A diverse crowd packed Tuesday night’s meeting to voice support for a bikeway over the Hoan Bridge. After supporters quickly filled the Buelah Brinton Center’s 225 cafeteria chairs, the overflow crowd happily sat on the floor, and stood in aisles. When the room would hold no more, the overflow crowd watched from windows outside the meeting room.
A number of people pedaled in from as far away as Cedarburg for the 5pm meeting in Bay View’s Buelah Brinton Center. The bike rack full, and bicycles secured to every nearby tree, sign post and fence, cyclists resorted to locking their bikes together in piles. Other supporters drove in from the surrounding suburbs and as far away as Johnson Creek to voice their support for this generational opportunity to put a 2 mile long bicycle and pedestrian path over the landmark Hoan Bridge connecting I-794 and the Lake Freeway.
An overwhelming majority of the diverse crowd voiced their support for the path over the bridge. People cited the benefits for tourism, recreation as well as transportation. One woman from Brookfield said she used to be opposed to the idea of a path over the bridge because she thought it would be too steep or too windy, but after enjoying herself so much on UPAF’s Miller Lite Ride over the Hoan, she now supports the path enthusiastically. “It’s not hard at all,” she told the crowd. “It was easy,” she said with a huge grin.
Kevin Hardman, Executive Director of the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin, said the project to redeck of the Hoan offered a once in a lifetime opportunity to create the “Elroy-Sparta” of the southeast. Hardman was referencing the state’s iconic trail which was the nation’s first former railroad converted into a trail for bicycles and pedestrians. The Elroy-Sparta trail has a series of tunnels and attracts more than a 100,000 visitors who generate more than a million dollars in tourism in the state.
The meeting began with a brief introduction by a handful of area politicians who hosted the meeting. State Sen. Chris Larson, state Reps. Jon Richards and Chris Sinicki, county Sup. Pat Jursick and Milwaukee Alderman Tony Zeilinski all thanked the crowd for coming out and voiced their support for some manner of bikeway over the bridge.
Jeff Polenske, City Engineer for the City of Milwaukee Dept. of Public Works said a path over the Hoan Bridge would complement the City’s efforts to improve conditions for bicycling over the recent years. Earlier in the day four Milwaukee Aldermen issued a press release lending support for the bridge.
Alderman Robert J. Bauman said a bicycle and pedestrian lane over the two-mile stretch of the bridge, connecting downtown Milwaukee and the lakefront to Bay View, would spur economic activity and “provide another key city amenity for visitors and residents alike.”
“I believe the path will be a scenic vantage point that will provide access and draw more people to the lakefront, to downtown, to festivals, and to Bay View,” said Alderman Bauman, whose 4th District includes downtown, most of the lakefront, and the harbor area. “I also believe those people will be spending money here and adding a positive economic impact.”
A Hoan bicycle and pedestrian path would provide better connectivity to the Oak Leaf Trail and the Hank Aaron State Trail, said Alderman Tony Zielinski, whose 14th District includes Bay View.
“We have an excellent reputation as a top ‘bicycle friendly’ city, and thousands of residents use a bicycle as their primary mode of transportation,” said Alderman Zielinski. “The Hoan path just makes sense in terms of providing our residents, commuters, and visitors better accessibility and overall connectivity.”
Alderman Jim Witkowiak, whose 12th District includes the Walker’s Point neighborhood, said he considers a bicycle and pedestrian lane on the bridge “an investment.” “Bicycle tourism in our state is growing and generates hundreds of millions of dollars annually in economic activity,” he said. “I see this unique investment as part of the rebuilt bridge being a powerful attraction for bicycle tourists from across the region and beyond.”
Alderman Kovac, whose 3rd District includes the east side, most of Riverwest, and some of the near downtown, is an avid bicyclist. He said he is hopeful that the city’s bicycle enthusiasts and recreation supporters will make plans to attend tomorrow’s meeting. “It would certainly help bolster the idea that people want this project to be moving forward,” he said.
Officials from the Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation gave a brief overview of the project at the beginning of the meeting. Dwayne Johnson, the regional manager for WisDOT, said the agency was doing another more detailed study of a bikeway over the bridge, but the huge project to repair the bridge must be completed on a very tight schedule and within budget. He said the Hoan project team would have the bikeway study done by the middle of September.
After the crowd had a chance to speak, Sen. Larson and Reps. Richards and Sinicki told audience members they could continue to give input for the project by contacting their offices. People can also sign the online petition wich as more than 3,000 signatures already.
The dialogue at the meeting was very positive and constructive. After more than a decade of planning and studies, area bicyclists appeared to leave the meeting hopeful that they may actually see a path over the Hoan in their lifetimes. Milwaukee resident Peter Lee ended the testimony by describing Milwaukee County’s Oak Leaf Trail as a green tiara that circles the county. “A bike path on the Hoan would be the diamond in that tiara.”