The Village construction project in Wauwatosa reached a watershed stage with the reopening of State Street and a loop consisting of Harwood and Underwood avenues. A major change that drivers in the area will need to adapt to is a parking arrangement that is immediately noticeable.
The new method of pulling into a stall is called back-in angle parking and has been installed on both Underwood and Harwood avenues. The streets now have traffic traveling one-way alongside a bike lane that travels in the opposite direction and is separated by a double yellow line. The back-in parking was set up due to safety reasons, most notably the need for drivers pulling out of their parking spots to be able to see bicycles traveling in the bike lane.
"We have to provide a safe means for bikes," said David Jaeckels, village improvement project director for the city of Wauwatosa. "Historically kids will bike against the flow of traffic or they go up on the sidewalk. With the way we are trying to activate the sidewalks for dining and restaurants and retail, we don’t want kids on bicycles zipping up and down the sidewalks."
There are two other safety aspects to the unique parking style, according to Jaeckels. Passengers exiting a parked car are now directed to the sidewalk, and drivers loading or unloading from the back of their vehicle will do so on the curb. Both of these aspects will allow people to conduct their business in places other than the middle of the street.
But not everyone was immediately sold.
Wauwatosa resident Sarah Gordon tried the new parking and was unsettled by her first time experience. She said she felt if there was someone behind her, then she would not be able to appropriately back in. But Gordon added that in time people will get used to it and in the meantime those driving and parking in the new stalls need to have patience with the process.
"It’s like roundabouts," Jaeckels said. "There are people that just don’t like them because they are different. I’ve had people say this is the best way to do this because it is so easy to pull out ... and we get some that resist the change."
Wauwatosa resident Amy Nolan said she is concerned that inexperienced drivers may not be able to figure out the method required to utilize the new parking arrangement and that some drivers may travel up the street in the wrong direction because they see the way the parking is angled.
Jaeckels said eventually there will be signs at the ends of each street that alert drivers about the proper traffic flow.
Jaeckels said navigating the village and utilizing the new parking will get easier once the project is complete, but that the project leaders wanted to open the streets now because the businesses are in need of increased traffic and customers. Those businesses have been waiting patiently for this step in the process and have already seen an increase in traffic by both pedestrians and motorists.
"It's been getting better every day," Deb Fowler, owner of the Flower Lady store said. "Word has gotten out about how awesome this (the Village) is and we are looking to have a great holiday season."
Fowler said that people have been coming from as far away as Chicago to see the Village due to an article that appeared in a Chicago newspaper.