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On Friday, April 14, 2023 (aka “Milwaukee Day”), national pedestrian advocate, creator of Pedestrian Dignity, author of the book WALK, and “walking artist” Jonathon Stalls joined Bike Fed staff in walking nearly 3 miles along Milwaukee’s National Avenue.

National Avenue in Milwaukee is representative of many highways in urban and downtown areas. Many towns, villages, and cities in Wisconsin have arterials (often state highways) that run through their downtowns and neighborhoods. These are often important business corridors, and despite their name, they are often residential roads as well: that is, people live on them. National Avenue is home to single family homes, duplexes, apartments, senior housing, public housing, and countless local businesses. Yet these are often the most dangerous roads due to the prioritization of rush-hour vehicle flow over any other goals, such as safety, supporting local businesses, access for all road users, or health. 

The Wisconsin Bike Fed has been engaging with Milwaukee’s National Avenue project for a number of reasons:

  • Most of the project corridor is on Milwaukee’s Pedestrian High Injury Network.
  • The project spans nearly 3 miles, making it a potentially transformative project for many neighborhoods.
  • Biking on National is common, despite a lack of any bike facilities on this major commercial and residential corridor. 
Assistant Director Jake Newborn speaks with a group on National Avenue in Milwaukee

Our walk included Jonathon Stalls, Bike Fed staff, and community members. We noted several observations:

  • The corridor is loud; we could often barely hear each other. To communicate to the group, we had to yell. 
  • We walked on a sunny day. Many of us felt warm. There are no trees on National to offer shade, and no terrace to offer a buffer from the roadway.
  • National is a four-lane road with under-utilized parking lanes on both sides. Traffic moved very quickly and aggressively.
  • Many tactile pavement indicators (important for people with visual impairments) were broken. Curb cuts were mostly not correctly aligned to safely guide someone with visual impairments across the street. 
  • Despite the hostility of the environment, we passed many other pedestrians, cyclists, and scooter users. These were often seniors, people with visible mobility challenges, people riding regular bikes in everyday clothing, and teenagers. Changes that support safety and dignity will only grow how many people are enjoying the street, rather than trying to survive it.
advocates walk along Milwaukee's National Ave

The Bike Fed has focused on this road to dive deep into the processes of input and design on these kinds of projects. We intend to share the learnings we gain throughout this project to advocates and cyclists across the state. All people in Wisconsin deserve safe roads no matter what form of transportation they take, and our safety, comfort, and dignity must be higher priorities than moving vehicles quickly through neighborhoods. We believe that this project could be transformative, and a model for future projects on arterials throughout the state.

We are so thankful to Jonathon Stalls for bringing his expertise and heart to Wisconsin, and to AARP Wisconsin for making that possible. Learn more about Jonathon and his work at Intrinsic Paths, and TikTok and Instagram for his Pedestrian Dignity videos.

If you are in the Milwaukee area, the next public input meetings on initial project designs will be Thursday, June 8th from 4-7pm and Saturday, June 10th from 10am-1pm at MATC on National Ave. Keep updated via the Engage MKE site and via Bike Fed social media.