Champion Spotlight: Milwaukee, WI

This case study was written as part of our Dangerous by Design Technical Assistance program. This initiative brought together champions from across the country to advance street safety efforts through data collection and storytelling. This study was written by Marybeth McGinnis from Wisconsin Bike Federation.

As they cross the street, people hold up signs calling for safer driver behavior, including a brightly-colored sign that says "Yield to pedestrians" and a black-and-white sign showing children holding hands that says "Slow down!"

Since 2013, total pedestrian deaths are up by nearly 61 percent in urban areas, compared to 41 percent in rural areas. Learn more in Dangerous by Design



Fond du Lac Avenue, along which is state highway 145, cuts through Milwaukee’s majority-Black North Side. Traversing many of Milwaukee’s neighborhoods, FDL is one of Milwaukee’s most dangerous streets. Much of FDL has two lanes in each direction, with no median, no bike facilities, narrow sidewalks without a grass buffer, and limited signalized or marked crosswalks. FDL is host to an important transit route, businesses, homes, libraries, social services, and more. In Milwaukee’s northwest side, FDL becomes an underused freeway spur, a short road entering the highway. As Milwaukee considers reconnecting communities through the removal of the Stadium Freeway spur and I-794 downtown, it is critical to consider the negative impacts of FDL’s freeway spur and FDL’s highway-like design that snakes through Milwaukee’s most vulnerable neighborhoods.

Taking Action

The Milwaukee community is unified by the problem of reckless driving but not the types of solutions to deploy. There are several groups working towards impactful solutions in building for safer behavior in addition to those focused on redesigning the built environment.

The Wisconsin Bike Fed’s program, MilWALKee Walks, focuses specifically on reducing pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries through community engagement and outreach. They focus on having productive conversations with neighbors that educate them about the dangers in their community. “We conduct community engagement events such as crosswalk actions and walk audits to go far beyond traditional PSA campaigns,” said Marybeth McGinnis, program manager of MilWALkee Walks. “Yes, we’re out there helping you cross the street and bringing attention to the issue – and while we’re out here, let’s have a conversation about why these streets are dangerous, why we are out here with signs, and what can be done to make these streets permanently safe so volunteers do not need to help you cross.”

The City of Milwaukee and Mayor Cavalier Johnson are dedicated to tackling reckless driving and traffic fatalities through changes to the built environment. The Mayor has set a goal of 50 miles of protected bike lanes funded or under construction by 2026. In recent years, the City has built pin-on curb extensions on many dangerous streets to prevent the “Milwaukee slide” (driving in the bike lane/parking lane). In 2022, the City’s Common Council committed to achieving Vision Zero by 2037, and in 2023, the Vision Zero Policy Director position was created.

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