Why neigh­bors are bankrolling speed humps

Neigh­bors dig into their own pock­ets to slow traf­fic

Milwaukee Magazine - - Content - BY LARRY SUSSMAN

CHAR­LIE FOX LIVES CLOSE to two of the city’s early speed humps. These ridges of as­phalt po­si­tioned athwart the West Side’s West McKin­ley Boule­vard are de­signed to slow cars down to 25 mph or less – the hard way if nec­es­sary. “We used to sit on the front porch with a cock­tail and watch them hit the hump,” Fox says. “Some would ig­nore the hump, go too fast and hit their head on their car’s ceil­ing.”

“You can’t be tex­ting,” he says, “and you can’t be yakking on your cell­phone. If you’re speed­ing and ig­nore the humps, you re­al­ize it quickly.”

Fox is a ci­ti­zen mem­ber of the city’s Safety and Civic Com­mis­sion and a fan of speed humps, which are shorter but wider ver­sions of the taller speed “bumps” of­ten used in park­ing lots. He thinks the former are ef­fec­tive at calm­ing traf­fic on his lit­tle stretch be­tween North 27th and North 35th streets. But not all of Fox’s neigh­bors feel the same way.

“They go slow over the speed hump,” says Beryl Harper, “but then they blow through the stop sign on 29th Street.”

She ques­tions the cost to home­own­ers through­out the city. When a hump is con­structed, own­ers of houses on the block, on both sides of the street, typ­i­cally have to pay 90 per­cent of the cost, which in 2017 was about $6,500. That means the av­er­age home­owner is billed about $260, and if they don’t pay, a spe­cial as­sess­ment ap­pears on their prop­erty’s tax bill. The city rarely foots the en­tire bill.

Nonethe­less, home­own­ers are re­quest­ing speed humps in record num­bers. Since 2007, the city has in­stalled 329 new ones – most of them in older city neigh­bor­hoods – and 164 of those were built since 2016. Af­ter an al­der­man and a ma­jor­ity of home­own­ers re­quest a hump, the city con­ducts a speed study us­ing a radar de­vice to con­firm that a safety haz­ard ex­ists.

Why the re­cent in­ter­est? Ald. Mark Borkowski ar­gues that speed humps are like Band-Aids. “Traf­fic en­force­ment (in Mil­wau­kee) is not a pri­or­ity,” he says. His district on the south­west­ern end of the city doesn’t have any speed humps yet, but he ex­pects four to be in­stalled this year.

When the Com­mon Coun­cil ap­proved the or­di­nance al­low­ing speed humps in 2006, the late Ald. Joe Dudzik was the only al­der­man to op­pose the or­di­nance. Ac­cord­ing to Ald. Bob Bau­man, Dudzik – a soft-spo­ken al­der­man un­afraid to break with his col­leagues – told him pri­vately that he “didn’t want some­one telling him or his con­stituents how fast to drive.” In May 2015, Dudzik died in a mo­tor­cy­cle ac­ci­dent in which he was driv­ing while in­tox­i­cated.

Other mem­bers of the Com­mon Coun­cil re­main strong sup­port­ers of speed humps, in­clud­ing Ald. Khalif Rainey, whose North Side district con­tains 50 of them. “They re­ally make a dif­fer­ence in traf­fic safety, es­pe­cially in neigh­bor­hoods with kids out­side play­ing. Peo­ple just want to have that ad­di­tional buf­fer to slow traf­fic.”

And Ald. Terry Witkowski’s far South Side district has just three humps, but in­ter­est in them is grow­ing. “When peo­ple call my of­fice, they want more law en­force­ment or traf­fic signs, and the last thing they want to do is spend money,” he says. “But it’s reached that level of con­cern where they are will­ing to spend their own money to ad­dress the prob­lem.”

But haven’t all these bumps taken a toll on car sus­pen­sions? No, said six cen­tral city re­pair shops we con­tacted. Dave Manyo of Manyo Mo­tors on North Green Bay Av­enue says he’s hit some humps him­self without dam­ag­ing his car. How­ever, he says, “It scares the shit out of you.”


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