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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.