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Wauwatosa considers changes to increase safety at Harwood, State intersection

Dangers hasten plans for upgrade

June 27, 2012

The busy Village intersection at Harwood Avenue and State Street could see some changes this fall in an effort to improve pedestrian safety.

Bordered by Café Hollander on one side and Noodles & Co. on the other, the intersection has seen increased foot traffic in recent years. As a result, the Village master plan calls for making changes to the design and alignment of the crossing when State Street undergoes reconstruction.

That project has been delayed in the city's capital improvement plan until 2016, so Public Works Director Bill Porter brought some more temporary options to Traffic and Safety Committee on Tuesday.

Most people are familiar with the bright yellow sandwich board signs that have been placed in the roadway at the two crosswalks. For the most part, motorists tend to yield, but it's by no means universal, Porter said.

The idea is to maximize pedestrian safety with a minimal investment since the street will be torn up again in a few years, he said. For about $25,000, out of the $500,000 allocated by the city this year to start implementing aspects of the Village plan, curbs could be pulled back and a raised concrete median could be installed at one of the crosswalks to provide refuge for pedestrians.

"That way pedestrians would only have to deal with one lane of traffic at a time," Porter said.

Signs or additional lighting could be added to draw attention to the crossing.

In her role as executive director of the Village Business Improvement District, Mayor Kathy Ehley said concerns about the dangers of the intersection are the No. 1 most prevalent comments she hears.

"The pedestrian crossing is really critical," she said. "This is a major accident waiting to happen."

Porter anticipates work would take about three weeks with one lane of traffic remaining open and detours throughout the area. Access would need to be worked out so restaurants could get their food deliveries during that timeframe.

Committee members voted unanimously to direct Porter to speak with the Village Business Improvement District board and report back to the committee. They also suggested coming up with more design options, including a median that could incorporate plantings, and colored concrete crosswalks that would be more visible and make it aesthetically pleasing.

It will be at least three years before the entire streetscape is reconstructed and if the past is any indication, the project could be put off even longer, Alderman Jason Wilke said.

The committee and BID need to prioritize projects to be implemented under the Village plan, Porter said.

There's been talk of installing way-finding signage at a price tag of $93,000. Projects to improve safety along the railroad tracks are also on the list: upgrades to the Harwood Avenue pedestrian crossing at the railroad tracks for $150,000; a new 74th street pedestrian crossing for $330,000; and fencing along both sides of the railroad tracks for $560,000. In addition, the council just approved a contract to make repairs to the Harmonee Bridge, so adding lighting below the structure to highlight the aesthetics of the bridge structure and improve the safety in the parking lot below would be a timely project, Porter said.

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