Jeramey Jannene

Officials, Neighbors Debate Brady Street’s Future

Close the street to cars? Remove parking? All options on the table.

By - Jun 7th, 2023 03:23 pm
E. Brady St. looking at N. Arlington Pl. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

E. Brady St. looking at N. Arlington Pl. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Following a hit-and-run that left a well-known Lower East Side resident in critical condition, the discussion around if and when Brady Street could be closed to motor vehicle traffic is taking on increased urgency.

“The question is not if there will be changes, but what the changes will be and when they will be implemented,” said area Alderman Jonathan Brostoff in introducing the topic to the Public Works Committee Wednesday morning.

A formal study, announced to much fanfare earlier this year, is still ongoing, but Brostoff and several others are pushing for faster solutions, even if implemented on an interim basis.

An early Memorial Day collision sent Quincy, a service industry worker who could be regularly found at area establishments, to Froedtert Hospital where he remains in the intensive care unit. Brostoff said it was just the latest of several vehicle-pedestrian collisions to have occurred. A 2004 collision that killed Mary Glorioso inspired a round of curb bump-outs to be built. On Wednesday, several area stakeholders testified it is time for more.

“It is simply not acceptable for a densely populated neighborhood like this to experience that kind of vehicular violence,” said Brostoff. “As horrific as these incidents are, they are also preventable.”

“We have to evolve. We have to make changes,” said Jeno Cataldo, whose family owns several businesses in the area and is an investor in the proposed hotel.

“This is the third person I’ve known that has gotten hit on Brady Street, so we have to do something other than studies,” said entertainment entrepreneur Michael Sampson.

City Engineer Kevin Muhs said the city is exploring several temporary solutions while supporting the Brady Street Business Improvement District’s study. “Brady Street is certainly a complex urban environment,” said Muhs, noting the irregular street grid, need to accommodate the GreenLine bus route and the abundance of delivery vehicles.

Options the Department of Public Works is weighing include prohibiting overnight parking, to increase the visibility of pedestrians, and late-night street closures. Temporary speed humps, if their shape allows a bus to safely cross, could also be tested.

“We have to be sure that anything we do with closures does not further encourage behaviors the neighborhood is already concerned about,” said Muhs. Brostoff echoed that concern, explicitly stating that the street was not an entertainment district, but part of an entertaining neighborhood.

Catalado, who said he doesn’t currently favor a complete closure, said whatever the solution is, it needs to be one where crowds can be controlled. “I don’t want to be all the sudden ‘rah, rah, let’s close this street,’ and then it turns into this huge party and we can’t police it,” said the bar and restaurant owner.

Committee chair Alderman Robert Bauman suggested temporary closures, like those used on the Water Street bar district in his neighborhood, be tried on trial basis. “You could start that this weekend, theoretically,” he offered.

Cataldo said the Water Street closures are already pushing people looking to hang out in their vehicles to Brady Street. “At the very least, we have to slow them down,” he said. Milwaukee Police Department captain Robert Thiel said the closures have helped improve safety on Water Street. He said he is already assigning more officers to Brady Street on the weekends, but the geographic size of the area and limited resources makes it a challenge. Thiel suggested a pedestrian street similar to Madison’s State Street, where buses and delivery vehicles are allowed, could work while minimizing the impact on surrounding streets.

Muhs said a challenge with the street grid is finding an alternative route for the GreenLine bus. On N. Water Street, the bus line is temporarily rerouted by using the regular grid. Brostoff, in past comments, has publicly favored blocking access to personal vehicles while allowing buses and delivery vehicles. BID director Rachel Taylor, in a January interview, said accommodating mass transit was essential to any plan.

Montavius Jones, who chairs the city’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee, said one thing no plan should worry about is parking. “People aren’t moving to this neighborhood because parking is great,” said Jones.

Marcela Baruzzini, who lives on a nearby street, told the committee that she has concerns about closing Brady Street. “You’re assuming these erratic drivers are just going to drive down the other streets safely,” she said.

