Once Upon a Time…

…there was an Average Guy. Every weekday, Average Guy had to drive from Sprawlville to Place of Employment in downtown Typical City.  Average Guy drives alone in a great big Gas Guzzler, which is on loan from the Money Laundromat.  Average Guy has to go to Place of Employment so he can give 30% of his pay to the Fossil Barron on the corner and the Money Launderer for the privilege of driving beloved Gas Guzzler. Average Guy loves Gas Guzzler because it sings to him, talks to him, warms him, and lets him do other little things like talk to friends on his phone, eat breakfast, comb his hair and pick his teeth while it takes him to work. 

Cartoon by Andy Singer. Click on image to go to his site.

Every morning before Average Guy leaves for Place of Employment, he watches Attractive Woman on the local television news.  Attractive Woman tells him about all the other Gas Guzzlers and Stuff Haulers out on the roads.  Nice looking woman has a network of traffic cameras hooked up to a magical computer that can tell her how fast the other Gas Guzzlers are moving.  Sometimes Another Guy crashes a Gas Guzzler and Every Guy slows down to look at it, or a Giant Stuff Hauler tips over and blocks a road.  Other times there are so many gas guzzlers on the same road that they almost can’t move. During the winter, the roads can get clogged with snow, but not for long, because Every State and Typical City spend millions of dollars to have plows push the snow onto the sidewalks and shoulders to keep the roads open for gas guzzlers and useless stuff haulers.

LA traffic jam, Photoshopped for effect, but not far off the mark.

Attractive Woman reports about all that traffic with the help of Attractive Man who flies around in an Obscenely Expensive Whirligig to show people pictures of all gas guzzlers on the network. Average Guy finds this traffic information very helpful because there are so many different roads between Sprawlville and Typical City; it is hard to know which one to choose. Some of the roads are big and wide for traveling very far and driving very fast.  Other roads are big and wide but filled with Stuff Stores.  And those roads are all connected by little streets so Every Guy can drive a Gas Guzzler from garage to Employment Places and Stuff Stores with maximum convenience.

Even though it seems the whole world is designed to make it easy  for Average Guy to drive a Gas Guzzler, Average Guy is rarely happy when he gets to Place of Employment. It can’t be his fault; he has followed all the rules for happiness set down by the Sexy Emissaries of the Madison Avenue Cats in the Gas Guzzler commercials. Average Guy reasons it is all the Other Idiots who don’t know how to drive their Gas Guzzlers what are responsible for his frustration. It is also the fault of the Poor Pedestrians and Crazy Cyclists, who are always walking in the street instead of on the sidewalks where they belong.  And as a card carrying Tax Payer, Average Guy can blame both about the poor condition of the roads and the never-ending road construction.

Average Guy’s life goes on this way day after day, week after week, month after month until one morning when Average Guy turns the key and Gas Guzzler only whines, but won’t fire up.  Average Guy stares in disbelief and tries again and again until Gas Guzzler won’t even whine or click.  After a bout of yelling, crying, and deal making, Average Guy finally accepts that Gas Guzzler won’t start.  Average Guy needs to get to the Place of Employment, but how?

There used to be a Subsidized Transit System, but Average Guy voted to get rid of that waste of tax dollars a few years ago.  Average Guy looks around the Gas Guzzler’s room and notices his Old Dusty Bicycle in the corner. Desperate to get to work Average Guy actually considers using this toy to get to the Place of Employment. From behind the wheel of Gas Guzzler, he has seen Crazy Bicyclists going to work.  It seems like there are more of them out there blocking traffic every day. While he hates the idea of it, he has no choice today.

So Average Guy changes into some tight fitting black, purple and lime-green stretchy clothes, straps on his helmet and dusts off the bike map he got when he bought the bike and the Bicycle Stuff Store.  Looking at the map, Average Guy quickly recognizes the diverse network of roads, highlights his block in Sprawlville and then his Place of Employment in Typical City.  But lines that make up the road network are drawn with lots of different colored lines.  Looking at the map legend, Average Guy sees the colors of the lines rate the roads for bicycles.  Bicycles are not recommended on red lines.  The green lines are “bike routes” and the purple lines are “recreational trails.”

Average Guy thinks to himself this should be a piece of cake and goes back to planning his route.  The first thing he notices is that the route he usually takes in Gas Guzzler is all red lines. No matter, he will take one of the trails and finally get some return on his Tax Dollars. In a park behind his subdivision is a trail he rides a couple times each summer for Exercise. He normally loads Old Dusty in his Gas Guzzler and drives to the park, but according to the map it is only a few short red lines away from his house so he decides to chance riding there. 

