Jeramey Jannene

Milwaukee Seeks Partners On Project Lowering Speed Limits

Firms will design outreach campaign, measure results for project to lower speed limits to 20 mph.

By - Jul 1st, 2022 03:13 pm
Speed limit sign on W. North Ave. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Speed limit sign on W. North Ave. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The Department of Public Works continues to advance its plan to lower side street speed limits from 25 miles per hour (mph) to 20 mph with the goals of reducing the severity of crashes, deterring reckless driving and saving lives.

The speed limit change would be made as part of the nationwide “20 is Plenty” movement. Milwaukee’s default speed limit, when no sign is present, is currently 25 mph. Severe injury risk for pedestrians jumps from 25% at 23 mph to 50% at 31 mph and 75% at 39 mph.

The proposal also comes as part of the city’s recent adoption of a “Vision Zero” strategy of eliminating traffic deaths.

The Common Council, in October 2021, allocated $1.2 million from the city’s $197.2 million first tranche of American Rescue Plan Act grant funding on speed reduction efforts, including replacing speed limit signs and education. It’s part of a larger allocation to combat reckless driving.

Now DPW is seeking private partners to lead the effort, including designing and executing a communication plan, developing a replacement strategy for the speed limit signs and collecting before and after performance dates from at least 45 locations. The contractor, described in a request for proposals as a partnership of a marketing and engineering firm, would be responsible for working with city staff to host outreach meetings, developing a bilingual communication strategy, creating a campaign website and marketing materials and executing a $50,000 advertising campaign. The winning partners would also need to take over administration of the reckless driving mini-grant program which has provided up to $5,000 grants to neighborhood groups to try different interventions to reduce unsafe driving.

The partners would also need to study 50 commercial corridors in the city to see if the speed limit should be reduced to 25 or 20 mph in those areas. Additional study areas, provided by the city, would include targeted streets where the speed limit is set as 30 mph.

Responses to the RFP are due July 29. The marketing campaign is to launch by the end of December, with speed limits changed by June 30, 2023.

But council members have been agitating for months why the changes haven’t been made quickly.

“Why isn’t this like done?” asked Public Works Committee Chair Alderman Robert Bauman in November 2021.

Then Public Works Commissioner Jeff Polenske said the department needed to finalize a plan and ensure it would have council support. City Engineer (and now interim commissioner) Jerrel Kruschke and multi-modal planning manager Michael Amsden have reiterated that the department does not have the capacity or expertise in-house to execute the whole effort. Polenske and others repeatedly noted that it was more involved than simply changing street signs and needed an education and marketing component to be successful.

“I don’t know how much education you need to say ‘I’m not supposed to go faster than 30.’ I’m not sure if there’s a class to take. A billboard. It just seems elementary,” said Ald. Mark Borkowski. “I hear education and it drives me crazy because it’s so damn simple.”

Cities implementing 20 mph policies include Minneapolis and St. Paul. Madison has a test policy. The newly-elected mayor of Atlanta made speed limit reduction a point of his campaign.

The city adopted a Complete Streets policy in 2018 and has started making “rapid implementation” changes where it uses paint, flexible dividers, planters and other dividers to narrow streets. Those rapid projects have taken place on S. 13th St., N. 27th St., W. Villard Ave. and W. North Ave. Longer-term road reconstruction projects are also being designed with traffic calming measures.

DPW is currently working on 16 street reconfiguration projects funded with American Rescue Plan Act funding. Nine of the projects are expected to be completed this summer. The department, with ARPA funding, is also working on a record number of resident-requested speed humps. The Public Works Committee is expected to review approximately 60 requests for new speed humps at its July meeting, the last window where the cost is reduced by 66% using ARPA funding.

“Our streets are for everyone including pedestrians, bicyclists, scooters, local businesses, and, yes, cars. We must thoughtfully balance the needs of all users,” said Mayor Cavalier Johnson in announcing the RFP. “I look forward to working with experts to help us plan for greater safety with multimodal mobility throughout the city.”

A copy of the RFP is available on Urban Milwaukee.

Categories: Transportation, Weekly

3 thoughts on “Transportation: Milwaukee Seeks Partners On Project Lowering Speed Limits”

  1. kaygeeret says:

    Signs, schmines…… (sound it out, you’ll get it)

    The only thing that will really work with the speeders and those who pass in bike lanes, etc. In other words the law breakers, of whom there seem to be far too many…are road humps!

    Road tables work very well when people are surrounded by pedestrians, or the road is very narrow.

    But a ‘Speed Bump” or ‘Road Bump’, not sure which it is, will destroy your focus, steering, tires and potentially really harm your car if you take it at 40-60 mph. Literally the speeds at which some of these lunatics are driving on city streets.

    They will laugh their way thru billboards and speed signs.

  2. Duane says:

    I can do “20 is Plenty” one better. How about “10 is Zen”, so peaceful it’s like you’re hardly moving. BECAUSE YOU’RE NOT! I didn’t know the ARPA was intended to save us from the horrors of a 25MPH speed limit, which I doubt many feel is even the problem. All hail “multimodal mobility throughout the city” as we slow things down to a crawl.

  3. TransitRider says:

    Duane, reducing the speed limit as described would almost never lengthen any trip within the city by even forty seconds!

    The new speed limit would only apply to side streets, not arterials. Milwaukee has a well-defined one-mile grid of arterials, both NS (27th, Sherman, 60th, 76th, 92nd, Mayfair, 124th) and EW (North, Burleigh, Capitol, Hampton, Silver Spring, Mill, Good Hope, Bradley, Brown Deer, County Line and a similar pattern on the south side).

    Since there is an arterial every mile, you are seldom more than half a mile from one, so the most you’d drive to reach a higher-speed arterial is half a mile. So, on virtually any trip within Milwaukee, the 20 mph will apply at most for 1 mile—half a mile to reach an arterial and another half-mile at your destination.

    To repeat, the worst case is one mile driven at 20 mph instead of today’s 25 mph (and most trips would have less than a mile at the new lower speed).

    So, how much longer does a mile at 20 mph take vs that same mile at 25 mph? Just 36 seconds! (Three minutes at 20 mph vs 2.4 minutes at 25 mph). I think this trade-off reduce injuries/deaths is well worth it.

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