South Milwaukee Public Comment on a Recent Crash

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.