Since moving to the Near West Side in 2002, Michael Stark has become a more defensive driver, making sure “that even if I had the green light, that there aren’t cars speeding through the red-light half a block away.” He is not alone in this, as reckless driving in the area concerns many Near West Side residents. To address this issue, Near West Side Partners worked to implement traffic calming measures, as a part of the City of Milwaukee’s Rapid Implementation plan. The execution of this improvement project was funded by the Business Improvement District #10 and the City of Milwaukee, leveraging $90,000. Funding was used to install concrete planters and at several high traffic locations in the Near West Side.
The addition of large concrete planters and flexible posts work to “reduce passing on the right, slow speeds of turning motorists, and can also reduce speeding by visually narrowing the travel lanes,” according to the City of Milwaukee’s Department of Public Works. By producing a safer driving environment, the curb extensions encourage more walking and biking around the area. This also allows for businesses and restaurants to thrive and attract more patrons. In an Action Activities survey, a Near West Side resident commented that “this project is a win/win for those passing through as well as neighbors. It [addresses] safety, beautification, economic development and neighborhood brand,” effectively pinpointing the goals of the project.
These planters do not only serve as a tool to create a safer driving environment but are also geared towards the beautification of the area. The sides of the 1-ton planters, purchased from Keeper Goals, are proudly imprinted with the Near West Side logo and filled with vibrant perennial flowers. Seasonal plantings will be maintained by Reliant Property Management, a local, minority owned landscaping company. Alongside the planters, the crosswalks have also been repainted. Basic maintenance, such as cleaning up debris, will be taken care of by the City who is working with the Near West Side Business Improvement District.
Beautification goes beyond aesthetics, and attempts to change the way communities see themselves, and the ways that the community is perceived. This project, and others similar to it, are important because “everyone deserves to feel proud of the way their neighborhood looks,” says Anne Marie Gunn, the Choice Neighborhood and Commercial Corridor Development Administrator at Near West Side Partners. The planters “show that people care about 27th Street,” Stark mentioned when discussing that “there are many people in our neighborhood who maybe feel forgotten sometimes.” Preparations have been made so that if one planter is hit, there is a replacement ready. Therefore, ensuring the longevity of the project and continuing to show up for the community beyond installation.
Construction of the planters was completed in the summer of 2020. Since these improvements, preliminary studies have shown that excessive speeding (over 40 mph) on N. 27th St. has dropped over 40% and drivers are yielding to pedestrians 23% more often. Its success has not gone unnoticed, as residents and businesses have contacted the Near West Side Partners in regard to the planters. Gunn’s favorite part of working on the project has been “the growing interest in this kind of solution for communities. We’ve had several other organizations and business owners reach out to us about installing their own planters. The domino effect is exciting to be a part of.”