MILWAUKEE — More than two months after the City of Milwaukee announced its newest reckless driving initiative, Vision Zero, one neighborhood shows how the effort has impacted its area after implementing its strategies for over a year.
“I love it,” Angelique Sharpe, Director of the Villard Avenue Business Improvement District (BID) said. “It’s evidence based on a four-pillar strategy. That’s the most important when it comes to addressing safety. I don’t think it’s feasible to create projects and things that don't have an evidence-based background.”
When Sharpe heard about Vision Zero last year, she wanted to get it started on Villard Avenue as quickly as possible. She worked with partners at the Department of Public Works (DPW) to start installing Rapid Implementation Projects; essentially quick, cheap solutions to effectively curb reckless driving.
“Curb extensions, bike lanes, high visibility crosswalks,” Sharpe said. “Milwaukee Police have a green light camera program that has been piloted in our district. Cars need boundaries. If you don’t give them boundaries, they’ll take over the road.”
Sharpe met with the I-Team near 35th Street and Villard Ave. Though Sharpe says, residents refer to it more as Highway 35, because of how fast people drive down it.
“There are no stop signs,” Sharpe said. “This is the only stop light between Silver Spring and Cameron. It’s just a full blow through and there are schools and daycares over here.”
The four pillars of Vision Zero are Equity, Engineering, Education and Enforcement. Sharpe believes all four are crucial towards limiting reckless driving but the rapid implementation efforts help achieve the engineering pillar at a lower cost.
On Villard Avenue, like many other parts of the city, curbing reckless driving is among the top priorities. According to Milwaukee Police's Traffic Safety Unit, 67 people were killed in car crashes across the city in 2021. To date, 38 people have been killed in crashes. Another 564 people have had incapacitating injuries since 2021; 355 last year and 209 this year, respectively.
“Cars are barreling through neighborhoods like they own the streets,” Sharpe said. “They don’t. The taxpayers own the streets.”
The installations near 35th and Villard aren’t dramatic. There is a bike lane in either direction. Some plastic posts operate as bump-outs so cars can’t ‘baseline’ by driving on the shoulder at stop lights. The solutions aren’t incredibly innovative, but they are effective.
“It makes traffic slow down,” Jerrell Kruschke, Interim Commissioner of DPW said.
Kruschke pointed out DPW’s Rapid Implementation efforts at 30 busy intersections across the city. The focus for the new installations is mainly on Center Street, Mitchell Street, and Cesar Chavez Drive.
“It makes a driver feel uncomfortable,” Kruschke said. “So when a lane is reduced or having that availability to move into the parking lane to basically navigate around the roadways, it makes the traffic slow down. We’ve seen reduced speeds of 20 percent just by doing a paint and bollard, which is a very simple, cheap way to do it. Reducing overall speeds by 20 percent, I mean it will save lives.”
DPW has other Rapid Implementation efforts already installed in the city with positive results. Since June of 2020 on N. 27th Street between W. Wells St. and W. State St., DPW says speeding is down 17.5 percent with excessive speeding, over 40 mph, down 40 percent.
On S. 13th Street, between W. Manitoba St. and W. Harrison St., six times more drivers yield to pedestrians compared to two years ago.
It’s hard to look past how roughed up the plastic pylons have gotten in two years from those overzealous drivers who still don’t let the bump-outs impact how they drive. Reflective tape once beaming are diminished to a matte finish. The white plastic scuffed beyond recognition with the occasional post tilting far from its once strong perfectly vertical position.
In short, these are by no means a permanent fixture.
“We’d like to do a full concrete curb,” Kruschke said. “And have that permanent installation.”
To do that, DPW would need help from State or Federal aid.
Sharpe is hopeful though. Between the positive impacts on 27th and 13th street, paired with the improvements she’s seen on Villard Ave., she thinks officials should trust the investment.
“People are starting to respect the safety enhancements we have,” Sharpe said. “I love the high visibility crosswalks. At first, they were just two lines that were faded. We asked for high visibility so you can see them. It helps the driver and the pedestrian to know where their parameters are.”
For the pedestrian on foot, the bump-outs make crossing a busy street less anxiety-inducing. It cuts down on the active street the pedestrian needs to cross by at least 10 to 15 feet thanks to the bump-out and bike lanes.
“Imagine having groceries or limited mobility or having kids in tow,” Sharpe said. “That is a way to get through the street before the light changes and having a shorter commute.”
Sharpe hopes to get more funding for Villard Avenue to have a more permanent solution. Whether that’s through ARPA funds or some other financial aid from the state, she says it’s crucial towards creating a flourishing Villard Avenue. But she feels they can get there when you see how far they’ve come.
“We are making a statement that we care about our streets,” She said. “We care about the lives of the people over here. We want drivers to be safe and know where their boundaries are. It’s about building complete streets that are safe for all.”
While Rapid Implementation projects are looking to tackle busier thoroughfares, DPW is using some $1 million in ARPA funds to install 270 speed humps on residential streets across the city. Below is a map showing rough locations of where these new speed humps are being installed.
By the end of 2022, DPW hopes to have all of these new speed humps finished. It’s a lofty goal, as the city averages about 100 speed hump installations per year. Once finished, there should be nearly 1,000 speed humps across the city.