The current maintenance work that has one northbound and two southbound lanes shut down on the Hoan Bridge is just a band-aid to keep it open until it is re-decked in 2013. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently reported that the “Hoan Bridge is poised for a 21st century makeover.” Gov. Walker announced that the three-year project to reconstruct the bridge will begin in 2013. The project is estimate to cost “taxpayers” upwards of $350 million, along with the $7 million maintenance repairs going on right now, and is intended to keep the bridge upright for the next 40-50 years.
If we are going to get a bicycle and pedestrian path over that bridge in our lifetimes, we will have to do it with this re-decking project, and the preliminary engineering for that is going on as you read this. Responding to public pressure, the Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation recently agreed to “study” the feasibility of a path on the bridge. Perhaps their institutional memory has been shortened with the recent spate of retirees, but in 2002 WisDOT payed a consulting firm $84,097 to come up with the Downtown to Bayview Bicycle Route Plan to do just that. The result of that study was not only is it feasible to put a path on the bridge, it can be done easily and at little cost.
WisDOT’s consultant, URS, recommended the multi-use path be put on the east side of the bridge in the northbound shoulder. There design shows a concrete parapet wall between the motor vehicle lanes and the path and either a higher railing or a fence on the outside wall. You can see that design below.
The primary objection to this design at the time was that all the lanes would be needed when the Marquette interchange reconstruction diverted traffic to the Hoan. Well, the Marquette is done and won’t need to be redone for another 40 years. The only remaining objection to the project is that traffic volumes warrant all those lanes. In 2002, when the URS study was published the objectors suggested a suggested a doomsday scenario in which future traffic volumes create bumper to bumper traffic jams if we remove a motor vehicle lane.
Well, it is not ten years later, welcome to doomsday. The current maintenance work on the Hoan not only has closed down a travel lane, but the shoulder as well. Last time I checked, the world was still spinning on its axis, but what is life like for commuters who have to drive over the Hoan every day? Are they stuck in Los Angeles-like traffic jams? I decided to check and made videos of peak hour traffic (between 7 am and 8 am) on three different days from three different locations. Guess what? Not only are cars not stuck in traffic jams like they are coming into downtown from the north, and west, traffic is actually free flowing and moving at 50 mph with plenty of gaps.
The video above was shot during morning rush hour from the breakdown lane when it was closed for repair earlier this summer. You can see the traffic is speeding along and there are plenty of gaps.
The video above shows morning peak hour traffic with one northbound travel lane closed and the breakdown lane closed, a worse situation than proposed if the path is built. You can still see free-flowing traffic and lots of gaps.
The video above was shot just before 8am from the 34th floor of the US Bank building. While the bridge is busy, it is hardly jammed with traffic. Cars are moving at 50mph with plenty of gaps even with two full lanes closed and the traffic forced into the shoulder and regular outside travel lane.
Thanks to the lane closures caused by ongoing maintenance work on the Hoan, we have been given a glimpse of he worst case traffic scenario should a bike path remove one lane of traffic for motor vehicles. The facts are that the Lake Parkway feeds the Hoan with two lanes from the south and the three lane Hoan goes down to two lanes to feed I794 west. Neither traffic volumes nor roadway geometry warrant three lanes on the bridge.
So what’s stopping us now?