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Would flashing red lights make Milwaukee intersections safer overnight? D.P.W. launching study to find out

"Right now, a green does not mean go in the city of Milwaukee. Green means take your chances"
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Posted at 4:38 PM, Jan 17, 2023

MILWAUKEE — A Milwaukee alderman thinks having traffic lights flash red overnight would make Milwaukee’s intersections safer. The Department of Public Works says it’s launching a study to find out.

The city of Milwaukee operates traffic lights at about 760 intersections. The Department of Public Works (D.P.W.) says none of them flash red in all four directions unless they’re broken, but a city leader thinks the change could fix a dangerous problem.

Under the proposal, once the clock strikes 10 p.m., traffic signals would flash red city-wide to essentially operate as a four-way stop.

Katron Warfield says he avoids driving late at night in Milwaukee due to the fear of reckless drivers.

“In my opinion, I don't see that as being safer,” he said. "They're going to see that flashing light and keep going. They're not going to wait their turn because they're going to go when they want to."

"I think it's a winner from a variety of standpoints,” Alderman Bob Bauman said.

Alderman Bauman says a D.P.W. engineer brought the idea to his attention a year ago. Now, he’s calling for it to be put into action.

"It's inexpensive, it's the flick of a switch,” he said. “It's adjusting the computer software in the control cabinets for these lights so it would have little if any operational cost, zero capital cost and I think it would definitely save lives."

“Do you think that would have any impact on those who are driving recklessly?” TMJ4 asked.

"Probably not, but it would save those who are driving lawfully,” Alderman Bauman replied. “Right now, a green does not mean go in the city of Milwaukee. Green means take your chances, because we have so many incidents of individuals running red lights that a green light really puts you in jeopardy, especially at a blind intersection where you don't have a good line of sight for cross traffic."

Alderman Bauman says if he had it his way, traffic lights would flash red from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. each day at every signalized intersection the city controls.

"It's certainly an unconventional idea,” said City Engineer Kevin Muhs.

While Muhs considers it unconventional, he says the idea is worth studying.

"What our planned approach is, right now, is to identify some locations at a variety of different types of intersections across the city and to pilot it and see how it works,” he said.

If the approach proves to be effective, Muhs says the city could convert its traffic lights. But for the same to occur on state trunk highways like Capitol Drive and Fond du Lac Ave., the state’s Department of Transportation would have to be on board.

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