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East Tosa Hopes for a New Set of Stripes for North Avenue

Neighborhood advocates and a likely majority of aldermen want to paint a blueprint for the future of North Avenue through East Tosa as a bike-, bus-, pedestrian- and auto-friendly avenue.

A resolution expected to pass the Wauwatosa Common Council on Tuesday night calls for a contract with a consulting firm to analyze traffic patterns on North Avenue in East Tosa and in Wauwatosa Village.

It authorizes the city to spend up to $46,000 to conform streetscape master plans for those districts to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices and other engineering standards.

That's what the resolution says. But there's a bit more behind the scenes than long-range planning.

Discussions in committee and with neighborhood advocates have been looking for some near-term outcomes, and one that stands out: restriping West North Avenue in the coming year, as soon as possible.

Gone, hope those who support the proposal, would be the meandering block-by-block lines of the "chicane" design imposed on the district. New would be bike lanes, better-marked crosswalks, and sensible bus stops.

But those lines would have to be drawn, for now, within the existing curbs.

An enlightened urban streetscape serves all needs

So, it may not sound like much – just different lines of paint on the same pavement – but to some folks in East Tosa, it would mean more: a commitment on the city's part, both practical and symbolic, to push forward a plan to make North Avenue an integrated urban route, as friendly to bikes, buses and pedestrians as it is to automobiles.

The consulting contract would be awarded to Ayres Associates, a national firm with offices in Waukesha serving southeast Wisconsin. The expectation is that the principal investigator for Ayres' report would be Kenneth Voigt, a specialized traffic engineer.

Voigt analyzed and designed the restriping this year of Wauwatosa Avenue from North Avenue to Center Street with an eye to improving pedestrian and bicycle safety, especially in school zones. And except for some minor curb work and some additional signs, that was all done with paint.

"What you have is an enlightened representative for all forms of transportation," said Ed Haydin, an architect and member of the East Tosa Alliance, which has driven the adoption of the North Avenue Plan. "Ken Voigt is a member of the Congress for the New Urbanism. He gets it."

Sewers dictate longer-term solutions

As a practical matter, the long-term reconfiguration of North Avenue will have to wait. Sewer reconstruction plans for East Tosa some time in the coming years render that impossible.

"No one is going to advocate for reconfiguring and repaving North Avenue and then turning around and tearing it all up for new sewers," Haydin said. "This is an opportunity to take a look now at what this can be when the sewer work is done."

Haydin and others are lobbying for traffic engineer Voigt and the city, working within the existing and widely disliked chicane layout of North Avenue, to lay down in paint what amounts to a blueprint of a future streetscape.

"It's taking the primacy of the automobile out of the equation," Haydin said, "and putting buses, bikes and pedestrians on an equal footing with them."

"And that's in no particular order," said Haydin, who is known as a bicycle enthusiast. "I think that more than anything, we hear that just walking across North Avenue is the biggest challenge out there, and we need to anwer that if we want to be known as a walkable community."

In the city, 'traffic' does not mean 'motorists' only

Haydin has plenty of support and some detractors, he said. He's heard from some that primacy of the automobile should remain paramount, that traffic flow is everything. He's heard that "You people sure feel entitled" in East Tosa for wanting to impose a new order on the avenue.

"I don't mind hearing that at all," Haydin said. "I like being challenged, and having to answer. In this case, my answer is, yes, I feel entitled to my own neighborhood, and so far as my neighbors agree, and they do, we want to have a walkable, bikeable and driveable street. And we think we can have all of that."

Considering how most people feel about driving North Avenue now, much less walking or biking it, they could hardly go wrong.

According to Haydin, so impressed was Ald. Jeff Roznowski with the idea of moving forward now with painted urban pathways in East Tosa, he inserted a friendly amendment to the resolution for a contract with Ayres:

Any remaining funds of the $46,000 not expended in the East Tosa and Village studies should be allocated to extending the study west of Wauwatosa Avenue, with the hope of having neighborhood-friendly streets extending all the way to Mayfair Road.

Random Blog Commenter December 05, 2012 at 02:34 PM
Change some stop signs on Garfield and Meineke and cyclists have a peaceful ride parallel to North Ave that is largely free from automobile traffic. Bike friendly does not automatically mean putting more bikes on one of the city's busiest streets. Bike friendly is creating reasonable routes for bike traffic to destinations that cyclists want to go. Even with dedicated bike lanes on North Ave, i foresee only the hardcore Tosa bike contingent using it -- North Ave will always be an arterial that takes pressure off of I-94. Recreational cyclists and kids would be better served by bike routes on Garfield and Meineke.
mykidsmom December 05, 2012 at 03:10 PM
I agree! I don't want my kids near North Ave. It's dangerous with stupid people passing you using bike lanes.
Random Blog Commenter December 05, 2012 at 03:12 PM
For a more wholistic perspective on this issue that is less agenda-oriented please consult: http://www.wauwatosanow.com/news/wauwatosas-north-avenue-and-village-to-be-studied-for-makeover-cm7t0pj-182121531.html
John T. Pokrandt December 05, 2012 at 03:31 PM
This is a good interim step in realizing the North Avenue plan. Things along the avenue are really looking up.
mykidsmom December 05, 2012 at 03:47 PM
Thank you Random Blog Commenter for the additional link. Very imformative. :)
James Scoptur December 05, 2012 at 03:58 PM
Reworking North to allow for better pedestrian and bike access will be great! Considering the business development going on - Rocket Baby, other restaurants and businesses- allowing greater access for non-cars will really increase the community vibe for Wauwatosa.
Joe Blow December 06, 2012 at 03:06 PM
The city of Sheboygan painted bike lanes a few years ago and it doesn't work as well as you might think. Partly because of poor education few drivers understand how the lanes are intended to be used which causes more confusion for everybody. Another problem is the attitude of many bike riders, they are above the law and will ride how they see fit. I have waited at a stop sign while a bunch of riders conferred about something and not one of them was in the bike lane.

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