That figured out, Average Guy looks at the map and using his finger, he traces the purple line for the trail in the direction of Typical City.  But before his finger gets very far, the purple line seems to end in the middle of nowhere.  That trail doesn’t really seem to go anywhere.  Frustrated, Average Guy decides to try the green roads.  The trouble is there just aren’t many green lines at all. It is impossible to put together a green and purple route that would get him to his Place of Employment. Dropping the map to his side, Average Guy looks out the garage door at the street in front of his house and gives up.  He walks back into the house, calls his Place of Employment and reports that he will not be able to make it to in today because his Gas Guzzler broke down and he has to get it fixed.

This story could take place in Milwaukee or most any other city in the United States. Even today with all the work we have done to add bike lanes and trails, when most people look out their front door, they don’t see any way to get to work other than drive. If you live in the City of Milwaukee for example, we have more than 400 miles of arterial streets but only 52 miles of disconnected streets with bike lanes, hardly a complete network.  Our trail system is growing, but has very limited connectivity.   Lack of a regional transit system combined with route cuts make taking the bus a difficult proposition for anyone outside Milwaukee County. With such an incomplete bikeway network and under funded transit system, it is really no wonder so few people ride bicycles and take transit. 

When it comes to bicycles we are making gains, slowly building more bicycle facilities, and the result has been more people riding.  Transit is a different story. The Milwaukee County Transit System does the best it can given the constant budget cuts, but without a regional approach and a new funding source, the long-term viability of transit in southeastern Wisconsin is certainly in jeopardy. And even though walking is part of every trip, they are often inaccessible in the winter and the streets are difficult to cross all year.  Is this really the system we want?  If it isn’t, how do we change it?

Be the change we want to see

Good Milwaukee readers, we who want change must rally together and tell the great story about the joys and benefits of getting around on foot, by bike and with transit.  Change is possible if we can make our voices heard. Change is happening in communities across the country.  Look at what New York City has done in a few short years. We can look to Austin, Boulder, Chicago, Louisville, Minneapolis, New York and many others for inspiration. These cities have saved money, improved their economies and improved the health of their citizens through small investments in active transportation. In a series of post on here on Over the Bars in Milwaukee, I would like to take a closer look at how these cities have managed to create real change.  By looking at the commonalities and differences I hope we take-away a few solid ideas and implement them here in Milwaukee and Southeastern Wisconsin. 

I need a title for the series, anybody have suggestions?


About daveschlabowske

Cyclechic advocate from Milwaukee
This entry was posted in Advocacy. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Once Upon a Time…

  1. Kim W says:

    Great post, looking forward to your series. For far too long the red lines prevented me from trying the commute from Brookfield to Miller Valley. I was bringing my bike to work *in the car* to ride around Tosa at lunch. And then one day I connected the dots. Well….most of the dots, the part through Elm Grove is my least favorite, no streetlights, inconsistent bike lanes, narrow roads. Funny how the wealthiest places are too full of the gas guzzlers to understand providing things like paths, bike lanes increase quality of life and in turn can increase home values.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Thanks for the comment. I really believe most people just don’t see any other options when they look out their garage door. Heck, I have trouble finding a pleasant bike route on the north side of Milwaukee. If I can’t think of a nice route, the average person who is new to biking for transportation probably has no idea what route to take. At some point the complete streets law will mean that most streets have “bicycle accommodations” which can mean wide outside lanes or even a striped shoulder. But most municipalities still resist calling them bike lanes and putting in the bike symbol. The only way to get those ‘bicycle accommodations” turned into actual bicycle lanes is if there is a local group of citizens who advocate for the bike symbol. There are many such informal and formal coallitions forming across the state now. Milwaukee (and the surrounding communities) could benefit by the same.

  2. pete_d says:

    Let’s face it, metro/regional mass transit is doomed under the new walker administration. Remember, he’s the guy who told people to go buy a cheap “affordable” used car to get to work.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      That may be so Pete, but it can’t hurt to organize. And I think a coalition could benefit from a more broad-based coalition than just bicycle interests. Pedestrian issues are certainly worth advocating for since they die at the highest rate of any road user. We can wait out this administration. And if Obama continues to push transit funding, who know what might happen in the next two years.

  3. d'Andre Willis says:

    Beautiful post, Dave, love the story and look forward to the series. The pathway connections are critical, aren’t they? I’ve been hearing from a few folks who come downtown from Shorewood and other points north that the simple missing link of the bike bridge over Capitol has made their commute just that much tougher….and that’s just a short hop broken link. The much longer gaps we have throughout the system are a big hurdle to get over.

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