Road to Progress: Livable Streets in Wauwatosa Village

Community Solutions GroupA streetscape renewal project in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin is revitalizing the city’s Village area with improved traffic flow and public spaces. GAI’s Community Solutions Group Senior Director Pete Sechler, PLA, AICP joins us as guest blogger to describe the ongoing project to modernize Wauwatosa’s streets and outdoor spaces while maintaining the community’s historic flavor.

It is really exciting to see the progress on the street and open space work in Wauwatosa Village. ‘Tosa,’ as the locals call it, is a historic rail-stop city within greater Milwaukee. The city is experiencing significant reinvestment and renewal, and GAI’s Community Solutions Group is partnering with Tosa to better reconcile regional traffic with local sense of place and access within this growing community.

Approach: Inclusive Effort Earns Community Confidence

A prior study that did not involve GAI geared toward shortening the Village’s pedestrian intersection crossings had failed to gain community, business, or city staff support. Our philosophy was to look at the streets holistically: as places to balance all modes of movement and also as economic-development engines, cultural places, and environmental assets. We worked closely with local business owners, residents, city staff, and elected officials to find solutions and develop new ideas that would reposition the public realm for increased bike/pedestrian access, community activity, new business investment, and targeted redevelopment.

We worked in a highly inclusive manner, conducting all our design work in Tosa, setting up studio space in available shop space, and leading walking tours, collaborative meetings, and open-forum design reviews. We resolved technical challenges through conversation and drawings that described ideas while introducing new value sets for investing in a livable, vibrant, active Village. This approach resulted in a completely different way of thinking about Tosa’s streets and public park space as integral to everyone’s shared quality of life.

Challenges and Solutions: Best Practices Maintain Wauwatosa’s Unique Flavor

The design challenges were complex, and that made the project fun! We faced significant ‘through’ movements for vehicles on Tosa’s State Street, steep grades, narrow rights-of-way, and outdated—almost medieval—configurations of several streets. We also had some small but important green spaces in the Village that needed to be redesigned to better support community use and retail activity. And, of course, we had to plan for four seasons: navigating in the snow and the activity of spring fever!

We employed techniques from our growing toolkit including narrowed lanes, reduced turning radii, shared space/curbless streets, reverse-angle parking, counterflow bike lanes, and new ideas for a regional urban trail. We mixed modern materials like LED streetlights and special night-time festival lighting with locally sourced stone for paving, benches, and other details. We made streetscape renewal design decisions giving careful consideration to existing building patterns, neighborhood relationships, and underutilized properties that could be positioned for redevelopment. Altogether, we developed solutions for more than 10,000 linear feet covering six streets and their associated intersections.

The working process was a blast! We got great help from the Tosa city team, local businesses, and residents, as well as contributions from some fantastic peer collaborators.

Results: A Historic City Poised for a Fruitful Future    

Today, the streetscape renewal work is about 1/2 implemented with more areas and phases progressing towards construction and implementation. Several of the new streets are coming online and are in use, the new mixed-use State Street Station development is now open for leasing, and new business activity is building.

We’re excited about Tosa’s progress and can’t wait see more in the coming months!

Pete SechlerPeter Sechler, PLA, AICP, specializes in urban design, campus planning, and landscape design projects. His inclusive approach cultivates local involvement in projects, and has helped enhance and improve quality of life in communities including Maitland, Ocoee, and St. Cloud Florida.

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