SHOREWOOD - After more than three hours of discussion, the Shorewood Village Board voted on Monday, July 10 to narrow Wilson Drive by 15 feet to create additional green space on the west side of the street.
Five of the seven Shorewood trustees voted in favor of reducing the 56-foot roadway to a 41-foot "hybrid greenway."
The board also directed engineering consultants to evaluate the possibility of pedestrian islands, bus pullouts and adding width to accommodate safe passage of emergency vehicles. The board also wanted to collect parking data on Wilson Drive.
Trustees Allison Rozek and Davida Amenta voted against the 41-foot hybrid greenway and favored the 51-foot boulevard, which was favored by the majority of residents who submitted feedback to the village board.
While most of the residents favored the boulevard design, Trustee Paul Zovic said the comments were often rooted in a fear of narrowing Wilson Drive to allow residential or commercial development on the west side of the street.
A committee of the village board had advised the Wilson Drive Task Force Steering Committee in July 2016 to take development off the table, but to further alleviate development anxieties at the July 10 meeting, Zovic proposed village staff look into restricting commercial or residential development on the west side of the street. The proposal was unanimously approved by the village board.
Not all agree
A number of residents pushed back against Zovic's reaction to their submitted comments, insisting their support for the 51-foot boulevard had more to do with pedestrian safety than with fears of the village developing the west side of the street.
Alpine Avenue resident Jessica Carpenter routinely jogs on the Oak Leaf Trail, and she said crossing Wilson Drive at Alpine Avenue is "like taking your life in your own hands."
"I want to be able to stop at a boulevard," she said. "I want to take a moment to make sure the traffic on the other side is going to stop for me and my children."
Wilson Drive is a major thoroughfare on the west side of Shorewood connecting Milwaukee, Shorewood and Whitefish Bay. The road's existing configuration provides one traffic lane in each direction and a parking lane on each side that is wide enough to fit a bike lane as well. The parking lane also provides an area for buses to pull out of traffic.
Both the 41-foot hybrid greenway and 51-foot boulevard designs removed the parking lane on the west side, meaning cars would have to wait behind buses at bus stops. The narrowed roadway would relieve some of the traffic congestion with southbound left turn lanes at Olive Street, Kensington Boulevard and Glendale Avenue.
Amenta said the narrowed lanes and lack of bus pullouts will mean more stopping and waiting. She said the narrowed roadway will make it look more like a neighborhood roadway, as opposed to the arterial aesthetic of a boulevard.
Amenta and other west side residents fear that, by making Wilson Drive too narrow, cars will leave the west side arterial of Wilson Drive and take shortcuts through the west side neighborhoods.
"Pretty much everyone in town says, 'I don't drive on Oakland anymore. I find some other way to get through town to get where I'm going,'" Amenta said. "We know that when we take action — not even action as drastic as what we're talking about on Wilson — that it changes traffic patterns in the rest of the village. To assume that is not going to happen is not responsible."
Morris Boulevard resident Chris Bamberg said he was concerned that the new police department on Wilson Drive will require squads to leave Wilson Drive without getting caught behind a bus or traffic.
"Honestly, if a police car is coming up behind me, where am I going to go to get out of his way? I'm going to have to go whipping onto one of those side streets," he said. "There's really nowhere to go."
McKaig a 'yes' vote
Trustee Ann McKaig said she preferred the 41-foot hybrid greenway option because it increases green space, enhances park connections and slows down the increased traffic on Wilson.
"I think designing our streets and making decisions as we go along to calm that traffic, to change our behavior, to get to know each other, to make eye contact and smile and thank everyone for doing the right thing is really important," McKaig said.
The benefit of the 41-foot hybrid greenway is the 37 feet of green space created on the west side of the street and the increased connections to Estabrook Park. The boulevard would add 10 less feet of green space on the west side of the street, but Amenta and Rozek questioned the functionality or benefit of additional green space on the west side.
Many of the residents who attended the meeting served on subcommittees for the Wilson Drive Task Force, yet they did not approve of the roadway options designed by the consultants. Many of them said they would prefer to keep the road at its existing width, or delay a decision until further research could be conducted.
Resident Lynn Milner seemed to sum up the frustrations of many of the residents at the meeting.
"We put in so much time, and all of a sudden we have these two options that I hate. I don't know how you got there," she said. "It feels like a kick in the teeth."
Another public hearing will be held Sept. 14 when plans are 60 percent complete. The September public information meeting will consider storm water treatment, trail connections and construction staging, among other additional opportunities.
The planning process is scheduled to be completed Dec. 1, which would allow for the construction of Wilson Drive to begin in April.