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Major reconstruction of Milwaukee-area street may be a trend-setter, though costs are unclear

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Milwaukee Regional Medical Center
The intersection of 87th St. and Watertown Plank Rd. The area at the bottom of the photo shows how 87th St. has been reconstructed to include several new features, including separated bike lanes.

A recently completed reconstruction of a Milwaukee-area street not only aims to help encourage walking or commuting to one of the largest local employers, it may also be a role model for other street projects. That's despite secrecy about the cost.

The rebuilt street is 87th St., about a half mile between Wisconsin Ave. and Watertown Plank Rd., on the grounds of the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center.

The public can use the street, but it's regarded as a private one. The major players there — Medical College of Wisconsin, Froedtert Hospital and Children's Wisconsin — teamed up to pay for not only a straighter street with well-marked intersections, but to also include medians, wide sidewalks and a bike lane separated from cars.

It's not the region's first separated bike lane. But Andre Ost with Graef Engineering, who worked on the 87th St. project, said we'll likely see more of this model on other streets.

"I see separated and protected bike lanes as really being the future. It's happening a lot more and more. We're starting to work on projects. We hear the excitement about it. Now that it's built in one area, there's less apprehension for other cities to be doing it. I know the city of Milwaukee is looking at it, and the city of Wauwatosa, and I expect other suburbs will too," Ost said.

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Milwaukee Regional Medical Center.
A recent ribbon-cutting to mark the completion of the 87th St. reconstruction project. The green paint signifies the start of the separated bike lane on that block.

Separating the bike lane means fewer dangerous interactions between inattentive or inexperienced drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists.

Ost said the 87th St. project also includes two multi-use paths to the residential neighborhood, east of the medical center, to reduce barriers for walkers and bikers to get to the facility.

Ost said it's too early to say if the number of single occupancy car trips to the center has declined. But he said making even a small dent in big daytime numbers would be a plus.

"There's so much staff. I mean, there's 15,000 first shift employees, and a lot of them live within that three mile radius. So really, whatever we can get is a benefit to all users. It's trying to create those comfortable connections to get that staff in," Ost said.

Though many taxpayer dollars flow to the Regional Medical Center by way of research grants, a spokesperson said for the street project, as a matter of policy, MRMC does not release information about costs.

There are also 1.5 million patient visits a year to the Medical Center. There is currently a county bus service to the site. But transportation officials hope frequency would increase after the Bus Rapid Transit electric bus system is built on the west side of Milwaukee County, which will serve the MRMC and will also reduce private car trips there.

Chuck Quirmbach joined WUWM in August 2018. He focuses his longform stories on health, innovation, science, technology, transportation, utilities and business.
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