Just over a year after the controversial decision to convert Milwaukee Street from a one-way to two-way road, city officials are planning ways to improve the throughway when it’s reconstructed in a couple years, and they want public input.
A team of city officials, downtown business owners and other stakeholders met Monday to weigh options for Milwaukee Street when the street, terraces and sidewalks are reconstructed between the Rock River and Five Points in summer 2020. A community engagement forum is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 23.
Milwaukee Street needs new pavement and a new water main. While doing that work, the city figured it was time to spruce up the street, which hasn’t been updated since the early 1970s, said Paul Woodard, director of public works.
“It’s time to give it a refresh,” Woodard said.
Milwaukee Street became a two-way road in October 2016. It was a good test run for what will be a more permanent solution, he said.
One problem the test run shows and reconstruction would aim to solve is weaving travel motorists have to endure when driving in either direction. Left turn lanes require motorists move right to continue straight, creating an “odd drive,” Woodard said.
The weaving is a result of officials having to work within the “existing geometry” of Milwaukee Street when converting it to a two-way road and trying to maximize on-street parking.
When the street is reconstructed, work will include terraces and sidewalks, allowing officials to create smoother lanes, said Brad Reents of engineering consultant MSA Professional Services.
The work team considered keeping the left turn lanes but ultimately decided removing them would be better. Without left turn lanes, it might be a bit more challenging for motorists to continue straight if someone in front of them is turning left, but the absence of left turn lanes allows more room for on-street parking, Reents said.
Work team member Britten Langfoss said the turn lanes are annoying and dangerous. Motorists often drive straight through left-only lanes, confusing drivers behind them, she said.
Milwaukee Street has 76 on-street parking stalls. Keeping the left turn lanes would reduce the number to 58 to 67. Taking the turn lanes out could increase the number up to 86 angled and parallel parking stalls, Reents said.
Angled parking would be on the south, eastbound side of Milwaukee Street. The other side would be parallel parking, he said.
The group also discussed head-in versus back-in angled parking, eventually leaning toward back-in stalls.
With head-in stalls, drivers park toward sidewalks with their vehicles’ rear ends pointed toward the street. With back-in stalls, drivers back into angled parking stalls. Back-in parking stalls are gaining popularity around the country, Reents said.
Head-in stalls are easier to park into, but back-in stalls are easier and safer to leave. With back-in stalls, motorists might cut across two lanes of traffic to enter them, which would make leaving the stall challenging, work team members said.
Work team members said they liked the idea of back-in stalls because they would allow residents to access their trunks from the sidewalk and reenter travel lanes without having to back up or look over their shoulders.
The team also discussed removing traffic signals at River, Jackson and Academy streets along Milwaukee Street. Brian Huibregtse of MSA said if there were no signals at those intersections now, it would be a hard sell to install any. Traffic volume isn’t high enough to warrant them, he said.
Woodard said it costs $150,000 to $200,000 for new traffic signals, and some are nearing the end of their usefulness. Keeping them would increase the project’s cost, he said.
The group talked about sprucing up bump outs on the sidewalk corners along Milwaukee Streets. Ideas included building short walls to separate pedestrians from traffic complete with plants and café-style seating.
Other potential improvements include terraces, crosswalks, street lights and more.
The project cost isn’t yet clear, but it will be 80 percent federally funded and 20 percent locally funded, Reents said.
The city will replace the Milwaukee Street bridge and pavement between it and Main Street next year. There are tentative plans to spruce up Milwaukee Street between Main Street and Atwood Avenue in 2022, Woodard said.