The City of Milwaukee Common Council approved the new bicycle master plan on Wednesday with only one vote opposed from Alderman Joe Dudzik. This is a pretty big deal. Before I post about the next steps toward implementation, I wanted to briefly discuss the lone dissenting voice because I have read some nasty comments elsewhere about his vote.
First, Alderman Dudzik raised his objections in a respectful manner when the draft plan was before the Public Safety committee the week before it went to the full council for a vote. When he spoke before the Safety Committee, Alderman Dudzik made clear that he likes bicycling, trails in particular, and thinks bicycle improvements are a good thing for the City. Then he went on to say that although he thinks bicycling is good, given the dire budgetary problems facing the City, he views further investments in cycling as more of a want than a need. He said he opposes the plan for those reasons.
His reported comment that he “will not be bulldozed by a bunch of bicyclists” was in reaction to the statements for DPW staff to the committee that new state and federal laws require us to include bicycle and pedestrian facilities on all projects that use federal or state funds.
My point in bringing this up is that he gave a fair warning in public that he opposed the plan and for what reason. If you believe that he feels he is honestly representing his constituents, you cannot blame him for his vote. It is his job and duty to represent the people who voted him into office. Given that he raised his objections almost a week before the plan went up for vote before the council, there was plenty of time for the bicycle riding members of his district to call him and try to change his opinion.
John Burke, the president of Trek Bicycles, likes to say that the world is run by the people who show up. If there are bicyclists in Alderman Dudzik’s district, his comments at committee were a personal invitation to the dance, but they did not show up. I will also take some of the blame for that vote. The City Engineer and I met with Alderman Dudzik privately, as we did with most of the other council members, to discuss the bike plan more than a month before it went to committee. In that meeting we had a decent chance to sell the value cycling in city facing difficult budgetary choices. Clearly we failed in that attempt.
But missing one dance and failing in one meeting does not mean we should give up. I believe we still need to try to sell the value of cycling to Alderman Dudzik and to further emphasize its value to the rest of the council members. Soon they will be forced to make some very difficult decisions about the 2011 budget. Regular citizens can do their part by calling, emailing or writing their alders and thanking them for approving the plan. People can also throw in a few arguments for supporting investments in cycling that may sway a vote or two when the difficult choices are made on the budget chopping block.
DPW staff can do our part by making strong, coherent and succinct arguments in favor of investments in cycling when we discuss our budget requests. The Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin can do it’s part by helping to organize and activate the cycling base, their own BFW members, particularly in districts where cycling is a tougher sell.
Getting the plan passed was a big step forward for Milwaukee. But the hard work is in the implementation of the plan. You are all hereby invited to help.