Wanted: Big Ideas

This is Kent Ave in Brooklyn, but it could be S 1st Street in Milwaukee if we had enough support and a real champion.

Milwaukee needs a few big ideas to take bicycling to the next level.  While our own local surveys told us this, my trip to New York City convinced me that regular bike lanes and trails in recreational corridors are nice, we need some really innovative bicycle facilities in key transportation corridors if we want to get a lot more people riding bicycles.

Don’t get me wrong, Milwaukee has come a long way in recent years and added a lot of great bicycle facilities. Consider:

This new Valley Passage bridge and tunnel should be really important to the residents of the Silver City and Layton Boulevard West neighborhoods.

  • Hank Aaron State Trail
  • Marsupial Bridge
  • Hank Aaron Extension and Valley Passage
  • Beerline connection
  • 53 miles of bike lanes
  • Bike racks on buses

All great things, and they have all helped increase the number of people on bikes.  And there are a few good things in the works: the extension of the Oak Leaf from Estabrook to Brown Deer, the KK River Trail, the Bay View to Downtown connector route, and even marketing programs like Smart Trips and Share and Be Aware. Again, all great and all will help continue to grow cycling.

I certainly have not forgotten the recently updated and approved (YEAH!) Milwaukee by Bike plan, which adds quite a few new innovative bicycle facilities to the potential Milwaukee road building tool box.  So we have the tools, when do we get to use them on some really cool new project?  

Click to view a larger image

We really don’t have any concrete (pun intended) plans yet, with one exception.  We are in the 60% design stages for the Bay View to Downtown Connection, which includes a raised bike lane on Bay Street from Potter to Lennox.  If the final designs are approved by WisDOT, this will be the first of our new innovative treatments from the bike plan. 

This is just the kind of big idea that could inspire envy in others to ask for something similar in their neighborhood. That is awesome, except it is a little bitter-sweet given this is the WisDOT preferred alternative to a path over the Hoan Bridge. So although it is a good start in the big idea category, I think we need something not tainted by disappointment.

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition recently announced a bold new campaign called “Connecting the City” to add bike facilities that have proven so effective at attracting more timid cyclists in New York City. I encourage you to read the campaign information on the SFBC linked page above. 

This proposed protected bike lane on Fell Street in San Francisco is an example of the type of big idea I think we need. Where could we put a similar protected bike lane in Milwaukee?

Milwaukee now has a good new bike plan that explains how to design such protected bike lanes, but we don’t have the political will to say right out loud that we want to change the face of the city and put people above cars. It is my hope though that we can find the political will and public support to say we want a specific catalytic project somewhere. 

We need some outside group, a local business, a neighborhood, or a powerful local champion to say “We want a bicycle boulevard/green bike lane here/cycletrack here, on _____ street in our neighborhood.”  If that is said with enough clarity, with robust public support, with aldermanic support and with the understanding that there will be local costs, it could happen. Ideally the project could be tied to an upcoming resurfacing, but if not, and it is done as a stand-alone project, the residents who ask for it might need to pay for it, or at least give up resurfacing a different street in their neighborhood.

Before we can get to the point that this imaginary power block of idealism demands a project we need to come up with some ideas. Local readers, you have seen what they have done in NYC, what they are proposing in San Francisco, now I ask you, where could we do what?  Give me a few really key blocks somewhere that would really make a statement.  Describe to me a project where your design vehicle is a bicycle ridden by a 60-year-old woman with two shopping bags. Tell me what you want or at least what you thing  somebody should ask for? I have a couple of ideas of my own, which I will share in another post, but first I’d like to hear from you.


About daveschlabowske

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

36 Responses to Wanted: Big Ideas

  1. Mara Kuhlmann says:

    Keep plowing the bike trails in winter – and advertise the fact you do.
    In general, advertise the advantages of biking – as ads on the city buses – that everyone sees around town.
    Give Milwaukee businesses incentives to have showers/locker rooms in their businesses – and to pay parking subsidies to bikers too – we get subsidized parking – but since I don’t use any auto parking ever, I don’t get to take advantage of it. It is like lost money.
    Biking traffic lights – that give precedence to bikers and drivers end up envying the bikers for being able to get through quickly – so they consider trying to bike.

