Jeramey Jannene

Should Brady Street Be Pedestrian-Only?

Business improvement district asks for further study after fatal hit-and-run.

By - Sep 15th, 2022 04:19 pm
Brady Street. Photo by Cari Taylor-Carlson.

Brady Street. Photo by Cari Taylor-Carlson.

What would Brady Street look like without cars? It’s a question city officials will explore following a fatal hit-and-run earlier this month.

“On Wednesday evening the Brady [Business Improvement District] Board of Directors voted to move forward with a study to look at options for pedestrianizing Brady Street, with support from Mayor Johnson, the City of Milwaukee’s Department of Public Works, and Representative Jonathan Brostoff,” said BID director Rachel Taylor in a statement issued Thursday afternoon.

Johnson declared reckless driving a public safety crisis as his first act as mayor. Brostoff is the alderman-in-waiting, as the only candidate on the ballot in November. He currently represents the area in the Wisconsin State Assembly and lived for several years just two blocks from the street.

The commercial corridor, one of the city’s most vibrant, is a key transportation corridor on the Lower East Side. Owing to the bending street grid, narrow parallel streets and a handful of one-way streets, Brady Street plays an outsized role in moving people across the neighborhood.

It’s also one of the city’s busiest nightlife areas. Most days and nights, even in the winter, crowds can be spotted on the tiny pavement areas outside a number of the bars. The street has recently been beset by three shootings, including one where four people were shot. In response to large crowds in the Water Street bar district in Downtown, city officials have begun closing a handful of blocks to motor vehicle traffic during the peak weekend, evening bar hours.

Pedestrianization plans for Brady Street will need to take into account the Milwaukee County Transit System GreenLine route that runs from the street’s western edge near N. Van Buren St. east to N. Cambridge Ave. Some existing pedestrian malls, such as State Street in Madison, are closed to private motor vehicles, but allow buses, taxis, government vehicles and delivery trucks. The Water Street temporary closures currently require the GreenLine and two other routes to detour, but that is more easily accomplished given the more consistent street grid Downtown.

“The Brady St. BID has invested time and dollars in public safety, from cameras posted along the district to increased security for events and frequent requests for additional police presence during the time when our popular entertainment district is at its busiest. The events of this week are cause for us to make a plea for a stronger partnership with the City of Milwaukee. The BID board believes it’s time to take a look at our unique neighborhood that happens to be one of the most popular entertainment districts, but set in a challenging, narrow street,” said Taylor. “The BID will work closely with DPW, Mayor Johnson, and Representative Brostoff to ensure this study reviews all aspects of traffic impact and provides a variety of options. No plan will be approved without significant input from residents and businesses.”

This isn’t the first time a high-profile incident triggered changes to the street. Mary Glorioso died after being hit by a car while crossing the street in 2004. As a result a number of curb bump-outs, sidewalk extensions intended to increase pedestrian visibility and decrease crossing distances, were installed.

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Categories: Transportation

7 thoughts on “Transportation: Should Brady Street Be Pedestrian-Only?”

  1. Chris Rute says:

    Perhaps a Madison State Street model maintaining mass transit could work.

  2. nickzales says:

    An interesting idea. Brady Street is way too small for the amount of traffic it receives. But without alleys, how would many of the businesses there receive deliveries?

  3. Polaris says:

    Probably good to study but, I would say at first blush that the violence is more about bars than cars in this instance. Not that bars in and of themselves are bad things, but these so-called “nightlife districts” tend to draw both partiers and people looking for trouble—with the former more easily victimized by the latter. And, for a street so used to get across the Lower East Side, “pedestrianizing” it doesn’t seem to make sense. Hit and runs aren’t about traffic, just negligent, irresponsible drivers. And, the cars will simply use residential streets. Talk about causing an uproar.

    The rise in street violence in cities is challenging these days. Down here in Chicago, I live at the intersection of Wrigleyville and Northalsted (formerly “Boystown.”) Like a lot of nightlife districts, it’s gotten worse. Nothing good happens after Midnight…I’m getting too old for this sh*t…

  4. Chris Rute says:

    Like many pedestrianized streets around the world, deliveries and refuse removal are handled in the early hours.

  5. Polaris says:

    ***Once communities understand that alcohol isn’t economic development and in fact, it’s harming the health and safety of the community, they can do better*** (Julia Sherman, founding director of the Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Project)

    From a brilliant article in Milwaukee Mag, written by Ashley Abramson. I think about these things a lot when considering how north Water Street has turned into just another bar district few other kinds of businesses will want to enter:

    “Along with the obvious risks to public health, selling too much alcohol can drain the economy. In 2019, binge drinking in Wisconsin inflicted costs of nearly $4 billion. Drinking can interfere with work attendance and performance, along with increasing the likelihood of work-related accidents. Too many drinking establishments also threaten other local businesses by increasing insurance costs – for example, if you’re surrounded by bars, your storefront might be at a higher risk of damage from drunk passersby.

    “Even the direct costs to the people of Wisconsin for alcohol-related problems – arrests, accidents and medical bills – exceed what the state makes each year on alcohol. ‘Everybody that lives in Wisconsin has to pick up the tab for alcohol-related crime, disorder and disease,” [Julia} Sherman says. (NOTE: She’s director of the Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Project.)

    “Despite an increased awareness of the harms of alcohol, it will take some time for both policy and culture to catch up. In a state like Wisconsin, where drinking is woven in the social fabric, that might take a little longer. ‘Once communities understand that alcohol isn’t economic development and in fact, it’s harming the health and safety of the community, they can do better,’ says Sherman.”

  6. Rbrowne says:

    I like this idea and hope the city explores it thoroughly. Bourbon St. in New Orleans comes to mind; they have bollards that retract for public transportation and local deliveries. That could work here as well.

  7. I love Brady Street for its promise of walkable urbanism. However, most pedestrian malls created in the United States have failed. The general thinking today is that the size should be a few blocks, transit must serve the area well (ideally emissions-free), and streams of people should be using the site 18 hrs a day/7 days a week. For that level of activity, the Brady Street neighborhood would need to have much more residential density, much more and varied business density, larger employers, and a greater emphasis on more diverse activities from sunup to late hours everywhere along the street. It would be helpful if one end had a major, large-size mixed-use development and a major transit node as an anchor. The large car parking area on the east end by Walgreen’s would have to be something other than car storage. There would need to be modern parking reform throughout the neighborhood and a major commitment to walkability and transit access. Incumbent property owners in the area have an outsized power to use NIMBY tactics to keep all manner of development or change away. Combined with an aversion to taller buildings and a lack of modern parking reform, I doubt the diversity and density that would support a pedestrian-only area would form. The biggest mistake in trying to create a pedestrian-only area is thinking that the car-free area causes vibrancy–this is completely backwards. The area must already have a very active, 18hrs/7days a week, complete neighborhood (most daily needs met nearby) pedestrian profile in place before even considering a car-free designation. Failed pedestrian malls–the majority of those tried–quickly become dead zones and revert back to automobile-dominated access. Test out elements before fully implementing any permanent infrastructure. Ideas: Pearl Street Mall (Boulder, CO), 16th St Mall (Denver, CO), Fulton Mall (Brooklyn, NY).

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