In light of Tuesday's Aldermanic elections, it seems fitting to rerun this article now. It had its origin in a letter to Ald. Michael D'Amato that I started but never finished (fancy that!).
For such a left-leaning area, it's hard to imagine a neighborhood with an uglier carbon footprint than Milwaukee's East Side. Especially now that the academic year has begun, a parade of diesel-spouting buses—most half-empty—brings in students and faculty from outlying areas and shuttles them out again. Day and night, almost as many Jimmy John's delivery cars (invariably beaters) screech up and down the streets, presumably bearing one overpriced sandwich each. Why? One possible answer: students have to park blocks away from where they live, so better to pay extra than to lose an hour making a food run.
Here's what I propose: tear it all down and start over again. Failing that, here are two things I believe desperately need to happen:
1.) Eliminate all alleys. Alleys were built to accomodate the infrastructure of a bygone era (the iceman, coal truck etc.). Now, they are nothing but a colossal safety hazard and a public health and cleanliness nightmare, with garbage scattered everywhere. Also, they attract scavengers who sometimes steal bikes, ladders and the like from garages to throw on their trucks. If it isn't possible to physically obliterate the alleys, at least make them inaccessible enough that students don't even have the option of walking through them as a shortcut.
2.) Create a generously sized boulevard between the Upper East Side and I-43, similar to W. McKinley Ave., which replaced the Park East Freeway. Ideally, this would be Locust St. (attempts have been made in the past), but Riverwest losers who define themselves by their obstructionism haven't and won't ever let this happen. Instead, Locust is a raceway with posted speed limits that are simply a joke, especially along the narrow stretch through Riverwest. Most drivers opt to head north and access the freeway via Capitol Drive, creating huge bottlenecks on N. Oakland Ave.
I haven't checked this on an aerial map, but it seems to me that an arterial could be created going diagonally (against the street grid) northwest from the UWM campus, through the park on the border of Milwaukee and Shorewood, then across the river and through some of the abandoned industrial no man's land south of Capitol Drive.
What's at stake here? The viability of not only restaurants and coffeehouses, but all businesses. In the 20 years since I first started taking long walks from my Glendale home to the area, I've never seen the East Side in as much trouble as it is today. Back then, the now-vacant strips along N. Downer Ave. and N. Jackson St. (Juneau Village) were thriving, or at least occupied. Brady St., of course, had not yet seen its renaissance—though perhaps that was a bubble that has now burst. N. Oakland Ave. in Shorewood still boasted its neighborhood stores, such as the Hallmark store and the Bagel Nosh. Across the border, the Upper East Side still supported a neighborhood bakery, Dougan's, as well as other businesses that sold real goods and services rather than drug paraphernalia.