Why Bike the Hoan matters for Wisconsin

Tomorrow night there will be an incredibly important meeting to discuss a possible bicycle and pedestrian path over Milwaukee’s Daniel Hoan Memorial Bridge.  This project more than any other, could be a watershed moment for bicycling in Wisconsin.  The upcoming redecking of the bridge offers a once in a generation opportunity to build a landmark bicycle path over a landmark bridge.

The question of whether or not to put a bicycle and pedestrian path on the Hoan has been the number one point of discussion among the Milwaukee bicycling community for the last two decades, but this is an important facility for all of Wisconsin, not just Milwaukee. Bicycling is one of the things that makes Wisconsin such a great state in which to live. But because bicycling also makes Wisconsin attractive to visitors, any opportunity we have to improve cycling in Wisconsin is important. In the same way the wonderful trails my family recently visited on our vacation in Vilas County are important for us in Milwaukee, a bike path over the Hoan Bridge is important to the rest of the state.

The 23 miles of paved trail between Boulder Junction and St. Germain draw tourists from across Wisconsin as well as outside the state.

A recent comment on my recent post “Put a bike path on the Hoan and the world won’t stop turning” suggested to me that we have been arguing about whether a path on the bridge will cause traffic jams and whether it is too windy, too steep, too expensive for so long, that we may have forgotten to talk about why it is a good idea to allow bicycles and pedestrians across the bridge.

“What is the case for adding a bike/ped. lane? Even if it is feasible, what is the point of putting a bike/ped. lane over the bridge? Is there a legitimate public need that which a bike lane will satisfy?” -Jim Hoeppner 

While it may seem obvious to many who ride bikes in the Milwaukee area, I think it can help to once again articulate why we should put a path for bicycles and pedestrians on an interstate highway bridge. I will attempt to make that case below, but it would be great if other readers would offer their perspective in the comment section below.

A bike path on the Hoan is a good investment

A bicycle path across the Hoan Bridge has the potential to be the biggest bicycle tourism draw in Wisconsin.  Wisconsin built the Elroy-Sparta Trail in 1967,  the very first rail trail in the country. We have continued to invest in trails and, the League of American Bicyclists consistently ranks Wisconsin as the second or third best state in the country for cycling. We can feel the benefit of our investments in trails in our pocket books. Bicycle recreation and tourism is growing every year and already generates more than $924 million annually in Wisconsin.

Tourists at the tunnel doors on the Elroy-Sparta Trail

If you add up every penny spent on Wisconsin bicycle and pedestrian facilities since we built the Elroy-Sparta Trail in 1967, you get a total investment of $244 million. That includes $188 million of federal funds and $56 million from state and local match.  The bottom line is Wisconsin realizes a nearly $1 billion annual return on a total investment of about 25% of that annual ROI. A bike path on the Hoan Bridge is a good investment for Wisconsin.

The demand is there

With its iconic tunnels, perhaps the most famous trail in Wisconsin is the Elroy Sparta Trail.   Opened in 1967 under the administration of Republican Governor Warren P. Knowles, the popular Elroy-Sparta Trail attracts more than 100,000 cyclists and hikers each year. As wonderful a trail as the Elroy Sparta is, according to the last trail counts done in 2003, the two segments of Oak Leaf Trail that dead end at either end of the Hoan Bridge attract nearly 80,000 people in one month alone.

My daughter Frankie coasting down the Hoan during the Miller Lite Ride for the Arts.

Infrared counters set up  in October of 2003 revealed that almost 40,000 trips were made on the trails that book-end the Hoan Bridge.  These trail users are people walking dogs, hiking, jogging, roller blading, and of course cycling. Now it is possible that not every one of those people will want to continue their trip over the two mile long bridge, but it certainly seems likely that a given the incredible views, a path on the landmark bridge would attract additional riders. That was proven when thousands of people paid to ride and run over the Hoan earlier this summer in UPAF’s Miller Lite Ride for the Arts and the Summerfest Half-marathon, both of which featured routes over the Hoan.

To get people to work

The majority of bicycle trips are now taken for transportation rather than recreation according to the most recent National Household Travel Survey. The number of people in Milwaukee who ride bicycles to work has increased more than 250% over the last 5 years. Bay View neighborhood has developed into one of Milwaukee’s most bicycle friendly neighborhoods. Beginning at Cupertino Park at the South end of the Hoan the beautiful Oak Leaf Trail runs the full length of Bay View. The neighborhood boasts many popular cafes, restaurants and businesses that cater specifically to people on bicycles.

