The Burnham Pointe Better Block was my first project since joining the team just 10 weeks ago. By watching the community transform a space so quickly, I realized the power of people coming together. One of my favorite moments was watching a city employee and a child of one of the volunteers team up and knock out four of the trapezoid benches in the matter of just a few minutes.
Their teamwork stood out and energized the other volunteers. When they finished their work, they quickly went to help others finish their respective projects. This effort was mirrored throughout the week by equally dedicated volunteers and partners, and really encompassed the attitude surrounding the Burnham Pointe Better Block.
Because of this: the project was successful. From the very first workshop, the volunteers quickly jumped to it, and though many of them were strangers, people immediately pairing up to work together to get the job done.
The site that was chosen for the Better Block was at the intersection of Burnham St. and 60th St, as well as a city owned gravel lot, half a block away from the intersection. The space is home to many beloved restaurants, such as Buenavista Taqueria and Las Palmas, to Bari’s Pizza, as well as a funky art gallery, a classic barbershop, and a convenience store.
During our survey period. we saw that safety was a hot topic amongst community members who noted high traffic speeds along 60th St. We saw that site’s main intersection was designed to prioritize fast-moving traffic rather than the safety of pedestrians and cyclists, deterring them from lingering in the space. Likewise, the community survey results indicated that neighbors saw the need for more gathering spaces and alterations to the overall aesthetic in the area. The intersection already has a lot going for it, with the popular restaurants, a gallery, a barbershop, and more, and just needs some fine tuning to turn it into a destination area where people choose to linger.
Armed with community input, we began designing a new Burnham Pointe. Since one of the main concerns for Burnham and 60th Street was safety, we wanted to begin by determining the best method of slowing traffic and procuring more eyes on the street and lighting in the area.
We began by proposing the implementation of colorful bump-outs along Burnham St. and 60th St. within a lane that had previously been utilized as a parking lane. Along Burnham St., we wanted to add a bike lane to promote bike traffic. To increase cyclist safety, we drafted a design to switch the locations of the curbside parking zone and bike lane so that the bike lane could be placed against the curb instead. This allowed the parked cars to act as shields to cyclists. This bicycle lane design is based off the Dutch Intersection. The main idea behind the Dutch Intersection is creating cyclist safety through islands at the intersection at the right turns to give cyclists a barrier from oncoming cars. This is especially useful for cars making right or left turns because it allows the cyclist to be in the cars view more easily, thus increasing bike safety.
After moving the bike lanes to the curb, we needed to consider alternate placements for the bus stops at the intersection. Our team found that placing the bus stops on the edge of the bump-outs was ideal for bus stop designed to be accessible to all with a platform, provided by the city, ramp, and a handrail. To cater to bus passengers, we added cafe seating on the bump-outs along 60th to provide a comfortable place to sit while waiting for a bus, or eat food from one of the many restaurants in the area. Public Works placed large stock tank filled with lush plants that the city provided into our bump-outs that made a big difference in how safe people felt sitting in what used to be the intersection.
Along with the small gathering hubs on the bumpouts, we designed several other elements to facilitate a sense of place where people could gather and enjoy themselves. We proposed putting in a children’s play area inside a city-owned gravel lot within the area. We partnered with GRG Playscapes (https://www.grgplayscapes.com/), based in Milwaukee, to design a natural playscape for the area that became a focal point for the project. As an addition to the play area, the Drop Forge in West Allis (https://www.unitforgings.com/) designed a unique bike rack that was placed at the front of the playscape to provide some bike parking.
In an effort to make the area more aesthetically pleasing for the community, wanted to bring in appealing lighting, seating, and other elements that improved the functionality and appearance of local businesses. We strung string lights along the sidewalks of Burnham St. and 60th, being sure to highlight the dark spaces of the streets and around local businesses to draw attention to them. Las Palmas, one of the restaurants at the intersection, decided to keep his string lights up permanently. Our team also helped local builders design and build a pergola for Buenavista Taqueria to liven up their sidewalk space and provide guests more seating options at the same time.
Taking advantage of the vacant buildings along the intersection, we looked for local pop-up businesses and performers to fill those spaces. We designed a spaces for Ay Chihuahua Coffee to do a pop-up coffee shop, a young woman selling paintings, a pop-up market, and a pop-up flower shop. Additionally, we were able to fill an underused seating area beside Bari’s Pizza with musicians and lighting.
We are happy to say that Burnham Pointe Better Block was successful in gathering community and showing off the potential of the intersection. Many of the residents stated that this was what they had been wanting to see in the space for a long time, and felt closer to their neighbors. Residents came to enjoy food trucks such as Buenavista Taqueria, Cielito, Corvina, and West Allis Brewing Company, as well as numerous performers such as Jim Madritsch, Roxie Beane, DAYNC, Bahia, Andy and Paul Jehly, and Half Glass Full.
In front of the convenience store, a local produce market had a pop-up shop to give away free fruit and vegetables. The group running the pop-up brought instruments with them, and played drums and a triangle while singing along. Their energy brought smiles to people’s faces as they walked by, as well as just livening up the sidewalk space.
Many of the residents and businesses expressed their interest in how to make these temporary changes permanent. Beyond the string lights kept by Las Palmas and the pergola will remain with Buenavista, there were several other last elements that will continue to impact Burnham Pointe. We were excited to hear that furniture created for gravel lot and seating area will be reused by the city for future community projects. The playscape that was designed for the gravel lot will also be kept in the area for the neighborhood. Throughout the event, the playscape was used by adults and kids alike, creating a multigenerational play experience for families.
Moving forward, Burnham Pointe should look to creating more permanent bump-out treatments to keep traffic speeds down, and promote pedestrian activity. Based on the data collected before and after the intervention of the bump-outs, we saw that this method was successful in slowing down traffic speeds at Burnham Pointe. This is important because it allowed people to feel safe enough to sit in the former intersection and take advantage of the cafe seating along the bumpouts. Activating their gravel lot with programming will give the neighborhood a place to linger and take advantage of the shops in the area any day, just as it did during this project.
By creating these permanent features, the community will feel safer on a pedestrian scale and will promote more economic development and uses in the area. The Burnham Pointe Better Block was just the first step in improving the area for the future. By identifying the key players, testing new ideas, and make connections with the city to the community, the Better Block is proud to enable and inspire people to take back their public spaces and transform them into pedestrian/bike friendly spaces.