NewsProject: Drive Safer


Sherman Park residents feel ‘left behind’ with DPW’s reckless driving mitigation projects

That tool is meant to help DPW identify problem areas despite how engaged the population in a given neighborhood may be.
Oklahoma Avenue DPW project
Posted at 4:51 PM, Dec 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-15 19:08:29-05

MILWAUKEE — There are 33 projects the Department of Public Works has identified to impact reckless driving mitigation projects. They’re spread out across the city, from 60th and Silver Spring all the way down to 68th and Oklahoma. But there is an emphasis on impacting marginalized communities.

The largest cluster of projects is on the west and near northwest side. These areas have some of the highest populations of African Americans in the city. A city that has become infamous as the worst city in America for African Americans, according to a University of Wisconsin Milwaukee study.

DPW Reckless Driving Mitigation Projects
The list of current and recently completed Reckless Driving Mitigation Projects targets communities of color. However, Sherman Park doesn't appear to have as many projects despite being home to two of the deadliest streets in the city.

“We use a prioritization model based on three broad categories,” Kate Riordan, Interim Safe Streets Coordinator said. “Use, which is basically how many people are using the street. Safety, that’s looking at a history of crashes and crash risk. And then, equity. Safety and equity had larger points weighted towards them.”

That tool is meant to help DPW identify problem areas despite how engaged the population in a given neighborhood may be. Community input drives a lot of where DPW chooses to implement projects like these. Riordan explains, many of these mitigation projects were generated through Aldermanic requests. Those requests come directly from the community.

Kate Riordan explaining prioritization model
Riordan explained the prioritization model helps DPW equitably choose where its projects will go.

But Milwaukee has the second lowest Black homeownership rate in the country (27.2 percent) according to UWM. A 2013 Georgetown University study says homeowners are 1.28 times more likely to be involved in a neighborhood group and 1.32 times more likely to join a civic association. Riordan says statistics like these are what drive the prioritization model’s equity focus.

“I think the use of our prioritization model and objective statistics such as the racial breakdown of census tracts, looking at income and those factors help us make those decisions where we don’t have the strong community group coming in and talking to us about these projects,” Riordan said. “With an overall high injury network, this will help us use some of that data to make sure that we’re addressing the most dangerous streets in the city, whether or not we have a community group asking for it.”

Kate Riordan DPW
Kate Riordan, Interim Safe Streets Coordinator for DPW, shows how reckless driving mitigation projects are chosen based off three primary factors; Use, Safety and Equity.

However, one of the city’s most well-known neighborhoods, Sherman Park, is largely missing from DPW’s map of reckless driving mitigation projects.

“I think many areas of our community have been underserved,” Mabel Lamb, Executive Director of the Sherman Park Community Association said. “They’ve been just kind of left behind. Just forgotten.”

Lamb lives in Sherman Park. She chose to move here over 20 years ago and never wants to leave. The combination of community and history is too attractive for her to stray. However, she has many concerns over safety on the streets, especially in the last few years.

“The driving is worse,” Lamb said. “It’s worse than it was before COVID. We’re losing our homeownership rates and part of that is because people don’t feel safe.”

A few blocks north of Lamb’s home is arguably the most dangerous street in the city for reckless driving: Capitol Drive. Nearly three miles of this road cut through the northernmost point of Sherman Park.

Capitol Drive injury crashes
Capitol Drive has seen 200 injury crashes in 2021 and 2022 from the months of April to September.

According to data from the Wisconsin Traffic Operations and Safety Laboratory, from April to September of 2021 and 2022, there were 200 vehicle crashes with injuries on this stretch of roadway. Going back 10 years, 20 people have been killed in vehicle crashes on Sherman Park’s share of Capitol Drive.

“Capitol Drive is probably the worst,” Lamb said. “I shouldn’t say probably. It is the worst. We need to work on Capitol ASAP. We can’t wait any longer.”

Lamb says residents have told her; they won’t cross Capitol Drive to patronize businesses. Older residents tell her, they wake up very early in the morning and try to get back by 9:00 a.m. when they go grocery shopping.

