Jeramey Jannene

Traffic Calming Efforts Advancing On Two Downtown Arteries

Water and Van Buren streets would be rebuilt with a focus on safety.

By - Apr 7th, 2022 07:47 pm
Van Buren Street reconfiguration - Option A. Image from the City of Milwaukee.

Van Buren Street reconfiguration – Option A. Image from the City of Milwaukee.

Two proposals to install traffic calming improvements on major north-south streets are advancing, although on different timelines.

A series of design concepts have already been released for N. Van Buren St. between E. Brady St. to E. Michigan St. and a funding source has been identified. But work on N. Water St. from E. Clybourn St. south to E. Erie St. and the Milwaukee River is not even at the conceptual stage.

“Our goal is to have a final design [for Van Buren St.] completed in winter 2022-2023,” said Department of Public Works multimodal transportation manager Michael Amsden to members of the Public Works Committee Thursday morning.

Construction would take place during the summer of 2023.

Both projects have a goal of reducing crashes and improving the accessibility of the street for users of all transportation modes. But the $3.1 million N. Van Buren St. would include a protected bicycle lane that is envisioned as being part of a larger network.

All three design options include a bike lane shielded by a parking lane and other dividers from the remaining travel lanes. The renderings show dividers similar to the plastic delineators seen on the Kilbourn Avenue bike lanes, to which the Van Buren lanes would intersect.

Much of the project budget would go into concrete changes to the street design. Bumpouts would be added to shorten pedestrian crossing distances. A bumpout-style design, known as a bus bulb, would be used to allow buses to avoid pulling in and out of traffic for passenger pickup and drop off and to give space for the bike lane to go behind the bus stop.

One option considers removing parking spots for an eight-foot-wide natural area that could include trees. Other options consider converting the stretch of N. Van Buren St. south of E. Kilbourn Ave. to a two-way street. It is currently a one-way northbound until becoming two-way at E. Kilbourn Ave.

The broader proposal is backed by Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson, who declared reckless driving a public safety crisis on his first day in office. Both area council members, Nik Kovac and Robert Bauman have publicly backed making improvements to the street.

The street was one of several identified in 2019 as part of a pedestrian high-injury network.

For more on the Van Buren Street proposal, see our February coverage. DPW reconfigured a portion of the street in 2021, using paint, from four lanes to two lanes with a center turn lane and painted bike lanes.

Water Street

“Our plan is to do something very similar to what we did with Van Buren. We are going to hire a consultant to hear what is possible,” said City Engineer Jerrel Kruschke of the plan to improve Water Street in the Historic Third Ward.

There are already known challenges. A number of hollow walks exist, where a building’s basement extends out under the sidewalk and would need to be repaired or filled in as part of any street reconstruction. A number of loading zones also dot the street.

Kruschke said a future configuration could involve wider sidewalks.

“That’s what the neighborhood wants,” said Bauman, who requested DPW study possible options.

The street currently has two travel lanes in each direction, two parking lanes and buildings right up against the sidewalk. Despite being in one of the busiest pedestrian areas in the street, the sidewalks are not any wider than many other areas of the city.

A consultant is to analyze all of the factors, including the impact of any changes to the two bus routes on the street and daily traffic patterns, that would be impacted by a street design change.

A proposal to develop a 31-story apartment building at 333 N. Water St. (at E. St. Paul Ave.) would keep the project from happening quickly. Kruschke said any construction wouldn’t take place until that building is completed, which could be as soon as two years from now.

But there is an increasing need to act. “The pavement is in a condition that it needs to be replaced,” said Kruschke.

The city would also need to identify a funding source, likely a nearby tax incremental financing district.

A number of other traffic calming improvements are underway throughout the city, including 16 projects funded by the city’s American Rescue Plan Act grant and TIF-funded traffic calming efforts near Midtown Center and Burnham Park.

Categories: Transportation, Weekly

3 thoughts on “Transportation: Traffic Calming Efforts Advancing On Two Downtown Arteries”

  1. NickR says:

    Milwaukee drivers will have driven over every single plastic divider post within the first week.

    Put in actual concrete barriers or spike strips that will wreck cars if you want this to be effective.

  2. JT says:

    Streets should be built to be self-enforcing.

  3. Wardt01 says:

    option A looks most safe and most appealing.

    #1 it maintains the dedicated center turn lane which is critical for van bueren, because, A) van bueren is already the street that carries all the traffic coming off the expressway & B) the addition of 500 new housing units coming online on these specific blocks of van bueren in next 24 months will lead to more chaos without the dedicated turn lane.

    #2 having 1 way bike lanes that mirror the direction of vehicles likely safer for bicyclists when all these cars will be turning into the mid block parking garages/lots for the apt buildings.

    Option C = without a dedicated center turn lane for vehicles, I honestly can’t fathom how a licensed engineer came up with option C as a safe option. option C is a death trap for bicyclists because driver will be anxious to complete the turn off the street, because the traffic behind is backed up, and will have 1 eye on their rear view mirror to make sure they don’t get rear-ended.

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