Ryan Breaker

Various thoughts, ideas, and public comments.

On June 8th, 2024 there was a serious crash at an intersection that's been problematic for a while and I've been trying to get action on for a while. The following is a public comment I gave on this topic immediately after the Public Works & Public Property Committee concluded with no action to take on this intersection at this time. This was also heavily influenced by the recently released Killed by a Traffic Engineer by Wes Marshall.

As some of you are aware, on the evening of Saturday the 8th this month there was a serious crash between a motorcycle and a car. Thankfully, it sounds like the motorcycle rider survived albeit with some damage to their person, but the first question everyone has is “who's to blame?”

It is so easy for us to get caught up in the incredible power of hindsight. We always say they should have yielded, or driven slower, or watched out for that bicycle or that motorcycle. If they had just followed the rules everything would have been fine. But we never think to ask ourselves why someone did something, or what they knew or were thinking at the time, or even how improbable a crash was to those who ended up being involved (after all, 90% of drivers think they're better than the average driver).

The reason that these crashes happen isn't because they're bound to eventually happen or that someone “didn't follow the rules”, it's because we set ourselves up for failure in street designs that favor throughput and forgive the mistakes of drivers above all else; they're the result of latent street design failures we can fix, even with a tight budget.

By the way, this is why I use the word “crash” and not “accident”, because “accident” takes away our agency to ask these difficult questions and face what the failings we have had as not just a city but also a community to provide safe and equitable street infrastructure for all of its users.

The streets within our borders should be platforms of building wealth and prosperity and self-reliance for our own local economy, not anxiety like I feel when I'm riding bikes with my wife on 15th past the schools or along Milwaukee Ave through downtown and a car comes screaming up from behind. What is the lost opportunity cost from those who are unable to do business somewhere because of that intersection or street?

Ultimately, what I am asking the council, not that there's anything about this on your agenda tonight, is to please be willing to try new and ambitious things when it comes to our streets, continue to empower the city staff to do great things, and please consider opening more channels for collaboration with your residents.

The following is a public comment I wrote for a common council meeting with an agenda item about KRM (Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee regional passenger rail). I ended up not speaking it as the council was unanimous in their support of it.

I am here to speak about item 5 on the agenda, Discussion/possible motion regarding a resolution supporting the Kenosha, Racine, and Milwaukee (KRM) Regional Rail Line.

My hometown is Racine and when I was growing up, one piece of news I saw coming up that got me so excited was that of KRM. Just the idea of not needing my parents to drive me or do a planned trip or having to wait until I was old enough to have a license and save up all that money to get a car to be able to get to Kenosha for Metra access or even to the South Shore communities or downtown Milwaukee was so damn exciting. I could just ride my bike to the beautiful historic C&NW station in downtown Racine, hop on, and away I go. In my old bedroom in my parents' house there is a corkboard and on that still to this day is a newspaper clipping about that project moving forward from the Racine Journal Times.

For this a Regional Transit Authority was established but was allowed to die by the state legislature in 2011. Since then there have been loose attempts either to extend Metra from Kenosha to Racine or simply add a train between the two cities but none have gotten off the ground. In 2022 though, Racine was awarded $5 million in federal funding to work with the SEWRPC and WISDOT to start planning for KRM again.

A comment in the RTA's final meeting in 2011 from Julia Taylor really struck with me: “It's a day of disappointment. The needs of transit are not going to go away. The needs of transit are stronger than ever. We didn't get there today, but there's always tomorrow.” I believe that tomorrow is finally coming. Please support this resolution, it will need all the political support it can get.

Thank you.

The following is a public comment I submitted for a common council in November of 2023. It was my first time speaking in this capacity and part of my ongoing effort to try to have my voice heard on my concerns about street safety in South Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The other week when I was riding my bike through downtown for some errands I stopped to yield to an older woman carrying groceries who was trying to cross the street after she got off the bus. Even with me wedged in the middle of the street clearly stopped to yield to a pedestrian, cars just drove around me, either ignoring, staring, or even yelling at us. After we eventually crossed I later caught up with her and I learned how she lives in a downtown apartment, doesn't own a car, and has to walk a significant distance to see her mother since south shore bus services were reduced. This could have been anybody's mother or grandmother.

Usually when I'm out and about in our community I'll try to strike up conversation with people and especially local business owners about how they feel about our streets and traffic and anecdotally it seems like we're all on the same page: drivers drive too fast, especially through downtown and past our schools.

I do not believe this is an enforcement issue as we all know our officers cannot be everywhere and see everything, instead I believe we should be tackling the root cause which is the design choices of our streets. They convey low risk with wide lanes and few obstacles, practically inviting drivers to drive 5, 10, 15, or even more over the posted speed limits.

On November 1, it was announced that South Milwaukee would be allotted funding for Milwaukee County's Safe Streets and Roads for All program to purchase various new traffic calming and measuring equipment. This is fantastic news worth celebrating and hope will instill in us the following ideas.

We do not need to wait for our streets to be due for rebuild to try new things, we have the tools available today, cheap barriers and traffic cones, to trial reversible design changes where it's needed most and I would like to invite all of us to take this funding as an opportunity think bigger about these issues and seriously consider proactive action to slow cars down through street design. Doing so would not only potentially save lives but also make our community a more enjoyable space to exist in, making it more desirable to live in and even open more locally-owned businesses here.

To quote John Bauters, Mayor of Emeryville, CA:

I am not interested in putting up a teddy bear memorial in front of a school so their classmates can walk past that every day as a reminder that it's not safe near their school. I can prevent that.

Thank you.

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