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Milwaukee's extensive traffic calming measures seem to be working

A protected bike lane on W. Lapham Blvd. cut the number of driving lanes in half and reduced speeding by 69%.
Jeramey Jannene
Urban Milwaukee
A protected bike lane on W. Lapham Blvd. cut the number of driving lanes in half and reduced speeding by 69%.

You’ve probably noticed some of Milwaukee’s busiest streets are changing. The city is installing traffic calming measures, like big concrete bump-outs along corners and protected bike lanes.

These projects aim to make drivers slow down and be more aware of their surroundings — hopefully resulting in fewer accidents and injuries for everyone using the roads. But have they worked? According to some initial data — the answer is yes.

Jeramey Jannene of Urban Milwaukee wrote all about Milwaukee’s traffic calming efforts, its successes and its growing pains.

"If you can reduce someone's speed from 40 to 35 mph, you can do a lot to save their life in the case of an accident or a collision."

— Jeramey Jannene

"[In] the fall 2018, the city approved this Complete Streets plan," explains Jannene. "The idea was that we should design our streets for all users, not just drivers, but bus riders, bikers, pedestrians, people of all abilities too."

Milwaukee has a lot of streets that are wider than necessary because most of the roads were built before the freeway system, so these traffic calming projects aim to correct that, according to Jannene. There was a proposal to build 50 traffic calming projects last year, with 45 more planned for 2024. "One item on that list can be 20 different projects near schools, so there are dozens and dozens of changes happening," he says.

In order to assess whether or not these measures have worked in reducing the average speed of drivers on the roads, the Department of Public Works collected automated speed data both before and after the calming measures were installed.

"Tremendous results have been seen both on Oklahoma Avenue and Lapham Boulevard near Historic Mitchell Street. If your goal is to save lives, they show that the data is likely to do that in any collision," says Jannene.

East Oklahoma Avenue alongside Humboldt Park in Bay View underwent a two-phase road diet that resulted in a 37% reduction in the number of vehicles driving over the speed limit. West Lapham Boulevard now has a bike lane that reduced the four-lane street into two, and moved the parking lane away from the curb. This resulted in a 69% drop in the number of speeding motorists.

Ideally, these traffic calming measures can help the City of Milwaukee reach their Vision Zero campaign that aims to have zero traffic fatalities. "I think there's a thing that needs to be understood about reckless driving — it's not just someone stealing a Kia and driving it insane speeds, it's the mother that's speeding to get their kid to class, it's the journalist like me that's rushing to get to a meeting," he says. "... We're all guilty of reckless driving at some point, and we all could use visual cues and street design that encourages us to drive slow."

Placing more physical barriers in the road and reducing the width of some of the busier streets in the area are intended to encourage drivers to slow down and be more aware of their surroundings as they drive. And while Jannene says the initial results are promising, the full scale plan will take more time.

"I think the key thing with public works is understanding that you're not going to rebuild every single road every single year. It's going to take a long time to rebuild Milwaukee's network of streets," he says.


Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Rob is All Things Considered Host and Digital Producer.
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