I have always been impatient by nature. Each week when I was a kid, I walked over the five and dime store with my allowance while my mom was grocery shopping. I would by some little toy like a balsa wood airplane, model car or bag of marbles. It frustrated my mother that I could never wait to get home to open my new toy. I always wanted to open it in the car on the way home.
In most every day things, I have learned a bit of patience with age. When it comes to bicycle advocacy, I confess I am still that little kid who can’t wait to get his hands on a new toy. When I see other places adding protected bike lanes, bike boulevards and other innovative projects, I get frustrated that we are not doing more in Wisconsin. When the Mayor of Chicago announces they are going to construct 25 miles of protected bike lanes a year for the next four years and he manages to get he first project done in a little over a month, I ask “Why can’t we do the same in La Crosse, Madison, Milwaukee or Bayfield?”
I think that in some ways my impatience makes me a better advocate because I am never satisfied with the status quo, but it is not something I am proud of. I am careful not to let my natural impatience alienate others when I am advocating for more bicycle friendly facilities. Sometimes it helps me to take a couple of steps back from whatever particular issue I am working and try to look at the big picture of where we are at and what we have already accomplished.
I’m still a new employee at the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin, so I don’t have my finger on the pulse of all the great things going on around the state. But if I look around my own little corner in Milwaukee, I must admit that we are making progress at a decent clip. In the last 12 months alone, Milwaukee has seen some pretty major infrastructure improvements for people riding bicycles.
In order to reaffirm my confidence that we are becoming more bicycle friendly, on Sunday I went for a ride with my friend Jason to look at the Milwaukee area bike projects that have been completed in the last year. First I rode over the Menomonee Valley Passage and the extension of the Hank Aaron State Trail. These projects officially opened just before winter last November, so 2011 is really their first full inaugural bicycle season. I commute to the office on the Hank Aaron most mornings, and I have definitely noticed an uptick in people using the trail since the opening of the extension and bridge over the river.
While taking photos, I ran into some friends who had pedaled in from the west the extension, but they were continuing on down the trail through the valley. I took an alternate route and used the new ramp at the Valley Passage too pop out onto Pierce Street and 37th Streets and headed east down quiet Pierce Street though the Silver City neighborhood and the near south side. Silver City was so named because back in the days when there were thousands railroad employees working in the Valley’ Milwaukee Road Shops, the Shops paid its workers in silver dollars. On pay-day the workers would walk up through the old Valley Passage and spend their silver dollars in all the saloons along National Avenue.
Click on any of the interpretive signs from along the Hank Aaron State Trail to enlarge them for easier viewing
I took Pierce east from the Silver City neighborhood to the Walkers Point area where I jumped onto S 2nd Street. During the recently completed reconstruction project, 2nd Street underwent a road diet to go from four motor vehicle travel lanes to two with bike lanes and wider pedestrian walkways. Smooth new pavement and freshly painted bike lanes have drawn many people on bikes off S 1st, one block to the east, even though it is a more direct route between Bay View and downtown.
From there I followed the Oak Leaf Trail signs directing me to the busy east side paths along the lakefront. I passed hundreds of people out enjoying the Oak Leaf Trail on my way to my next stop, the recently competed bicycle and pedestrian bridge for the Oak Leaf Trail over Capitol Drive. I even passed some people I knew.
From the east I headed west on North Avenue, which was reconstructed not to long ago, and bike lanes were added with the project. The city of Milwaukee does not have a formal complete streets policy yet, but they do have individual policies of adding bike lanes and improving pedestrian walkways wherever possible with every road project. The City has also been retrofitting bike lanes using federal grants. They have enough money to add bike lanes to every major street in the City where they fit without removing parking lanes or moving curbs. With about 53 miles of bike lanes now, Milwaukee should have well over 100 miles of bike lanes when that project is completed next year.
The last stop on my tour of new bike projects was the new underpass constructed at Bluemound Road and the Underwood Creek on the far west side of Milwaukee County. This project was done as part of the Bluemound Road reconstruction. It is a small part of the much larger project, but these little improvements make all the difference in the world when it comes to tempting more people to ride a bike instead of drive. The underpass connects the segment of Oak Leaf Trail on Underwood Creek Parkway with the Oak Leaf off-street trail leading to Greenfield Park and the New Berlin Rec Trail. Before this underpass was constructed, it was very difficult to cross Bluemound, especially during peak hour traffic.
I reviewed all these projects as a reminder that things are getting better all the time. While there remain many roads in Wisconsin that don’t have any bicycle accommodations, but we are slowly filling in the gaps between the existing bikeways. I don’t have a list of all the bike projects that have been constructed in all areas of the state over the last year, but I do know that Milwaukee is just one example of many cities, villages and towns that are actively working to become more bicycle friendly.