But at least one person publicly questioned whether the traffic would materialize.

“I also wonder if there is a fallacy to the idea that all this traffic is going to be filling into side streets when the street is closed,” said bar owner Mike Eitel. He suggested people, knowing the road was closed, would route around the neighborhood entirely or choose a different mode of transportation.

A common theme from Eitel, Cataldo, Brostoff and others was the need to continue to discuss the issue.

“This is a critical moment for the neighborhood,” said Eitel, whose Nomad World Pub opened 28 years ago on the street.

After more than hour of discussion, the committee took no formal action. “We will be having more public conversations,” said Brostoff.

Wide-Ranging Discussion

The discussion that took place proved the complexity of the situation. Opinions were not simply for or against closing the street, but covered a wide variety of alternative options.

Area resident Scott Stieg said he favors instead closing N. Arlington Pl. where it intersects with Brady Street. “This would eliminate a lot of desperate left turns that knock off pedestrians at a higher rate than speeding through,” he told the committee. Quincy was struck crossing at that intersection.

Stieg said he also favors expanding the bump outs to include bus stops, eliminating the need for the bus to pull out of traffic to load or unload passengers. “It would also eliminate [truck] loading and delivery in the bus stops, which is a real safety hazard,” he said. East Side resident Kevin Germino endorsed similar changes to the street that would make it safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Sampson, who is a partner in a restaurant on Brady Street, asked if the street could be converted to one-way traffic. The question prompted a lot of debate about related changes that this could trigger, including Brostoff’s idea about a dedicated bus lane. Similar to the idea of simply eliminating parking, one of the concerns raised was that it could encourage drivers to speed because of fewer visual obstructions and perceived wider lanes.

A number of speakers endorsed the complete pedestrian mall concept.

Ivanhoe Plaza Problems

Another street closure is already triggering negative feedback from one directly impacted business owner.

To the north of Brady St., a half block of E. Ivanhoe Place was closed to traffic starting May 26 to create a plaza at the irregular intersection of N. Farwell Avenue and E. North Ave.

Sip & Purr Cat Cafe owner Katy McHugh says her business was badly hurt by the less-than-two-week-old plaza. “Fifty-one percent revenue decline since Ivanhoe Place was closed two weeks ago,” she told the committee, without detailing what the comparison was to. “I’m obviously looking to relocate Sip & Purr.”

She said Brady Street is one of her relocation options. “I’m very vested in Brady Street since I’m considering moving here,” said McHugh. “Closing the street is not going to stop the reckless driving here. It’s not going to stop people on their phone from walking out into the street and getting hit by a car.”

McHugh, whose business is on the end of the plaza, said she was told by those involved that there was nothing she could do to stop the plaza from happening.

Bauman asked if the plaza could be removed if other businesses are also negatively impacted. Yes, said Muhs. The current fixtures (planters, etc.) used to create it are all movable.

The plaza’s creation was strongly backed by McHugh’s landlord, New Land Enterprises, and Brostoff. The real estate company also operates the plaza-facing Crossroads Collective food hall.

A GoFundMe campaign to raise funding for medical expenses for Quincy, formally Lequincy Alexander. He remains hospitalized.

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Categories: Transportation

8 thoughts on “Officials, Neighbors Debate Brady Street’s Future”

  1. ZeeManMke says:

    Brady Street is too small for all that traffic. And it has no alleys. Trucks that deliver goods have to go somewhere. Eliminating parking would solve some of those problems. There are no easy answers.

  2. Marty Ellenbecker says:

    There is only one street parallel to Brady (Ogden, 3 blocks south)
    that goes from Van Buren to Farwell, but it ends at Franklin, as does Farwell,
    and from that intersection you can go one half block to Prospect Avenue.

    Normally I reject the idea of street closing, saying it gives us
    fewer ways to get to the ever increasing places to go,
    while cutting routes available to police, fire, rescue and transit.

    But Brady and the surrounding streets provide a real head scratcher.
    I don’t like the idea of closing the street, but some of the
    compromise plans look reasonable or possibly net gains.