Because of these lifestyle amenities, Bay View has become a magnate for young professionals. Many people are relocating to Bay View because they can get around easily by bicycle after work, and the neighborhood is close to Downtown and the East Side. While the City of Milwaukee has done much to improve the bike connection between Bay View and downtown Milwaukee by adding bike lanes to city streets, the route is not very direct and many people who want to bike to work remain uncomfortable sharing the road with cars.  Most people who ride bicycles prefer to ride on trails, away from motor vehicles.

People who ride bicycles want a path on the Hoan Bridge for the very same reasons people who drive to work wanted the Hoan Bridge in the first place. A path on the Hoan would provide a more direct, convenient, attractive and safer connection between the communities on the south side of Milwaukee and Downtown.

Bicyclists are allowed on Interstate Bridges

Federal law allows. and can even require, bicycle access on interstate bridges. There are many examples of bike paths on interstate bridges, from the beautiful new  Cooper River Bridge (US 17) in Charleston, SC to the  I‐90 floating bridge across Lake Washington in Seattle and dozens of others in between. But we don’t have to look further than the I94 bridge from Hudson over the St. Croix River to find another example of a bike path on an Interstate bridge.

The bridge over the Cooper River in Charleston, SC.

Title 23 of the United States Code section §217  requires that bridges being replaced with federal funds include safe accommodation for bicyclists:

 Bicycle Transportation and Pedestrian Walkways

(e) Bridges.‐‐In any case where a highway bridge deck being replaced or rehabilitated with Federal financial participation is located on a highway on which bicycles are permitted to operate at each end of such bridge, and the Secretary determines that the safe accommodation of bicycles can be provided at reasonable cost as part of such replacement or rehabilitation, then such bridge shall be so replaced or rehabilitated as to provide such safe accommodations.ii

To bridge the gap

The Hoan Bridge is one of the few remaining gaps in a trail system that runs from Chicago to Sheboygan. If we put a path on the bridge, the Hoan could go from being one of the most unpleasant gaps to ride to the crown jewel of the Lake Michigan trail network.

It is already possible to ride 90% of the way between Chicago and Oostburg on bicycle trails.  This bike route is so popular  that there is even a book devoted to riding the trails between Chicago and Milwaukee. The book is necessary to help people on bicycles navigate the roads between the few gaps between the trails.

Many of the short on-street connections between trail segments are being filled in with new trails and trail extensions because people prefer to stay off the road. Within the next two years, the Village of Brown Deer and Milwaukee County will fill in the gap between the Oak Leaf Trail, the Brown Deer Trail and the Ozaukee Interurban trail within the next two years.  Once done, that will create a 50 mile trail system that draws recreational cyclists and tourists through the many communities along the trails in Milwaukee, Ozaukee and Sheboygan counties.

With the redecking of the Hoan on a fast track schedule, the phrase “now or never” has rarely been more accurately used. For so many reasons, now is the time to Bike the Hoan. Let’s not loose this generational opportunity to make Wisconsin a better place to ride a bicycle.

Please come to the meeting tomorrow night:

DATE: Tuesday, August 23
TIME: 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
PLACE: Beulah Brinton Cafeteria Room
2555 South Bay Street
Bay View, WI

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About daveschlabowske

Cyclechic advocate from Milwaukee
This entry was posted in Advocacy, Bike facilities, Transportation Funding and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Why Bike the Hoan matters for Wisconsin

  1. Sam Dodge says:

    I made two trips to Bay View from Riverwest yesterday, and I probably would have used a bicycle path on the Hoan bridge twice, even though it would have been a little out of the way for one trip. Not having to worry about traffic and stop lights on 1st or 2nd, and avoiding a large portion of KK (which gets narrow and busy in areas) would have greatly lowered my stress level and given me great views of the city on a gorgeous day.

    Wish I could be at the meeting, but I’ll be working at a bike shop.

    Another point you can make, the $244 million you quoted for all bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure (over 44 years) is still less than the one-time cost of this current Hoan rebuild project.

