Milwaukee's Brady Street needs help to prevent crime, still thrive
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Milwaukee's Brady Street needs help to prevent crime, still thrive

Mar 16, 2023

Residents, business owners and city officials who gathered Wednesday to discuss the future of one of the most storied streets in Milwaukee could agree on one thing.

Change has to happen.

What shape that change takes is another matter.

Brady Street, which welcomed German, Polish, Irish and then Italian immigrants, is now the heart of a residential area, a home for small businesses and a thriving entertainment district all at once. It draws walkers, bikers, drivers and gawkers — not necessarily in that order — and is home to a massive summer street festival.

The Public Works Committee discussion was at least in part the result of a Memorial Day hit-and-run accident that left a 41-year-old Brady Street regular critically injured. That incident — along with three fatal accidents in 2022 — typify the daily tension between the different worlds of Brady Street.

"Everything's on the table and we want to have as many options as possible," said Ald. Jonathan Brostoff, who represents the area. "But, the point is that something has to change and we are going to have change coming."

The Brady Street Business Improvement District launched a study involving two Milwaukee firms late last year to study "pedestrianizing" the street. Its results are expected to be publicly available by early July.

One resident, Casey Cotton, wrote to the committee advocating for closure, saying that her father was fatally hit by a truck while running last year.

"I can't convey my grief, and want to avoid this fate for others as it is a preventable death," Cotton wrote. "Please close Brady from traffic and keep people safe."

Another resident, Avery Aten, added that "persistent disorderly driving and alcohol fueled bad behavior is endangering everyone in our neighborhood."

However, Public Works Commissioner Jerrel Krushcke and City Engineer Kevin Muhs said it would be difficult if not impossible to close the street because it is a major artery in the city's public transportation system. According to Muhs, the city's Green Line as well as other modes of public transportation run on the street, and there are no suitable substitutes nearby.

Krushcke and Muhs also threw out the possibility of speed bumps, flashing light stops, yield signs, and the construction of a sheltered bike path — although they cautioned that finding public money for any of this is another matter.

Some residents said closing the street would likely just push drivers into the residential streets around Brady ― likely at similar speeds and recklessness.

"Just because you close one road doesn't mean people will stop driving fast or like crazy," resident Karen Weinberg added. "They’ll just be doing it on neighborhood streets which might be even more dangerous."

Sip & Purr business owner Katy McHugh, whose business is located northeast of Brady Street on East Ivanhoe Place, said she knows what it's like when a street is closed. Part of Ivanhoe became a pedestrian plaza two weeks ago, she said, and her revenue declined 51%.

"I didn't really have a voice on Ivanhoe," McHugh said. "We were told it was happening, and I’m looking to relocate now and Brady Street is a place I’m interested in so I’m invested and I love the ideas being presented today, but like someone else said, closing the street to stop reckless driving probably won't work."

Ald. Robert Bauman proposed temporary closures like those used on Water Street, where police put up barriers during set times on Fridays and Saturdays when there are more pedestrians and potentially dangerous drivers on the street.

Some residents expressed support for that idea, saying that it could be a good middle ground in the interim while longer term proposals are debated.

"For the moment, the best approach is to close the street on Friday and Saturday night, and on holidays, and only make it accessible to buses," resident Mark Behar said.

Muhs and Krushcke told the Committee that it would be very difficult to mirror the Water street closure. According to Muhs, Brady Street is more residential and thus it would be difficult to divert public transport even for temporary closures.

"You can't compare Brady Street to Water Street," Weinberg added. "Water Street is a business area with very few residences whereas Brady Street is an older neighborhood with a lot of narrow streets so it just would not work as well."

Residents did agree on one thing: The street needed more lighting.

The city is currently working to update the street lights into LED lights. According to residents, Brady Street has become more dangerous at night because it is difficult for drivers to see people wearing dark clothes at night.

The lights would also help bikers, as would some kind of dedicated bike space.

"My girlfriend and I bike down Brady, and we have to get off a lot of the time because of how fast people are zipping by us," Elijah Fisher told the committee. "A shared bike path could go a long way in making it safer for bikers and also slowing down traffic."

However, according to Muhs, the street does not have enough space to add a shared bike path and maintain parking which is important for the street's businesses. Muhs added that the city is looking at adding bike parking spaces at the ends of blocks near turn areas because this would provide both additional parking and also help slow down traffic.

There was little tension between the residents and the business owners.

"I’m not anti-business at all," resident Marcella Baruzzini said. "I go to The Garage and High Hat, but I am concerned about neighbors having to deal with people spitting or peeing in their flowers or throwing things on the street."

Finally, discussion centered on whether a reduced police presence may have exacerbated traffic and speeding issues. The speed limit is 25; residents said that's a mirage.

"Everyone drives at 35 or 40," Jeno Catado said. "That's the status quo, and I’ll buy anyone who drives the limit lunch."

Behar added that the street traditionally had a much stronger police presence, which helped fight back against hit and runs and rash driving. However, in recent years the presence has lessened.

District One Captain James Campbell said the department is working to increase patrols on Brady and nearby streets on weekends."Some of the challenges that we have is our operating expenses," Campbell added. "I just don't have a number of officers to control every aspect at all times."

The committee took no action, but that wasn't really the point. The issue, like the crowds on Brady Street, will keep coming around.