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AARP Wisconsin Ramps Up Local Advocacy

Traffic sign

In October 2022, Milwaukee resident Barbara Smith, 57, was part of an AARP contingent that took city officials on a walking tour of a neighborhood known to be dangerous for pedestrians.

All of a sudden, right in front of the group, a speeding driver hit a pedestrian crossing the street. Although the victim was not seriously injured, the accident proved their point in a way that no report could: Pedestrians were regularly at risk in the Amani neighborhood, on the city’s near northwest side.

“It helped to put more eyes on what we, as Amani residents, already knew,” says Smith, a member of the Amani United association.

The outing was part of an effort by AARP Wisconsin to ramp up its local advocacy efforts. The group has been teaming up with community groups in cities and towns across the state to improve pedestrian safety, expand affordable housing and make neighborhoods more livable.

Such efforts complement AARP’s state and federal advocacy. Local officials are often more receptive to taking action if they’ve seen a problem firsthand, says Amber Miller, AARP Wisconsin’s associate state director for community outreach. It can be a more powerful catalyst for change than trying to convey a problem in emails or phone calls, she says.

“It’s the baby steps that can make a huge impact in the community,” Miller says.

After the accident in Amani, the city in 2023 installed a traffic calming circle—paid for by AARP—at a problematic intersection, helping to slow traffic.

The Power of Local

Miller worked with Amani United and other local groups to conduct listening sessions and walk audits in late 2022 and early 2023. What they found: chronic speeding. The group clocked motorists traveling through the neighborhood at 62 miles per hour in a 25-mph zone.

They took their findings to city officials and are pushing for additional changes to curb speeding, Miller says.

Among other local efforts:

  • In Appleton, AARP worked with city officials last year on a plan to reduce traffic lanes from four to three—and to add a dedicated bike lane—on a main downtown thoroughfare.
  • In La Crosse, AARP joined forces with a local disabilities group in 2023 to highlight the challenges pedestrians face in getting from the city’s residential areas to grocery stores and other essential services. AARP also worked with a La Crosse housing advocacy coalition to champion a new ordinance, passed in February 2024, that makes it easier to build accessory dwelling units, such as backyard cottages and in-law suites.
  • In Madison, AARP and a housing advocacy group, Madison Is For People, are now working with city officials on a measure to encourage more ADUs.

As a 29-year-old student, Madison resident Will Ochowicz, founder of Madison Is For People, hadn’t given much thought to the implications of aging in place. But he did have opinions about the high cost of housing in Madison and supported ADUs as a way to address that problem.

Now that Ochowicz’s group is working with AARP on housing affordability, he’s even more enthusiastic about ADUs. They unlock opportunities for people of all ages, whether they’re renters or homeowners, he says.

Miller says AARP Wisconsin is now hoping to push for more ADUs in Milwaukee.

Smith, the Amani resident, says whether it’s pedestrian safety or housing, working with AARP at the local level can produce results. “Nobody can share your story better than you can.”

For more about AARP’s local advocacy, visit

Joanne Cleaver, a North Carolina– based journalist, covers business, personal finance and other issues. She has written for the Bulletin since 2013.

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