlike other intersections profiled in this series, Kinnickinnic and Russell doesn’t have any vacant lots or buildings and I wouldn’t make any changes to the current occupancies, but the intersection does have underused space. Most of the businesses are fronted by overly large parking lots, which create an unattractive and uninviting environment.
Instead of drawing customers with eye-catching window displays or creative signage, these parking lots turn away non-drivers, and they decrease the amount of traffic from passersby. They also make it more dangerous for pedestrians who must jump out of the way as cars enter the lots from multiple points and cross the sidewalk. That’s an especially important issue in a neighborhood with school children and families. Finally, they decrease the amount of eyes on the street and take away from the neighborhood feeling of the area. I’ve seen plenty of people walking to the liquor store or Sven’s; there’s no need to make the parking lot the prominent focal point of each business.
How Can We Improve it
One idea that has been thrown around is to make this intersection a roundabout. If Milwaukeens were able to get over the foreign nature of this traffic devices, I think a roundabout could be quite successful here. There’s already a neat statue on the triangle between Russell, Kinnickinnic and Logan, so it’s an obvious choice for a centerpiece. Additionally, the intersection probably has enough road width to accommodate a traffic circle. Ideally, a roundabout would make every car entering the intersection slow down at a similar rate, enter the circle at a comfortable pace, then exit similarly slowly. While the slower traffic associated with a roundabout would create a guaranteed increase in safety, clear signage and walk signals would also be necessary to accommodate pedestrians sufficiently.
Benches would also be a particularly welcome addition since there are bus stops on two of these corners. The sidewalk, especially on the southwest side of Kinnickinnic, could stand to be widened, and businesses might want to extend the walking area into their lots too.
Overall, this intersection doesn’t struggle with productivity or atmosphere; with several successful, diverse businesses and residential options, it’s got those bases covered. What it needs is a rearrangement of traffic patterns and parking lots to accommodate that productivity more invitingly.
As part of new Milwaukeean Rachel Quednau‘s exploration of Milwaukee, she will be exploring how the city can take better advantage of its many significant intersections.