Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Jackson Park Project Faces Resistance

Some residents oppose plan to convert roadway to pedestrian-bike trail along KK River Parkway.

By - Feb 20th, 2023 05:41 pm
Jackson Park Roadway. Photo by Milwaukee County Parks.

Jackson Park Roadway. Photo by Milwaukee County Parks.

Milwaukee County Parks is planning to pedestrianize a section of Jackson Park Drive and not everyone is pleased to hear this.

The road in question is a section of parkway controlled by the county parks department and running along the Kinnickinnic River Parkway. It is nearly 20 years overdue for resurfacing, according to parks. In redesigning the roadway, the department has landed on a cheaper alternative to rebuilding as is: turning most of it into a bike and pedestrian path.

The department is still in the midst of this design process, which is expected to continue for most of 2023. But it’s leaning toward narrowing the roadway where it is used for private driveway access and replacing the section that doesn’t touch driveways with a 10-foot-wide bicycle and pedestrian path. There aren’t many cross-streets to demarcate the project area, but what parks is proposing would run along the roadway between approximately S. 58th Street and S. 51st Street.

While that’s the design that has come forward, the department is still open to engaging with the community. A parks staffer has been going door to door in the neighborhood to speak with residents about the project, and the two local county supervisors have called a public meeting.

Jackson Park Drive project. Map by Milwaukee County Parks.

The parks system has a massive backlog of maintenance it can’t afford to get to any time soon. In order to keep pace with the infrastructure needs of the parks system, the county would need to dedicate approximately 100% of the money it borrows every year to projects in the parks. In 2023, the department submitted a project budget request of approximately $42 million, not expecting to receive it, but to demonstrate to policymakers the scope of the system’s needs.

Roadways are expensive to maintain. “Roads are killing us,” said James Tarantino, deputy director Milwaukee County Parks. But some of the parkways in the system can be considered “redundant” roads because their closure does not affect traffic levels on the street grid. The department has found that it can save on future infrastructure costs by converting these redundant parkways to bicycle and pedestrian paths, which can be rebuilt at a much cheaper cost than a traditional roadway.

If converted to a path, the greenspace in the corridor would also be increased, and reduce stormwater runoff, according to the department. The department has already been making a concerted effort to reduce the amount of paved surface in the system and “focus on parks for people, not parks for cars,” Tarantino said. The Jackson Park Drive project would be just one small piece of the larger effort.

But the project is seeing some fierce opposition from nearby residents. Some don’t want to see the roadway’s footprint reduced. Others are worried because they think the bicycle and pedestrian path would increase crime in the neighborhood. Others are worried their backyards would be mistaken for parkland with the roadway acting as a barrier between their property and the river parkway. There is, apparently, a petition circulating among neighbors opposed to the project.

“With elimination of the street how are path users to know where the park ends and my yard begins?” one neighbor commented on an public project page managed by parks.

“Closure would also make monitoring the woods along the river extremely difficult to impossible and encourage homeless camps, loitering, home break-ins and drug and sexual activity,” another commenter offered.

“The county is putting its bests efforts into spinning this decision in order to cover up the reality that they didn’t budget well enough to be able to maintain a street near a beautiful park,” one person said.

The project was not without public support, though. “This looks like an excellent plan. Replacing the road with a bike path will make the KK Parkway more park-like, which should make the neighborhood more attractive and increase property values. Ideally, the bike path would connect with a continuous path along the KK River,” one commenter said.

One person noted that the roadway is already used primarily for bicycle and pedestrian purposes, adding that concerns about bicycle-path-related crime are likely overblown. “The path that will be installed is 10′ wide and could carry a patrol vehicle if necessary. I think there are more random activities that occur by having this secluded street to begin with vs taking it out and dealing with what activities could occur without a car.”

Tarantino says he’s seen no evidence that mixed-use trails contribute to increased crime. “If anything the evidence is that bike trails increase property values,” he noted.

The furor over the project was enough to prompt the local supervisors to call a public meeting. This small stretch of roadway is split by the district boundary between Sup. Juan Miguel Martinez‘s district in the east and Sup. Peter Burgelis‘ district in the west. This meeting, according to a statement they released Monday, will be attended by staff from the parks department and the county executive’s office.

Burgelis is a resident of Jackson Park Drive. “After the first public meeting, I saw a need for more community input and discussion,” he said. “I hope neighbors and those who use Jackson Park Drive will join the conversation about this project.” The supervisor added the proviso that the parks system needs “long-term, cost-effective solutions” to ensure its future.

“Projects like these hold a tremendous amount of weight, and without public input they are just ideas,” Martinez said. “When residents speak up real change can be made.”

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One thought on “MKE County: Jackson Park Project Faces Resistance”

  1. DanRyan86 says:

    These neighbor concerns are completely unhinged. How will anyone know where your yard begins? Probably because it’s a yard and very obviously so from google street view. Increase crime? Is there a bunch of crime in the park already? Why would narrowing a road to a bike path increase crime? What factual study are they backing that up with?

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