  2. I can’t help feeling disappointed over the weak alternative plan to the Hoan. Everyone knows a bridge spanning the gap would be the coolest thing to hit Milwaukee since beer and sausage.

  3. Bill Sell says:

    Just about anything you do for the South Side – that’s my big idea for today.

    The Hoan, of course. It has to be not “Tainted with disappointment”? What has that to do with dreaming big? This bike path would become a tourist magnet for the view and bring bicyclists to the City from all over the midwest, marketed with our Oak Leaf stringing together park after park. Oak Leaf needs a center piece. Let’s go for it and don’t let the naysayers put us down.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      What I meant by that statement is that it will be hard to celebrate the Bay View to Downtown Connection that the City DPW Major Projects section is working on now because, although it is a genuine improvement, the project is tainted by the fact that those funds should have been used to build the path over the Hoan.

      So, yes Bill, I agree wholeheartedly, Biking and walking the Hoan should be one of the Big Ideas we advocate for.

      • Bill Sell says:

        Definitely the paltry little trail that WisDOT “gave” us (took our money to “give” it to us) is tainted with disappointment. I can still remember Ryan Luck’s devastating announcement at the north end of the Hoan. August, 2002. After all those years of study, WisDOT finding that the Hoan is safe, not as windy as politicians, and that there is no congestion issue, and then fending off the last minute fear mongers who tried to make it a 9/11 issue. We came a long way before we bumped into the car culture. And we lost. And we could continue to lose any alternative transportation system in the future. The Hoan is worth fighting for, we will bring along public transportation advocates, and the many drivers who GET IT.

  4. Dave Steele says:

    Well marked “bikeways” that are clearly understood to be bike corridors going East-West, North-South, Northwest and Southwest, like spokes on a wheel with downtown as the hub, maybe with a few “outer rings.” These bikeways would be comprised of off street paths, separated on street lanes and intersections with bike-specific traffic lights. They would be clearly marked with common visual look, or brand, throughout the whole system, so that the user understands that by hopping on this “line,” they will get to their destination, interacting with as few cars as possible. There would be a map of the system that would look similar to the rail transit maps you see all over Chicago, with a series of lines intersecting in the Downtown area. The maps would become part of the collective consciousness of the city. Even if you’ve never used one of the bikeways, you know that the system exists and is a transportation option.

    Along these bikeways, you’d have clear signage so the user can easily follow the corridor without losing the scent. There would be conspicuous secure bike parking. The bikeways would be marketed as transportation corridors, safe thruways to get to destinations, not just to go out for a ride.

    Much of the basic infrastructure already exists, such as the OLT and Hank Aaron. It’s just a question of connecting what’s already there, making it inviting for the newbie to use as transportation and raising awareness of it as a transport option.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      All good ideas, and until all streets are complete streets, we need to have much better wayfinding signs in Milwaukee. That is in the bike plan, but not yet on any sort of schedule. I’m not sure it is quite the catalytic project I am thinking about, but it should be done either way.

      • Dave Steele says:

        Signs could help not just in helping people find their way, but in branding the bike system as a transportation option. If there was a common logo that one would see on thru-bikeways all over the city, whether it’s the OLT, Hank Aaron or on street lane, it would send the message that you can get to where you’re going on a bike. As it is the OLT is so poorly marked most people passing by who have not studied the Milwaukee By Bike map really have no idea where it would lead. Plus the OLT logo tends to identify it as a recreational path, not a commuting option.

        Imagine getting on the Hank Aaron at 6th street and there’s a sign saying “Miller Park, 2 miles. State Fair Park, 4 miles.” You cross Embber Lane and there’s an arrow saying “to Marquette University.” “State Fair bike parking, next right.” And on and on … all with a Milwaukee By Bike logo that you see on every bike wayfinding sign all over the city, whether it’s a County, city or State path. I such clarity and branding in signage could be catalytic.

