A Milwaukee Suburb Turns to Complete Streets to Spur Business

The redesign of North Avenue in Wauwatosa, just outside Milwaukee, is being credited with spurring a business boom. Photo: Urban Milwaukee
The redesign of North Avenue in Wauwatosa, just outside Milwaukee, is being credited with spurring a business boom. Photo: Urban Milwaukee

North Avenue in the Milwaukee suburb of Wauwatosa is in the final stages of a redesign. The safety improvements include curb extensions, shorter pedestrian crossings, green-painted bike lanes, and bike boxes.

Dave Schlabowske at Urban Milwaukee calls the 16-block stretch through a neighborhood business district the most bike-friendly street in Wisconsin, outside of Madison. He says even before the redesign is finished, businesses have been flocking to the street, knowing that it would become a better place for people:

This project is a great example of how place-making roadway design combined with demand from residents and a progressive business community can work hand-in-hand with government to spur big gains in economic development. The project all started with a few good businesses on North Ave. and nearby residents who wanted to walk and bike there instead of drive. It was probably five years ago when East Tosa resident Ed Haydin, an architect who specializes in community sensitive design and economic development, came to me to get ideas on how Wauwatosa might improve North Ave. for bicycle and pedestrian traffic. Ed is a bike guy, but he was very clear about his goals: “This isn’t a bike project, this is a neighborhood development project. Our goal is to spur new development on North Ave. to improve our neighborhood. I want my property value to go up and have more places to go where I live.”

I live in the area, and I have been trying to remember the timeline for all the businesses that have gone in since, but there are so many, it is hard to do! I think this is the order of development: Il Mito, Juniper 61, Mekong Cafe, Cranky Al’s, BelAir CantinaRocket Baby BakeryRed Dot, and Hue and Camp are going in, and those are just the restaurants. That’s not all, we have new businesses like fitness centers, guitar stores, etc. going in as well. I am friends with Scott Johnson and Kristyn St. Denis, two of the owners of BelAir, and they told me business was off the hook when they opened, busier than any of the numerous other restaurants they have owned over the last 20 years or so.

Kristyn St Denis is the owner of BalAir Cantina on North Avenue. Business owners such as she were strong proponents of the streetscape overhaul. Photo: Urban Milwaukee
Kristyn St Denis is the owner of BalAir Cantina on North Avenue. Business owners like her were strong proponents of the street redesign. Photo: Urban Milwaukee

Elsewhere on the Network today: World Streets shares a report examining the state of bike sharing around the globe. Walkable West Palm Beach writes that a group is trying to demand a bike path to run along the planned passenger rail connection between Miami and Orlando in the Sunshine State. And PubliCola at SeattleMet reports that a zoning rule requiring developers to pay a fee to build tall buildings is under legal threat.

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