Drive I-94 eastbound or westbound and you'll see signs for hundreds of restaurants, tourist locations, gas stations and other destinations. You'll see Subway, Culver's, The Pine Cone, Marquette University, Summerfest, Potawatomi Bingo Casino, McDonald's, Miller Park and countless others.
But, if you drive into Downtown Milwaukee you won't see a single sign for one of the region's biggest tourist and entertainment destinations, The Bradley Center. In fact, if you're driving on I-94 East the only sign you'll see with the word "Downtown" on it is at 26th St. This is odd, even for the most seasoned Downtown veteran, it's even more odd that one has to take the "Green Bay" exit to get to the heart of Milwaukee's Downtown.
This, frankly, bugs me. So, I sent an e-mail through mchange.org. I asked why there's so little signage into Downtown and why there are absolutely no signs for the Bradley Center?
Here's the response: "Either the Kilbourn Tunnel or the James Lovell Street exit from I-794 EAST are excellent options to access the Bradley Center. There will be no additional signs saying "Downtown" specifically on I-94 EAST. However; there will be other additional signs erected before the project is done. Not all of the signs are currently up because we're in a temporary roadway alignment. It should be noted though that a special "Downtown Exits" sign is currently located at 26th Street on I-94 EAST. This was added into the project after receiving feedback from the community. Regarding the Bradley Center, WisDOT policy doesn't allow for special destination signage for downtown Milwaukee venues. We're sorry we can't accommodate all the great venues in downtown Milwaukee with destination signage and hope you can understand."
"WisDOT doesn't allow for special destination signage for downtown Milwaukee venues!" But, they allow signs for Subway, Citgo and smaller, but worthy destinations like the Milwaukee Public Museum and Ten Chimneys? What gives? Why dis Downtown and the Bradley Center and its many teams and shows?
So, I continued to explore. Seems that I'm not the only one hot under the collar about this issue. "We've made several attempts to get Bradley Center signs posted before construction, during construction, and even after construction. Chicago gets more acknowledgement on signage than our Downtown," said John Steinmiller, Vice President-Business Operations for the Milwaukee Bucks, in an e-mail.
Good point, John, we seem to promote Green Bay and Chicago better on our freeway than our own Downtown.
Steinmiller continued, "There are lesser attended attractions than the Bradley Center that get excellent signage exposure. This whole exercise has been frustrating, and fingers always get pointed to Madison, and it's not right. The Bradley Center is Downtown's biggest attraction year 'round, and second only to Summerfest overall. The Marquette Interchange team has done a great job, but frankly they're following the law, I believe and have no control."
But, come on, it's only a sign, right? Laura Goranson, from the Marquette Interchange Team, told me this, "WisDOT has extensive guidelines for destination signage on the freeway and the Bradley Center does not meet the criteria nor do most of the destinations Downtown and this was discussed at length with the group listed above which did include the Bradley Center tenants. The guidelines are more stringent in a dense urban area such as Milwaukee because too many signs may confuse travelers more than help them."
To WisDOT's credit, they did work with all the Downtown groups to make access to the various Downtown Milwaukee neighborhoods better. But, why no signs? Maybe they are on their way.
Goranson continued in an e-mail, "An extensive effort was undertaken involving BID 21, East Town, West Town and the Third Ward Associations as well as many Downtown businesses and attractions to determine what signage would be placed on the freeway as well of the exit ramps at the conclusion of the Marquette Interchange reconstruction.
"From each direction (North, South, East and West) there will be signage that lists the next three Downtown exits. At the base of the ramps there will be signage that has color coded blocks directing travelers to the various areas of town (i.e.: East Town, Westown, Third Ward, Riverwalk, Lakefront) to match the color designations on the Downtown pedestrian corridor signage currently in place and to be enhanced in the future.
"The decision of which exits to list on the freeway from each of the directions as well as what directional signs at the base of the ramps would be placed was made jointly with the groups listed above, WisDOT and the City of Milwaukee. The signage for travelers approaching from the north (southbound on I43) is in place now, however the ramp to I794 East is not open at this time. The signage from other directions will be in place by November of this year as all roadways and ramps are completed."
Goranson also reminded me that "from I-94 Eastbound travelers may enter Downtown via 13th Street, the I-43 North ramp to Kilbourn Tunnel or McKinley, the James Lovell / St. Paul exit, the Jackson/Van Buren exit, and the Lakefront exit. All of these ramps are currently open. The signage for Eastbound I-94 will direct travelers that the next 3 exits for Downtown are (I-43 North to Kilbourn, James Lovell /St. Paul and Jackson/Van Buren)."
And, there will be a few additional exits and entrances to be opened by November of this year that will improve access to Downtown. They are, as follows:
- I-43 North exit to 10th and Michigan
- I-43 North exit to I-794 East
- I-43 South exit to I-794 East
- 11th and Wisconsin entrance ramp to I-43/I-94 South
- 11th and Tory Hill entrance ramp to I-94 West
- 7th and Clybourn entrance ramp to I-94 West
So, it does look like access and signs for Downtown are on the way. But, why continue to ignore just a huge attraction like the Bradley Center? Even in this day of online mapping and GPSs, shouldn't we make it as easy as possible to find Milwaukee's Bradley Center?
A life-long and passionate community leader and Milwaukeean, Jeff Sherman is a co-founder of OnMilwaukee.
He grew up in Wauwatosa and graduated from Marquette University, as a Warrior. He holds an MBA from Cardinal Stritch University, and is the founding president of Young Professionals of Milwaukee (YPM)/Fuel Milwaukee.
Early in his career, Sherman was one of youngest members of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, and currently is involved in numerous civic and community groups - including board positions at The Wisconsin Center District, Wisconsin Club and Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. He's honored to have been named to The Business Journal's "30 under 30" and Milwaukee Magazine's "35 under 35" lists.
He owns a condo in Downtown and lives in greater Milwaukee with his wife Stephanie, his son, Jake, and daughter Pierce. He's a political, music, sports and news junkie and thinks, for what it's worth, that all new movies should be released in theaters, on demand, online and on DVD simultaneously.
He also thinks you should read OnMilwaukee each and every day.