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Milwaukee Mayor Targets Reckless Driving With American Rescue Plan Act Money

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett
Maayan Silver
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett on the corner of 24th Street and North Avenue in Milwaukee.

Over the course of several days, Mayor Tom Barrett has been unveiling his proposals for how to spend Milwaukee’s American Rescue Plan Act money.

The city will be getting $394 million.

After laying out housing and job initiatives, Tuesday he took up other issues, including public safety and limiting reckless driving.

As cars sped by behind him, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett stood on the corner of 24th Street and North Avenue and addressed the epidemic of reckless driving. Barrett picked that corner because to the east and west, North Avenue has one lane in each direction. But for the six blocks between 24th and 30th streets, there are two lanes.

“And talking to the leadership here at St. Ann's [Center for Intergenerational Care] and others in the neighborhood, they feel that this creates, in essence, this tunnel that allows for reckless driving. They've contacted us and the city engineer. And we're working on a solution to this that would in essence make this coordinate much more carefully with the parts of North Avenue to the east and west of here," he said.

Barrett hopes to use $6 million of American Rescue Plan Act money to discourage reckless driving. Much of that would fund physical improvements.

He explained, “That includes curb extensions, pedestrian refuge islands, raised crosswalks, pedestrian signals, pavement markings, street trees, and green infrastructure along some 25 miles of Milwaukee streets.”

In addition to engineering, Barrett said there’s an enforcement component to curbing reckless driving.

“And to that end, we're going to support and complement the work of the Milwaukee Police Department against reckless driving and investing in new motorcycles, mobile computers and overtime dollars to deal with that issue. That number is going to be a little over $1 million. And as we break it down, essentially, it's going to be $500,000 for overtime, and $700,000 for motorcycles in the equipment," he said.

Barrett is also proposing to spend $3 million to expand the efforts of the Office of Violence Prevention on the city’s south side. This would include money for violence interrupters, mediators from the community who deescalate conflicts and outreach that connects residents with services that reduce violence.

“I think really what people are looking for as much as anything is balance," he said. "And the fact that we're going to have $3 million going into our Office of Violence Prevention tells you that in balancing these priorities, we have clearly identified violence prevention in a very significant way.”

Some, like Devin Anderson of the African American Roundtable, are disappointed with Barrett’s suggestion to spend more money on police. “Part of our demands around this was no new money for MPD,” Anderson said. “They already received close to $300 million every year.”

Anderson said the police department also has received $9.8 million in CARES Act money from the federal government. “So any dollar, any dollar as a part of the American Rescue Plan Act must be prioritized on community and not more police," he said.

Anderson questioned the role of using police in efforts to curb reckless driving. “We spent $300 million on the police every year, yet reckless driving still persists, that tells you maybe something," he said. "It tells me that police are not the solution to that.”

The African American Roundtable through its campaign LiberateMKE has been advocating for “participatory budgeting.” That would allow community members to brainstorm, pitch and vote on ideas.

The city asked residents to fill out a survey on spending priorities through the end of June. But Anderson said a participatory budgeting process would encourage more community involvement.

In addition to targeting reckless driving, Barrett announced Tuesday proposals to fund early education, local businesses and streetlight improvements.

The proposal needs approval from Milwaukee’s Common Council, which will consider the plan in coming weeks.

Maayan Silver is a WUWM news reporter.
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