John O’Neill

35th and Capitol Needs an Overhaul

Roosevelt Dr. also flows into intersection. It’s a mess the city needs to address.

By - Jan 7th, 2016 01:12 pm

The intersection of N. 35th St. and W. Capitol Dr. is consistently rated as one of the most dangerous in town for pedestrians and drivers alike. The current layout is the convergence of three major roadways, Capitol Dr., Roosevelt Dr., and 35th St. at a tangled junction. Thousands of cars and trucks pass through daily, a flow that is exacerbated by poor design and maintenance. With tens of millions of dollars being committed to the revitalization of the former Tower (now Century City) campus located along 35th St., the city has an opportunity to correct this notoriously dangerous intersection and create a quaint public park as well. Rather than a convoluted and confusing check point when driving along 35th or Capitol, this could be a seamless junction for drivers and a welcoming gateway to the northeast side of Sherman Park. Let’s imagine a streamlined layout that reduces congestion, enhances safety, and improves urban aesthetics.

What works?

The primary reason I selected this intersection is because so little about it does work. I have never enjoyed passing through this space as it is both visually displeasing and confusing to navigate. Cars are encouraged to pass through as quickly as possible and navigation is difficult even for those familiar with the configuration. This is all the more unfortunate because it is such a prominent north side junction and one directly next to the city’s planned improvement of Century City and the 35th St. corridor all the way to the Menomonee Valley. The neighborhood just to the southwest of this intersection, while a bit rough around the edges, is largely defined by well-tended single family homes and verdant canopies of street trees. It’s a walkable and diverse community that serves to benefit greatly if Century City can once again become a bastion of middle class employment. Roosevelt has been given a quick repave and now has one active traffic lane going in either direction, rather than two, and the calming addition of bike lanes and a parking lane. It serves as an ideal Milwaukee manicured boulevard. Attempting to replicate that aesthetic on a much higher traffic corridor won’t be easy, but it’s a style that I would like to see drawn onto Capitol rather than the other way around.

What doesn’t?

As noted, much about this prominent junction doesn’t work. Traffic moves too quickly and dangerously through this poorly maintained space. The road configuration is confusing and the surfaces bumpy throughout. I have never bicycled through this intersection but I can only imagine it would be a harrowing experience considering the number of trucks and the speeding vehicular traffic. Nothing about this place acknowledges the existence of anything not on four wheels. The space is generally poorly lit and frequently leaves people “blocking the box” (remaining in the intersection after the light has changed). Signage explaining the intersection is also located in an awkward position, east of the train bridge which crosses Capitol between Hopkins and 34th St. No signage is provided to drivers heading east on Capitol. The intersection is needlessly exacerbated by the merging of Roosevelt at the very place Capitol intersects with 35th Street. Greater emphasis should be placed on simplifying this configuration and decentralizing traffic flow. Rather than emphasizing merging, the roads should focus on signal control and lower speed hard turns.

How can we improve it?

Redesigned W. 35th St. and N. Capitol Dr. intersection by John O'Neill.

Redesigned W. 35th St. and N. Capitol Dr. intersection by John O’Neill.

Simplifying the driver experience, reducing active traffic lanes, and adding an additional set of traffic signals would be the first and most important improvements to make to this junction. And instead of having Roosevelt merge at 35th and Capitol, disconnect that linkage and have Roosevelt make a turn to the north and intersect at 36th and Capitol.

Create a controlled intersection with demarcated left turn lanes in both directions on Capitol. East-bound Roosevelt would bend north to this new intersection and allow drivers a designated left turn and straight lane as well as one right-turn lane. Colored pavement for the pedestrian crossings could be used to highlight their presence and create a more aesthetically pleasing crossing for those on foot. Add harp lights to this whole area to create a more stately feel and graceful connection between a significant east-west corridor and the more calm and residential area of Sherman Park.

35th St. would see the addition of two specific left-turn lanes and signals that accordingly account for them. North- and south-bound traffic heading straight will use the right lane, which will also be used for turns. As at the intersection of Roosevelt and Capitol, repave this intersection with colored pavement pedestrian crossings to raise their profile. Due to the industrial nature of this space and the necessity to ease turning truck traffic leaving Century City, I would preserve the single-use right-turn lane between north bound 35th Street and east bound Capitol Dr. The pork chop created by this configuration could be given a natural bioswale in the center that would add some greenery to this otherwise heavily paved place. I would also encourage the removal of the fence between the sidewalk and the Century City campus and the placement of new LED Harp Lights, street trees, and a new protected and heated bus shelter. Since this is a major MCTS transit point, I would encourage the placement of heated and protected bus shelters rather than the current facilities. The shelters could be designed with the assistance of students from UW-Milwaukee’s School of Architecture and Urban Design to give the intersection additional aesthetic definition.

Capitol Drive’s meeting at 35th St. would include exclusive-use left-turn lanes as well and signals that accounted for them. I would narrow Capitol Dr. to three active east-bound traffic lanes east of 35th and to two active traffic lanes west of 35th and on the west bound portion east of 35th. I would include bike lanes heading in both directions on Capitol that could connect with Roosevelt – as we see on Humboldt Boulevard and along North Avenue in Wauwatosa; I would highlight those spaces with green pavement in an attempt to raise their visual profile. Perhaps one day we may even be lucky enough to see a Bublr Bike station up at this intersection that could correspond with the existing transit infrastructure. At the southwest corner of this intersection, where Roosevelt meets Capitol we will have a good deal of overland left as a result of the reconfiguration. I would convert that into a natural, prairie-style park with seating and perhaps a small community garden. Much like in Brewers’ Hill, a dignified monument sign welcoming passersby to the neighborhood could be constructed. Perhaps in the spirit of generosity, since Shorewood is incapable of respecting their Plensa sculpture, the village would be willing to donate that spectacular piece of public art to a part of the city where many thousands could admire it on a daily basis. Some world-class public art would be a proud and welcome addition to an intersection that could become a truly pleasing area of the city.

4 thoughts on “Intersection: 35th and Capitol Needs an Overhaul”

  1. James says:

    Could you please take a look at the intersection of Highway 175, Lisbon Avenue, 47th Street, and North Avenue. Redevelopment is struggling to occur here, and the thrown together traffic plan is an impediment.

  2. Dan says:

    Here’s a photo of the intersection after the WPA relocation of Mud Creek (Lincoln Creek), circa 1936-1938, from the Milwaukee Public Library Historic Photo Collection. A #62 Capitol-Downer feeder bus for the #10 Wells-Farwell streetcar approaches Mud Creek bridge remnant.

  3. Yance says:

    Part of the problem is that intersection developed in response to the now extinct traffic generator of the AO Smith factory complex. The biggest confusion are the transitions on either side of the railroad underpass. Traffic should already be in the correct lane by the time it gets to 35th Street. 34th should be closed off to access at Capitol which would help to simplify everything from 35th to the railroad underpass and would eliminate a traffic signal. The intersection of 35th & Hope can be signalized to help truck traffic have access to the businesses on dead-ended 34th.

  4. Tom D says:

    Severing 34th Street from Capitol would affect MCTS. Two bus routes, 61 and 80, terminate there and use that intersection to turn around.

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