      • daveschlabowske says:
      • Dave Steele says:

        Excellent! Glad to see it’s in the plan.

  5. Gary Tuma says:

    I began biking daily to work, errands, etc. three years ago. Have found Milwaukee very lacking in respect or prioity for bikes. This is due mostly to lack of road maintenance and thoughtless motorists. One thing that could be done to force motorists to respect bike lanes, especially Water Street would be to put a decoy car at the end of the meters near the intersection. When a car is in that last meter spot, motorists won’t illegally drive in the bike lane. Cars now basically use the bike lane as theirs. Also, in my bicycle utopia, all street parking would be eliminated to make actual dedicated bike lanes. (not gonna happen).

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Removing all on-street parking is certainly not in the cards, but why not remove the parking just on Water Street where there is no room for bike lanes, say from Erie to Kilbourn? A continuous bike lane from Bay View to Downtown is a big idea, but perhaps not impossible to imagine, even in Milwaukee.

  6. Jim Tarantino says:

    Bike boulevard – S. 26th St from the Domes to Lincoln Ave. We’ve got the partners (Clarke Square), the money (Zilber), the route, the model, and the plan. Let’s do this.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Hey Jim,

      I like that idea, and I think that could be doable. The bike plan is done and approved, which included that suggestion. Let’s schedule another meeting to discuss next steps.

  7. Jim Tarantino says:

    Elevated bike lanes (or separated by medians) in key commercial corridors that have business improvement districts – Eastside, Oakland Ave, Water Street in the third ward, Kinnickinnic Ave, State Street or Wisconsin in Avenues West, Silver Spring in Havenwoods, etc. High visibility projects with a matching local investment in the capital cost.

    I know you’re high on the cyclovia idea on the south side, but how about an initial Spanish language advocacy campaign to grease the wheels for that event. Not a high visibility project, but potentially a high impact project with the concentration of indigenous wrong way and sidewalk riders within the south side.

    • KB says:

      I agree with the streets you’ve named off Jim. I think State Street from Lake Michigan to (at least) Water St. and Oakland from Edgewood to North Ave would be especially great streets to put elevated bike lanes in. Humboldt from Capitol to Water could be another one to add to that list as well. It feels like there is enough space on Oakland to keep all the parking, same with State if I remember correctly.

      I think the city did not plan very well when State Street became a two-way with no bike lane.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Fitting in the protected bike lanes in most of those areas you mentioned, be they raised lanes or buffered lanes with flexible bollards or raised medians means removing parking. I think it would be just barely possible to sell removing parking on Water Street and maybe Wisconsin Ave. downtown next to the large office towers, but removing on-street parking in front of the businesses on KK and other streets you suggest would be a much harder sell. We need to try one of these big ideas somewhere it will work right away. We also need to think of a location where, with enough grass roots push, we might just be able to sell it. Not an easy task. I think the corridor from KK and Maple to Water and Wells might be the easiest place to propose removing on-street parking, and even that would not be easy. That is why Bay Street is our first location for one of these. More capacity than needed on that stretch, much like the Hoan!

  8. Barry Stuart says:

    Like Bill Sell, I’d like to see a separated bike lane on the Hoan Bridge connecting Downtown directly to Bay View and via the Lake Express, Western Michigan. Not only would we get a fantastic view, but we’d get to bypass downtown traffic. I’d also like to see a trail connection to Bender Park from Grant Park, if Milwaukee County can get the easements, and a link to Racine’s Lakefront Trail or the MRK Trail in Racine County. This would do a lot to tie Milwaukee into a proposed national bike trail system.

  9. tim says:

    I’m with Bill _ bike the Hoan.

  10. Bill Sell says:

    If you’re tweeting on this you can use #Hoan to help us all connect.