    They seem like they may result in fewer bars and restaurants,
    and more goods and services serving nearby residents.
    That’s not to assume the majority of people served by bars
    and restaurants are from elsewhere. Has anyone’s surveyed this?

    It would mess up the Green Line to have a
    closure or a one-way eastward plan, but it might
    discourage excess transient traffic west of the new hotel.
    But between parking load and drivers accidentally
    going past their destinations, some traffic burden
    would likely spill onto adjacent streets.

    Maybe keep it two-way, with a closure at the West edge
    of a Farwell Avenue crosswalk? [Oops, westbound
    traffic from the hotel & Oakland Avenue!]

    To avoid a confusing and distracting array of signs at
    Royall Street guiding the traffic from Oakland to
    Brady or Farwell, let’s nix the hotel, and use the
    parking lot land to providea a last-chance
    exit to Farwell. 😀

    Yup, it’s a head scratcher [banger?]!

  3. Keith Prochnow says:

    Marty, Oakland does not intersect Brady– that’s Cambridge. Royall is a Place, not a Street.

  4. DanRyan86 says:

    Closing Brady East of Humboldt and West of Warren would be a good test run. Leave N/S traffic crossing Brady while making that stretch of Brady Bus Only. You’d probably have to make Warren two-way traffic north of Brady and leave the Brady St Beach in place. That should allow through circulation for residents of the neighborhood while making it too confusing for those visiting to bother entering. Hopefully, they’ll park elsewhere and walk over or just come using and alternate transit method.

    If that goes well you could then probably close E/W traffic all the way west to Cass and Brady and leave each one-way direction in place so that traffic doesn’t dead end. Again, leave all N/S streets open so you’d still have cross traffic at intersections and buses would still use Brady and that would leave a right of way for deliveries and emergency vehicles though they should have no problem with access having the cross streets open. You may ultimately need to take out parking on one side of the street along Kane between Humboldt and Warren if people overuse it to cut east/west and don’t use the logical alternatives of North or Ogden.

    On a last note, don’t listen to Kate McHugh that owns that cat cafe. She complains about everything and has blamed everything that has happened remotely around her business for it not doing as well as she thinks it should, but it does well enough to stay open and she never has any ideas of what would be better for a solution so she’s just the business owner version of some NIMBY Karen.

  5. Marty Ellenbecker says:

    Keith Prochnow,
    I knew about Cambridge intersecting with Brady,
    but to keep things shorter I said Oakland because
    that one block of Cambridge carries much more
    Oakland traffic to Brady than it does its own.

    You’re right about Royall.
    I missed the fine print.

  6. mr_cox says:

    Restricting traffic to mass transit and delivery vehicles only would go a long way to solving many adjacent traffic problems, too.

    The problem isn’t restricted to Brady St west of Farwell Ave. Two pedestrian deaths occurred at the Brady/Prospect intersection recently because drivers gun it in the turn northward from Brady St to shoot down Prospect Ave and often don’t see or don’t care about pedestrians.

    Further, and I’m aware this is a “Prospect People’s Problem”, but the constant revved engines and deafening music queued at or blowing through that intersection gets really old really fast. Sucks when windows must stay closed during summer.

    Neighborhood hearing sessions revealed that not much can be done to change Farwell Ave or Prospect Ave directly, because apparently they are designated as state highways?

    If the dangerous/annoying traffic is tamed on Brady, it will make the entire east side safer. Let’s come together East Siders.

  7. RetiredResident says:

    Since I don’t live in the area, I guess I won’t be patronizing Scortino’s or Aron’s Barber Shop, and Bosley’s closed already…

  8. Marty Ellenbecker says:

    Dan Ryan86
    Am I understanding your plan correctly?

    All of Brady will keep east-west mode.
    Non-transit/non-delivery traffic will only be allowed
    in one block on each end.
    All north-south passage will remain the same.

    If this is what you mean, I think it’s an excellent plan.
    Extra points for speedy delivery!

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