Elbow room in downtown Wauwatosa seems tight if not non-existent, and that's a plus, according to the lead urban designer crafting a master plan for the city's village core.
The village's historic look and its density evoke a European appeal and are assets to be enhanced, said Martin Shukert, principal with RDG Planning and Design of Omaha, Neb.
Although space is tight, Shukert said, there is plenty of room to improve traffic flow while also making the village a safer and more easily accessible urban business district for pedestrians and cyclists.
Those issues and goals, among others, are addressed in a draft village redevelopment master plan to be presented at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Harwood Place community room, 8220 Harwood Ave.
The presentation will bring residents up to speed and allow additional comment on a planning project the city and the Village Business Improvement District launched in 2010. The $38,500 village master plan is funded through the Community Development Block Grant program.
Planning for a redesigned village center has included input from residents and business owners, through surveys and design workshops held in November. Shukert said the draft to be presented Wednesday builds on initial concepts, with an aim to create a walkable urban business district that retains the village's historic, even European-like, qualities.
Among the plan highlights is a redesigned village center, where State Street, Harwood Avenue and the Harwood footbridge converge. The redesign features landscaped medians with two pedestrian crosswalks that create a "resting place" mid-street so that pedestrians can cross the often congested State Street one lane at a time.
The redesign also creates better traffic flow at the village center, Shukert said. The proposed redesign realigns the street within existing space by cutting into the node on the northwest corner and straightening the westbound traffic lane, he said.
Another key issue addressed in the plan is connecting and creating safe pedestrian access across railroad tracks that run between Hart Park and State Street, said Kathy Ehley, the Village BID's executive director.
"The issues that we are dealing with are the issues that are coming up as a result of success," Ehley said. "The village is taking off, Hart Park is developed ... and Hart Park and the village should be complementary to each other and feed off of one another."
But the railroad that runs parallel to and between the park and the village center carries up to 30 trains a day, she said, and "is like slicing (the village) in half."
The draft village plan shows a pedestrian rail crossing just west of the automobile crossing at 70th Street. The new crossing, which would require coordination and approval from the railroad and rail regulatory agencies, would function just like a car-rail crossing, with warning lights and gates, but on a pedestrian scale.
Shukert, who also is lead consultant for the city's , said the village plan, like the East Tosa plan, will include recommendations that can be carried out over time. The proposed $5.4 million East Tosa plan projects a 15-year implementation. Shukert said the village plan also will recommend staged improvements.
Other issues examined in creating the village master plan include traffic patterns, such as whether the one-way Harwood and Underwood avenues should be two-way or even reversed. Shukert said the current draft includes keeping Underwood one-way in its current direction, to avoid congestion, particularly as the city considers potential redevelopment of the old fire station site. A two-way Harwood Avenue, Shukert said, is possible and under consideration.
Other ideas in the mix for the village:
- Creating a wayfinding system and signage, to direct motorists, cyclists and pedestrians to public spaces, parking and other village features.
- Redeveloping the Blanchard Street parking lot to allow for private redevelopment to occur on top of a parking structure.
- Developing cooperative marketing efforts that tap social media and incorporate neighborhood associations to promote the village, its businesses and community events.
- Streetscaping and street design to improve traffic flow, particularly as the village center is expected to see increased traffic due to development further west on State Street, through to the city border at N. 60th Street.
The village traffic patterns have received significant scrutiny, Shukert said, as the village center is a logical route for motorists heading west from existing and new residential developments on State Street, such as the . Increased traffic also is expected as the light industrial district at the village's far western edge continues to transition to new commercial uses.
The village master plan includes the concentrated village center, west to the Harmonee Bridge and east to N. 60th Street, said Nancy Welch, city community development director.
"As things get built, they are going to generate traffic," Shukert said. Still, he said, "an area like the village, it isn’t and really shouldn’t be designed as an expressway. It’s an urban district.
“The objective in the village is really to make traffic smoother ... to make the system work better, rather than channeling everything through the same place."
The village master plan also builds on the desires of residents and business owners to retain the character of the village and the close-knit feel of the community, Shukert said.
“There is a very traditional character to the city,” Shukert said. The city‘s character, he said, is one “of intimacy, of really caring about the place, of people feeling like they have access to and are owners of the entire town.”
As much as the plan is designed to enhance the success of village businesses, Ehley said, it also is designed to create a commercial district that serves as a community center, to serve city residents.
“The special thing about Wauwatosa is our residents really care about Wauwatosa and many of them understand that connection between strong neighborhoods and strong business areas,” Ehley said. “We need strong businesses, strong schools, strong neighborhoods, that keep our property values up."