Tasty Treats from the Draft Milwaukee Bike Plan

 The Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin just posted the final draft version of the updated bicycle master plan for the City of Milwaukee online here.  The Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin is the prime consultant hired to work with City staff to write the plan. The plan proposes a number of completely new kinds of facilities and programs intended make using bicycles more attractive to a wider range of people. This is the first in a series of posts in which I disect some of the new ideas from the plan that have the greatest potential to get more butts on bikes.  

Bicycle Boulevards

Bicycle Lanes are great and have been the primary catalyst in the 300% increase in bicycle use we have seen over the last 5 years or so. But input from surveys and public meetings it was very clear that a large percentage of people who ride bikes, do not enjoy riding in bike lanes.  Even though bike lanes are safe, many people just don’t like the feeling of riding in heavy traffic on arterial streets. Since trails don’t fit in most developed urban neighborhoods, some other type of facility is needed to attract these people who are more averse to cycling in heavy traffic.

Click on this image to see a larger version. This is an example of the elements that might go into a bicycle boulevard.

Enter Bicycle Boulevards, side streets with low traffic volumes and slow speeds that have been engineered to optomize bicycle travel using different methods of traffic calming. Motor vehicles and bicycles coexist on roads designated as bicycle boulevards, where because the speeds are slow and the traffic volumes are light, the roads make great bike routes.

In the image to the left, you can see that a combination of neighborhood traffic circles, speed humps, bump outs, diverters and other traffic calming devices have been used over several blocks.  The traffic calming makes this street unattractive to cut through traffic but every resident retains access to thier home.  And because the traffic calming force motorists to drive the speed limit, it is possible to remove all stop control so bicycles can maintain their momentum and speed.

Bicycle Boulevards actually grew out of traffic calming programs in other cities like Berkley and Portland.  People living on residential streets requested speed humps and traffic circles to try to stop speeding motorists using their neighborhood street as a short cuts to avoid traffic on busier parallel arterials.  After the traffic calming went in, they found the traffic volumes dropped, the speeds declined and the number of people riding bikes went up.  The Streetfilms video below explains a bicycle boulevard in Portland.

Roger Geller, the Bicycle Coordinator in Portland, gave me a guided tour of the Lincoln Bicycle Boulevard when I was there for a conference. I don’t remember the exact numbers but Roger told me that after the bicycle boulevard treatment, the daily traffic counts went from something like 5,000 cars a day to 2,000 and the number of bikes went from 1,000 to 3,000.  As it says in the video, the response from residents has been overwhelmingly positive.

Milwaukee’s traffic calming program is yielding similar results and there are already a number of streets in Milwaukee that have a seried of traffic calming devices installed because the residents wanted to slow cars and get rid of people taking short cuts through their neighborhood.  South 29th Street for instance is a well-known shortcut for motorists looking to avoid congestion on Layton Blvd.  Brown Street has a series of large traffic circles and speed humps put in after residents complained about traffic that should be on North Avenue. But Cambridge is perhaps the closest example we have.

This is a neighborhood traffic circle on Cambridge and Kenwood on Milwaukee's east side. Cambridge on Milwaukee's east side is almost a bicycle boulevard already. Speeding and cut-through traffic pushed residents to install a series of neighborhood traffic circles and speed humps (coming soon). All that remains to optomize Cambridge for bicycle travel is to turn the stop signs. Cambridge and Kenwood would make ideal bike boulevards and a great route to UW Milwaukee.

There is no simple recipie for a bicycle boulevard.  Because they involve geometric changes to neighborhood streets, resident buy-in is key.  The exact types of traffic calming devices used must all be determined by the specific street and specific traffic issues and resident preferences. Some streets next to very busy arterial streets with severe speeding and cut-through traffic problems may need all the traffic calming in the image above.  Other streets may only need occasional neighborhood traffic circle or speed hump to get rid of the speeding and cut-through traffic.

These speed humps are bicycle friendly and designed so motor vehicles can drive over them at the posted speed limit. They only become problematic if vehicles try to speed over them. Speeds went down significantly in 100% of the cases where speed humps were installed in Milwaukee.

The bike plan suggests a network of about 50 miles of bicycle  boulevards, but because resident buy-in is so important, specific streets are difficult to plan. Starting with some of these residential streets that have severe traffic problems would be a good way of piloting the concept in Milwaukee.  It is always best to try new ideas in a pilot form so you can modify what has worked elsewhere to work best in Milwaukee. 

This very nice neighborhood traffic circle at Brown and Hubbard is larger than the traffic circles on Cambridge because the road cross sections are much wider here. This illustrates how traffic calming must be designed specifically to meet the needs of every block. There really is no "on size fits all" form of bicycle boulevard.

Bicycle boulevards have proven very popular in other cities and are credited with increasing the number of people riding bikes in every city in which they have been used.  The ancillary benefit to bicycle boulevards is they create great quiet streets to live on.  they have many of the same benefits of cul de sacs (low speeds, local traffic, higher property values) with all the benefits of a grid street network. 

But remember this is still a draft plan that must go through the Public Works Commitee and be approved by the Common Council, so it really has no official standing yet.  You can get a closer look at the plan at a public information meeting Wednesday from 4pm-7pm in the first floor conference room of the Zeidler Municipal Bldg., at 841 N Broadway. There will be a short presentation (by yours truly) at 5pm. I hope to see you there.


About daveschlabowske

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

9 Responses to Tasty Treats from the Draft Milwaukee Bike Plan

  1. Dave Reid says:

    Thanks for the update… Now I’ve got to go and read the whole thing! As far as Bike Boulevards I think it is important to note that these changes make street safer for all users, not just cyclists.

  2. Pingback: Mucho Milwaukee » Blog Archive » Milwaukee Bike Planning goes forth!

  3. tom says:

    i want a speed bump on my street!

  4. Steven Vance says:

    I hope your presentation went well.

    I haven’t seen a “bike friendly speed hump” before. The ones in Chicago are not bike friendly! They are very tall – you really HIT them as you make contact and I try to jump the front wheel onto the top of it, but then even your rear wheel takes a hit on the other side. Ugh.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Milwaukee speed humps use a bicycle/motorcycle friendly sinusoidal curve rather than a parabolic curve. I can ride them at 20mph with my hands off the bars, and I have not skills…

  5. jnyyz says:

    The picture of the traffic calming measures on Cambridge warms my heart. I lived in Milwaukee for most of the nineties while teaching at UWM. Toronto is much slower to adopt bike infrastructure.

    I just discovered this blog from a post on the BOB list, and I will link it to mine.

  6. David B. says:

    Just started reading your blog and am really enjoying it.

    I see why Cambridge Ave would be a good fit for a Bike Blvd and an easy pilot attempt (since its basically one already), but looking at it as purely filling a riding need— since it runs just twenty fee or so parallel to the Oak Leaf Trail— it might be little redundant and some other stretch might be more successful at attracting use.

    • daveschlabowske says:


      Cambridge actually makes connections to Locust Street, the Riverwest Neighborhood and Kenwood to UWM. The bike path, although parallel, is at a different grade and doesn’t have any connections to any of those streets. The plan does propose additional connections from Cambridge to the Oak Leaf trail there as well.

  7. Pingback: Review: Wisconsin’s first bicycle boulevard. | Over the Bars in Milwaukee

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