  11. David Coles says:

    Having lived in NYC for the past couple of years, I can say that despite the incredible improvements to the cycling infrastructure, biking here is still a nightmare compared to Milwaukee. I rarely bike here, whereas in Milwaukee I biked almost everywhere I went. It is just too congested here and (this is a good problem) pedestrians have run amok.

    We are extremely lucky that (1) Mayor Bloomberg is a huge cycling supporter and has pushed the agenda, and (2) the city has so much money to work with — a budget that dwarfs Milwaukee’s to an almost incomprehensible degree. Infrastructure here in general is just in such better shape; you simply don’t see streets that are crumbling. And somehow, construction projects are completed far more rapidly.

    To the question posed: My big dream would be to see Copenhagen-style bike lanes built on a large scale (slightly elevated bike lanes that are clearly delineated from motorized traffic lanes). I have never felt safer on a bike than I did in Copenhagen.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Thanks for the interesting perspective David. Glad to hear from you again. If I knew you were in NYC, I would have tried to meet you when I was there.

  12. Dave Steele says:

    Last night as I drifted off to sleep, I had a dreams of my ideal Milwaukee. Bikes everywhere, cars driven by people who obey the rules, actually yield to pedestrians and follow the speed limits. Hardly any horn honking or thumping bass. Everyone going about their merry way on well maintained streets with few cracks and potholes. Hey, one can dream, right?

    As I awoke I quick wrote down my dream so I wouldn’t forget. There were two points jotted down on my notepad, barely legible since I wrote it half asleep: “Smooth streets” and “Drivers behaving themselves.”

    So my dream scenario is not a bike path network, on street lanes or a downtown bike station. It’s streets that I can ride down without having to dodge potentially lethal potholes and crevices, streets that are maintained, so they don’t threaten to damage my bicycle. It’s a driving culture that doesn’t treat bikes and pedestrians like targets or obstacles to overcome.

    I understand money is short and this is the fourth poorest big city in the US. So there are a lot of funding priorities. But we seem to have no problem funding highway projects outstate, widening two lane country highways into four lane roads, building brand new four lane separated highways connecting places like Platteville to Dubuque, while the streets of the state’s only major city are left to crumble. This makes no sense.

    Maybe we can make common cause with motorists and organize our own “road lobby” demanding that the city streets actually get the attention they deserve.

    While we’re at it we could demand that the existing infrastructure, like sewers, gets maintained and rebuilt before we invest in brand new infrastructure out in sprawl-land.

    Oh well, call me a dreamer.

  13. DedHed says:

    There are a lot of good things happening, unfortunately not riding downtown/Eastside/Bayview I don’t really notice them.
    I’d be happy if the County/City maintained some of what they do have. Maybe they could fill the potholes/ground the humps on some of the designated bike routes in the RH 6′ of pavement where you actually ride. Most of the Oak Leaf on road parkway sections are terrible. The section from Hoyt park to N/O Capitol is a good example as is Bradley Rd betw BD park and 91st. Some of the older off road sections are getting bad too.
    In reply to the comment on plowing the trails – I wouldn’t have a problem with that on higher use urban areas, but cannot see the expense on some of the far flung areas that will never see a bike in winter. The stretch near Good Hope where I live actually sees more XC skiers than potential bikes. Personally when they do actually plow the stretch I live on near Good Hope it really messes up my ski trail. The plowing throws up a big mess of frozen garbage that makes it impossible to cut a trail while the pavement is still an icey mess I wouldn’t safely ride on anyway.
    If they want to make it a true multi- user trail they would need to widen it considerably to allow a plowed paved trail and still leave room on the grass for the snow and a ski trail.

  14. sam j. says:

    My two cents from Copenhagen: Seperated bike paths + better sweeping + informational billboards at every new project.