  2. Chris S. says:

    I spent 5 years in the San Francisco Bay Area before moving back to Milwaukee. Taking into account all of the beautiful rides to be had in that part of the country, my favorite riding days came when I’d visit my friend in the heart of San Francisco, and get out for a ride across the Golden Gate’s dedicated bicycle lane. I’m not sure if it is still configured this way, but the bike lane on the GG provided a beautiful view of the ocean and the Marin County headlands, and also provided us with an easy route to get to said headlands and the many cycling opportunities on the other side. This lane also provided commuting opportunities to cyclist on both sides of the bridge. There really is nothing like it.

    I also currently bike commute a day or two a week from Muskego to downtown – yes, you heard that right, muskego to downtown, and I would absolutely add a couple of miles to that commute to take a Hoan bike lane ride once in a while.

    I can not attent the meeting tomorrow, but please feel free to use my comment if you’d like. Thanks for your hard work.

  3. Patty Thompson says:

    I can’t attend the meeting due to other neighborhood events, but want to express my support of a state of the art bike/pedistrian passage. We have such a great opportunity to think big and to make this bridge an attraction, not just a road. The current plans for the redecking do not include any big innovation, and the only big change could be this bike effort. Creativity and strectching the imagination are required to make the Hoan more than it is today, and to accomodate more than it does today.

  4. BP says:

    The bridge over the Cooper River in Charleston is longer than the Hoan Bridge. As a South Carolina resident, every time I drive over the bridge its incredible how many people are out biking, running or walking over the bridge even in the middle of our hot and humid summers. It would be a great thing for the City of Milwaukee to have the Hoan Bridge open up to bicycles and pedestrians. Good luck at the meeting.

  5. Brian says:

    Thank you for finely articulating what we all know but sometimes struggle to express in debates with the narrow minded masses.

  6. Mike Rewey says:

    The Big Dam Bridge in Little Rock is a good example of a high bridge that doesn’t have “grade” and “wind” problems that are suggested by WisDOT. It is a very long and high Bike/Ped Bridge over a locks and dam on the Arkansas River. The long approach grades are 5%. The Hoan probably has grade less than than that and is about the same height.

    Mike Rewey

    • daveschlabowske says:

      You are correct Mike, the average grade on the Hoan is 3%, max is 4%. The primary issue begins with the antiquated traffic projections that begin with data from 30 or 40 years ago and then draw a straight line for projected growth. This ignores the trends of the last 10 years, where the Hoan has experienced virtually zero increase in traffic volumes. That is compounded by a faulty Level of Service Analysis that implies speeds of 50mph is rates a “D” LOS and that is some sort of problem in a 50mph zone.

  7. Jon Nass says:

    To me, I understand when people say that we don’t need to invest in Hoan bike lane as other options are available. Admittedly, I live on the east side and I don’t usually bike south that often. The only real benefit I saw from a personal standpoint was that with a bike lane on the Hoan connecting the Oak Leaf Trail sections I’d definitely go south more often.

    I feel that your post does a good job of showing some of the additional benefits of this project for the community. I think your argument pretty clearly shows that investing in bike infrastructure in an intelligent manner will provide a positive return on investment and that this particular investment is worth the cost. I particularly liked the points about how many people use each connecting end of the Oak Leaf Trail per month and the annual return on Wisconsin’s current bicycle infrastructure investments.

    Thank you for the post. Where I may have been tepid before, I’m definitely more in support of this idea now. I can’t make the meeting tonight but I plan on using some of your points when I discuss the benefits of investing in a Hoan bike lane with others. In addition, Senator Larson is my representative to the State Senate so I’ll write to him to let him know how I now feel. If you’d like to use my comment, feel free. Good luck at the meeting.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Thanks for being open minded Jon. We may never all agree, but it is so nice when we can have rational discussions about important issues.

  8. Dave F says:

    Thanks David, nice job!

    Dave Fine

  9. greg forrester says:

    The US 2 Richard Bong Memorial Bridge connecting Duluth MN to Superior WI is another example of bike/ped path on freeway bridge. It was funded in part by WISDOT and opened in 1985. It is a high level tied arch bridge over water just like the Hoan Bridge and slightly longer (2 miles) than the Hoan Bridge. If 26 years of bicycle and pedestrian use has proven safe on that bridge then, it should be just as safe on a similar rebuilt Hoan Bridge.

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