The Department of Public Works (DPW) … they’re the ones that sweep the streets and collect the garbage, right?  Yes, but in Milwaukee, the DPW is also the home of the City Engineer, the designated architect of that most inescapable of public spaces, the roadways for our cars.

Oh, wait. Our streets are not just for cars.  Complete streets are for everyone.  And a good City Engineer knows how to design and build people-friendly streets that work for everyone.  It doesn’t just happen; designing healthy, equitable, and people-friendly streets takes effort and attention.  

It happens that Milwaukee’s City Engineer position is open, and that there are good candidates that are both human-centered and technically strong.  Hiring a City Engineer is a critical opportunity to help achieve the vision of safer, healthier streets for all people in Milwaukee.  An essential tool for recruiting excellent candidates and establishing high expectations for this position is the City Engineer job description document.    

The City Engineer must have a vision for a low-stress, multimodal network throughout all parts of Milwaukee and achieve the goals of the City of Milwaukee Complete Streets policy. In accordance with the Complete Streets policy, pedestrian safety takes top priority, followed by other vulnerable users; and “users of all ages and abilities” will be able “to safely, comfortably and conveniently travel across and through the network.” The City Engineer must communicate this vision accurately and persuasively to DPW staff and to the public — since most people don’t realize that this is what City Engineers are supposed to do.  

The City Engineer must recognize racial and economic equity as a cornerstone of their work, emphasizing the importance of street projects in supporting local business districts and re-uniting neighborhoods that have been sundered by high-speed thoroughfares — both elements of community revival. More broadly, the City Engineer must recognize that past transportation decisions have contributed to systemic racial inequality in the Milwaukee region and actively seek to reverse these negative impacts through current project decisions.  

Fundamentally, the City Engineer must emphasize that every project is an opportunity to create a better street, and that simply replacing the existing roadway with the same design will not be the default choice.

The City Engineer must create streets that improve personal and public health. The City Engineer should promote streets that provide opportunities for physical exercise. The City Engineer should instill in all employees a refusal to accept traffic deaths on our streets as collateral for cars’ convenience, and instead, make decisions that move toward a zero-fatality transportation system. The City Engineer must recognize the importance of easing “mode shift” from single-occupant automobiles to walking, bicycling, and public transit; besides improving health and safety, streamlining mode shift both helps achieve widely affirmed climate change goals and also enables individuals to make their own best transportation choices.The City Engineer must be a leader who communicates to project managers and staff engineers the values of safety, health, and equity alongside the importance of creating high-quality, functional, cost-effective physical streetscapes. Fundamentally, the City Engineer must emphasize that every project is an opportunity to create a better street, and that simply replacing the existing roadway with the same design will not be the default choice.

The City Engineer must work with the Commissioner of Public Works to establish a strategic and positive working relationship with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, and other funding partners and organizations to allow flexibility and innovation in design practices to create streets that are optimally attractive and safe for people walking, biking, and taking transit (and specify that all staff also maintain these priorities). Beyond traditional funding organizations, the City Engineer must strengthen relationships with other transportation organizations that promote non-automobile travel (e.g., Milwaukee County Transit System, Bublr Bikes, micro-mobility providers). 

As a leader within the DPW, the City Engineer must coordinate regularly with other city departments, outside organizations, and community residents. The City Engineer must help continue to improve DPW’s public engagement process by emphasizing the importance of community relationships to all staff. The City Engineer must listen to resident concerns and high-level goals for their streets, and help provide creative design options to make their streets safer and healthier. 

The City Engineer should have experience working in and with diverse neighborhoods and communities. Internally, the City Engineer must promote racial and gender equity in hiring, retention, an opportunity for growth, and staffing decisions.  Although the pipeline of traditionally-qualified candidates needs to be broadened, we must recognize that well-qualified candidates exist and can be further nurtured and multiplied.  

We aspire for our City Engineer to be recognized nationally as someone who implements innovative street designs with demonstrated success in terms of safety, health, equity, and neighborhood-level support — metrics that represent values shared across our diverse city. We expect that our City Engineer will occasionally provide interviews with the press and present at national conferences to showcase Milwaukee’s excellence.  Our initial plans for Complete Streets have already garnered national recognition; our incoming City Engineer can bring these and future plans to fruition.  

Our city administration would like to do the right thing and make the right hire for this key position, but they need our voices and public support.  Please let Mayor Barrett know that we agree that this is the right direction for our city.  Please join us and add your name to our petition!

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