West Allis - Residents on part of 119th Street appear to be on the leading edge of a trend toward traffic circles and bumpouts on residential streets in West Allis.

The goal is to keep speeds down, said Peter Daniels, the city's principle engineer. Police can't be at residential streets to discourage speeders 24 hours a day, but traffic circles can, he said.

"They force compliance, even when there is not a police car anywhere to be seen," he said.

Bumpouts that bring the sidewalks about six feet into the street at corners also slow traffic and have a place in neighborhoods.

"They are definitely for residential streets because that's where it's most noticeable when you have speeding," Daniels said.

The plan

The plan for the section of 119th Street includes the traffic circle at Lakefield Drive, eight bumpouts and narrowing the two blocks that were built wider than most residential streets.

The affected area is a little more than a quarter of a mile from just south of Oklahoma Avenue south to about Ohio Avenue.

The stretch along 119th Street will be the first West Allis residential street to get a traffic circle and bumpouts, Daniels said. But more will likely come as the city catches up with other communities across the nation that have used traffic circles to slow traffic for decades, he said.

Residents aren't happy being on the cutting edge. Sixteen people in the 25 homes in the affected area signed a petition saying they want the street redone as it is. However, with construction on the project almost half done, the West Allis Common Council placed the petition on file last week.

They didn't know

The reason the petition came in so late in the game was that residents didn't realize the extent of the project.

"Everybody thought it would be a normal road," said William Gebhardt who circulated the petition.

Neighbor Dorothy Collins also objected: "If you have anything like this, that's major and people should be told."

Daniels had to agree.

"I heard the complaint that they didn't know we were changing the street," he said.

City changes

Taking their protests to heart, he said that from now on, residents will be alerted to major proposed changes so that they will know whether to attend public meetings to get more information or to give input.

The city hasn't done that before because it already sends letters stuffed with four sheets of paper to residents affected by proposed road work, Daniels said.

The envelope contains a notice worded just as state statutes require, an estimate of how much the proposed work would cost property owners, how they can hook up to a storm sewer if they want to, and finally a question and answer sheet, Daniels said. A fifth sheet will now be added if major changes in the streets are contemplated, he said. And it will be printed on an eye-catching flier so people won't skip over it, he said.

There is disagreement over whether the traffic circle and bumpouts are needed to slow traffic.

Bumpouts needed?

Gebhardt said that whatever speeding there is doesn't seem to harm anything or anybody. There have been no accidents in the last three years, according to city records he said, and neither he nor other longtime residents remember an accident since one that occurred 40 years ago.

However, Daniels said, "Our traffic counts on 119th Street have revealed that 37 percent of motorists are going over 30 mph," where the limit is 25 mph, he said. "Two people were even recorded going 62 mph and three were recorded going 55 mph."

"Many scientific studies have proven that bump outs and traffic circles slow motorists down," he said.

Gebhardt countered that the bumpouts might even cause accidents.

"If we have a couple accidents, that'll take care of the bumpouts," for neighborhoods in the rest of the city, he said.

Large vehicles

Some also worried that the traffic circle would make it hard for fire engines or even moving vans to get to homes.

However, Daniels said the fire chief is comfortable with the circle. Also, even a semi can negotiate traffic circles because they can climb onto the paved part, he said.

Collins had doubts about the safety of the narrower street. If a car is parked on each side of the road, it is hard for two cars to squeeze past each other, she said.

Daniels said that when the project is finished, 119th will be the same width as almost all the other streets in the city.

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