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On Foot – Extending Riverwalk

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The Riverwalk that winds through downtown Milwaukee is an icon of the New Urbanism. It threads its way along the base of old factories and towering office buildings, a beautiful, comfortable, human-scale transport system in the heart of the city. Nowhere is it more welcome than in the budding retail and arts district of the Historic Third Ward. Since the construction of Highway I-794 in the 1960s, the Third Ward was a forbidding area of old factories and warehouses separated from downtown by the highway soaring above parking lots and vacant land. This no-man’s land was a barrier to pedestrian traffic, effectively making the Third Ward an “autos only” area. The newest addition to the Riverwalk is changing all that. Phase II of the Riverwalk, currently being completed by Beyer Construction, will extend from the Clybourn Street Bridge south to the Water Street Bridge. It will hug the east side of the Milwaukee River from the north drip line of the Clybourn Street Bridge to the U.S. Bank Parking lot. Construction is scheduled for completion in April. “This creates a route from the Third Ward to Downtown Milwaukee via the river. People can walk along the river, and not have to deal with traffic,” said Ryan Raskin, project manager for Beyer Construction. Complete plans for the Riverwalk include a pedestrian walkway system along the river from the Riverwest neighborhood to the Summerfest grounds. The Riverwalk will be a boon to the condominiums, retail shops, art galleries and cafes that are taking over the old factories and warehouses in the Third Ward. It adds to the pedestrian friendly atmosphere of the new neighborhood, and provides an organic, outdoor component to the urban streetscape. The construction of the Third Ward section of Riverwalk is an interesting mix of construction techniques. “There are areas where the board walk is cantilevered over dock walls, supported by a grade beam on land and the dock wall. Other areas are supported by a foundation on land and piles in the river. Still other areas are built completely over the water, and supported only on piles,” Raskin said. Because the river is curved, many of the segments are curved, with straight sections behind some of the buildings. Each segment is unique, following the organic shape of the river. “Every building, every block is a different segment,” Raskin said. “The architects tried to put a focal point at various stages to break up the Riverwalk. It’s not like walking down a city street.” For example, there is a viewing platform in the Buffalo Street segment. An education building is located near St. Paul Avenue, where a Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) remote station and WE Energy transformers would otherwise mar the view. “It really gives you a whole different look at the city, especially at night. It’s at its best at night, with all the lights,” said Raskin. “When you go downtown and walk down a street, all you see are buildings. You only see what’s in front of you. On the Riverwalk, you have a 200-foot-wide river.”
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