    There are a lot of streets that really need seperated paths of some kind to feel safe. A good place to start would be Farwell/Prospect- Water- S. 1st- the beginning of KK plus Wells/Michigan from the lake- West Side. It seems like even just really well buffered bike lanes here would make a lot more people get out on their bikes wherre there’s already a lot of potential. I’m a seasoned rider, but I never felt comfortable riding along S. 1st, and never enjoyed the ride from the East Side to work at the Central Library because of having to ride with/next to traffic on State and Wells that was going 35/40 mph. The only one of those streets where I’ve ever actually see any auto congestion is Water, and there’s a lot of bikes there which could justify a transfer of road space. Once the paths are started, they should be expanded to places like Capitol, 27th, Oklahoma, etc, where traffic moves too fast to make reg bike lanes FEEL safe. Look at this road, fex: http://maps.google.dk/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=da&geocode=&q=roskildevej+glostrup&sll=55.657858,12.425237&sspn=0.012904,0.038581&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Roskildevej,+2600,+Glostrup&ll=55.660194,12.327518&spn=0.006149,0.01929&z=16&layer=c&cbll=55.660293,12.328638&panoid=rr0SYEiuWQwFa2mK_qlk4g&cbp=12,111.28,,0,3.8 and compare it with the bike lanes on Silver Spring. I regularly ride almost 30km. down this road to school comfortably, but would never feel comfortable on a reg bike lane on Silver Spring, even though they’re very similar.

    Of course, all these lanes need to be swept properly so that they’re rideable (unlike the bike lanes on Oakland near Shorewood which are filled with debris). It’s not sexy, but bike lanes covered i trash or glass deter people from commuting by bike, just like buses showing up late hurt MCTS ridership.

    The last thing is really seriously advertising what’s going on and why, even with a new painted bike lane. The city of Cph is really good at this. They put up little moveable billboards every time they make a new bike path, bus stop, whatever, with contact info and often the project’s price. It helps make the entire process much more transparent, somthing which Milwaukeeans take very seriously as everybody knows.

    The new bike plan you’ve made looks otherwise really great and, on most streets in MKE, I can see regular bike lanes working fine once we get people out on them.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Great idea with the movable billboards. I’m gonna try that next project. And I agree that the East Side (perhaps Farwell or Prospect) would be great places to install protected Copenhagen-style cycletracks.

  15. Bill Sell says:

    One big idea that should be in the Plan. Oklahoma Avenue is crying for bicycle relief. It is a “must use” road for many even for short trips. Once away from the freeway a rider has some nice choices, but the section from the lake to 6th street is cramped and drivers “own” both lanes. Sometimes just terrifying how close they will pass. I recommend pedaling in the middle of the right lane.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      I agree, but something has to go on Oakland in order to fit something else in. So what goes? My guess would be parking is the only thing anyone might be willing to sacrifice. Traffic is already pretty heavy. If we gave up a travel lane, it would get very congested and we would probably loose state aide when we repaved it.

  16. Chris K says:

    The BIG idea is of course the Hoan Bridge Bikeway – it just seems like that is THE catalytic project for cycling in MKE.

    Along with the Hoan, I believe a Delaware Ave would be a great Bike Blvd. In fact, where Deleware ends at the North could be the entrance to the Hoan. The Bike Blvd on Delaware would serve cyclists more than KK, it is residential, some commercial, a school on the route…

    I also agree with the idea of creating a spoke and hub of bike routes into Downtown. There could be 5 routes all converging downtown (from the North, South, West, Northwest, Southwest) – then additional routes to serve these routes.

    The little ideas would go along way as well. Plain old maintenance of the roads would sure help. How about better coordination of projects between the City and State? Each time I talk to you Dave, it sounds like something changed in the red tape with the State.