They don’t want to put themselves at risk on one of the city’s most deadly roads, she says.

So, when Lamb saw the list of projects DPW is working on, she zeroed in on her own.

Mabel Lamb shows TMJ4 News Sherman Park
Mabel Lamb, Executive Director of the Sherman Park Community Association, shows the I-Team's Shaun Gallagher problem areas for reckless driving in her neighborhood.

“We have had so many problems,” Lamb said. “Of the 10 [crash] hotspots in the City of Milwaukee, five of them are here in Sherman Park. It is very concerning to me that we haven’t had the engineering to be more permanent and expedited.”

A few blocks south of Lamb’s house, Sherman Blvd. intersects Center Street. Over the summer, they had painted bump outs and plastic bollards meant to stop people from unsafely passing on the right. The paint is still there, but the plastic bollards were removed for the winter to help with snow removal.

“I’m not sure this is really helpful at this point,” Lamb said of the adjusted rapid implementation project at Center Street.

A project that can’t be removed is farther south near Humboldt Park on Oklahoma Avenue. In October, DPW and the City of Milwaukee held a press conference to celebrate the reckless driving mitigation project’s completion.

Concrete bump outs and refuge islands are at several intersections from Howell to Clement. These projects fall in line with the strategy by DPW to make it easier for pedestrians to cross a street.

“Humboldt Park is right there,” Riordan said. “That would kind of be part of the reason why the Oklahoma project was selected.”

Oklahoma Avenue injury crashes
Since 2017, Oklahoma Avenue, between Clement and Howell, has seen 66 injury crashes. It had permanent concrete bump outs installed in October.

But when comparing Oklahoma and Capitol, the data doesn’t come close. While Capitol had 200 injury crashes during warmer weather months in 2021 and 2022, this stretch of Oklahoma had 66 injury crashes over five years. Since 2012, three people have been killed in crashes on Oklahoma, about one-seventh of the fatal crashes on Capitol in that same time frame.

“One of the reasons we were able to get the Oklahoma Avenue project done more quickly before the projects on Capitol is because it’s a street that’s under our jurisdiction,” Riordan said. “So, it was easier to get that done.”

Capitol Drive and Fond du Lac Avenue are considered state trunk highways. Those roadways are overseen by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Riordan says, with that caveat, the City needs permission from the state before it can perform any work on those roads. Additionally, DPW’s reckless driving mitigation projects total $19.3 million. Riordan says if the state DOT gets involved, they would bring substantially more in the funding department.

“They do bring a lot more funding than what we’re able to do,” Riordan said. “We are spending our own funding on these streets. We do have to have projects reviewed by the state, even if we are spending our own funding on them and that can slow things down. But we are at the city pushing very hard to make sure that the streets that run through our city reflect the needs and values of our residents.”

The I-Team reached out to DOT for a comment on how it plans to tackle reckless driving on the streets it maintains, like Capitol Drive and Fond du Lac Avenue, and we are awaiting a response.

“I really appreciate seeing the bump outs that were engineered for the street,” Lamb said. “We’d love to see them here in our neighborhood as well.”

Lamb was quick to acknowledge how happy she is for the other neighborhoods getting these amenities to combat reckless driving. She doesn’t want this to be a competition between neighborhoods. In her mind, reckless driving should be identified as a public health crisis across the city because it’s something that affects everyone. She just wants to see the same thing done in her neighborhood.

“I thought they did a great job,” Lamb said. “It’s permanent. It’s going to stay there. I think the same thing needs to happen over here. It’s as simple as I can say, rather than some of the temporary measures that have been put in place.”

Lamb will continue the fight to make safer streets in her community and she says, she has faith in city leaders and elected officials to get the job done.

“I don’t want to say it’s unfair because everybody’s life counts and matters,” Lamb said. “We need to make sure that we are being safe in our neighborhoods. But they really need to take the time out to see where those disparities lie. Make that a focus.”

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