Business owners on Second Street in Milwaukee disagree over the balance of driving lanes and sidewalks that will best lure customers.
A city plan supported by most of the business owners would reduce the number of traffic lanes from four to two to make room for wider sidewalks, more trees, planters and a bike lane. Rocky Marcoux, Milwaukee Department of City Development commissioner, said the design would make Second Street an attraction for pedestrians and give it a retail reputation on par with Brady Street or Kinnickinnic Avenue in Milwaukee.
“I believe that for the businesses that are located on South Second,” he said, “they become a destination.”
Yet a landowner who has been in the neighborhood for 16 years said reducing the number of lanes will have the opposite effect. Deliberately slowing traffic will push drivers and pedestrians away from Second Street, said Joe Sanfelippo, a member of the Sanfelippo family partnership that owns the Walkers Point Plaza gas station and retail center and other buildings along the street.
Drivers who now use Second Street to reach downtown Milwaukee from the city’s south side will instead drive on parallel streets to avoid traffic snarls, he said.
Pedestrians won’t walk there because traffic lines will make it difficult to safely cross the street, he said.
“You want to make it convenient for people to come there,” Sanfelippo said.
Second Street between West National Avenue and just north of the Menomonee River is aging and needs to be repaired. The Milwaukee Department of Public Works has been planning a reconstruction project for more than a year.
The department originally planned to resurface the street and reconstruct some portions of it to cut down on the vibrations caused by passing trucks, said Clark Wontach, Milwaukee DPW transportation manager. But local businesses and neighborhood groups wanted the project to make the street more inviting with lights, plants and bike lanes, he said.
The proposal based on those suggestions was endorsed by the Milwaukee Public Works Committee on Wednesday. Four property owners supported the project at Wednesday’s meeting, as did a representative from the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin and Kevin Shafer, executive director of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, which has an office on Second Street.
“This is a street that has great potential for retail and to assist the development of new retail,” said Alderman Jim Witkowiak, who represents the district. “I believe the design that’s proposed by the Department of Public Works today will do just that.”
But the modern street design concept that favors pedestrians, bikers and reduced automobile speeds will not work as well on Second Street as it does on Brady Street or Kinnickinnic, Sanfelippo said. There are dense neighborhoods around Brady and Kinnickinnic with many people who live within walking distance of the businesses, he said. That is not true for Second Street, which gets its traffic by virtue of being a good route to downtown, he said.
Instead of narrowing Second, he said, the city should add bump-outs to the sidewalks to make more room for sidewalk restaurant tables, he said.
“There are ways that we can compromise,” he said, “to make everybody happy on this street.”