    Finally, as you pointed out Dave – these big ideas need a champion. We need the political will to get this done. Whenever I watch any documentaries/interviews on bike facilities in other parts of the world – it seemed like it came down to the Mayor of these towns pushing these changes through. We certainly haven’t had that other than the photo op on each Bike to Work week…

  17. Michael Callovi says:

    I’m going to rankle a few feathers this morning, by saying that there were almost no big ideas in all of this discussion. There were big projects. I think the biggest idea is still the one we started with: make getting places by bicycle safe, convenient and efficient. It’s the way we’re going about making that dream a reality that needs big ideas. We have dedicated professionals who are tasked with the sole function of seeing that bicycle and pedestrian issues and needs are not overlooked when projects are being planned. We have tireless advocates who attend public meetings and constantly remind their elected officials that these issues matter. And what have we gotten for our efforts? Bike lanes. Bike trails. We have gotten the newest evolution of a doctrine that is destined to fail in the long run: separate but equal. We have been given our own “bikes only” facilities. We may not have to give up our seats, but there’s only room for two of us on the bus. The key to seeing our big idea become a reality doesn’t lie in adding more lanes or building more trails. It lies in teaching people that true diversity means thinking and acting different are just as, if not more important than looking different. We’re not some subset of humanity that needs to be given its own roads so that we don’t interfere with the established order. We don’t need complete streets legislation that will end up giving us more lanes and trails where we only need someone to slow down and go around when it’s clear. We need to live near where we work and shop so that trips of less than one mile are even possible. So here’s my big idea: Let’s change the way we think and the way others think about us. Let’s change the way we act toward motorists so they have good reasons to change the way they act toward us. Let’s become the change we wish to see.

  18. Pingback: Big Ideas: The Hoan rises above them all | Over the Bars in Milwaukee

  19. Jim Tarantino says:

    Can we put a giant dome over Milwaukee so that cyclists dont have to deal with any more freak wind storms (or snow storms)?

  20. Dave says:

    My big idea is an alternative to the Hoan Bridge bike lane.

    I’ve heard that many years ago there was a dingy which would take passengers across the river from the Third Ward to Jones Island. This was when the Kaszube neighborhood was still on the island, and people would ferry over for a fish fry. My big idea is to recreate that ferry.

    The first step is to pave a nice bike lane from Lakeshore State Park, around the back of the Marcus Amphitheater, past the lighthouse at the mouth of the river, and along the river’s edge to the new park next to Riptide restaurant. Next to Rip Tide, we’d have a little dock for a pontoon boat. This boat would be operated from roughly 8 am to 8 pm, for about 8 months out of the year. The ferry would take bikers and pedestrians across the channel to Jones Island, about a 5 minute trip. From here, bikers could proceed down a dedicated bike lane alongside Carferry Drive, ultimately joining up with the South Shore bike trails. This connection would be the missing link in an otherwise uninterrupted string of lake front bike trails.

    Perhaps the owners of Riptide could be persuaded to staff this pontoon boat, if they were given license to sell concessions on it. Their restaurant could become a hub for bikers and hikers and dog walkers, as well as boaters.

    This also could open up the option of parking on Jones Island for festivals. People could park on the island and take the ferry to get to the Meier Festival Grounds, slightly lessening the parking and traffic pressure on the Third Ward.

    Wouldn’t it be great to bike along the lake all the way from Kenwood Boulevard to Grant Park, and to have a boat ride and a beer along the way?

  21. Aytan Luck says:

    I like the Ferry idea, more for the parking/traffic alleviation for the Festival Park then for myself. Like many cyclists, part of the reason I bike is frugality, so ferry cost would be a factor.
    Another connection to make in that area would be the Hank Aaron trail crossing the disused canal spur from the Harley museum to the Reed Street Yards (future site of Great Lakes Water Institute). Would a bridge there be cost prohibitive? It might be encouraging to have other ways into the valley on the east end besides 6th st.
    I should disclose my selfish motives as Truly Spoken might open its second brand at 219 S. 2nd (maybe called Well Spoken Cycles). On that note, we are seeking a fluent spanish speaker to help staff our forthcoming Walkers Point location.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Please give me a call or shoot me an email when you want to share more news about your new locations Aytan. I would love to do a story about it and the City sure needs bike stores in both those areas!

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