WisDOT Hoan Bike Path Study Identifies 5 Options

Today the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) released a report that identifies five workable options to add a bicycle and pedestrian path on the I-794 Hoan Bridge on Milwaukee’s lakefront.  The Federal Highway Administration directed WisDOT to do the study because since 2001 federal policy has required bicycle accommodations on projects that use federal funds unless there is an absence of need or the cost is excessive, which is typically defined as exceeding 20% of the total project. In this case, the estimates place the cost of rehabilitating the Hoan Bridge between $275 million and $350 million.

Click here to download and read a PDF (6.4mb) of the 120 page draft study done  by Graef Engineering, a private firm.

WisDOT is currently accepting public comment on the report and will present its findings atpublic hearing on the study and the project:

  • Date: Nov. 14 from 5-7 p.m.
  • Location: DOT’s downtown Milwaukee office, 1001 West St. Paul Avenue. 


“It is very exciting to finally get the study, and we look forward to working with the staff at the WisDOT and the Governor’s office to try to capitalize on a once in a generation opportunity to fill this gap in what is probably the most valuable trail system in Wisconsin, ” Kevin Hardman, Executive Director for the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin.  ”The 160 mile network of trails from Chicago to Sheboygan along the Wisconsin coast of Lake Michigan is a tremendous asset for our state.  The Bike Fed is confident that the engineers at our Department of Transportation and our political leaders recognize the value in improving that trail system and will balance the costs with the benefits in a responsible manner.”

The Hoan Bridge is located in the 19th Assembly District, which is represented by Rep. Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee).  Today Rep. Richards released the following statement: ”As a longtime supporter of adding a bike lane to the Hoan Bridge, I am encouraged that engineers have identified five feasible options for safely accommodating bicyclists and pedestrians on the bridge or alongside it.  Transportation officials are accepting public input right now.  Supporters need to submit comments soon so their view can be considered by the decision makers at DOT.”

“In the coming weeks I will continue to work with the bicycling community, other area leaders, business leaders and others to sustain the momentum we’ve built behind this project. Biking over the Hoan in a dedicated lane with a barrier would clearly be more scenic, more safe and more direct than the current route.  By working together with DOT, I remain hopeful we can finally make our longtime goal of biking over the Hoan a reality.”

Public comments should be directed to DOT should be directed to:
Carolynn Gellings, P.E. Project Manager
Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT)
Southeast Region
P.O. Box 798
Waukesha, WI 53187-0798

Many people are concerned about the Level of Service issue mentioned in the study. I’m not a traffic engineer, but I did videotape morning rush hour to see what it looks like with a lane of traffic closed AND the break down lane closed, a worse situation than the proposed design of the path. What is life like for commuters who have to drive over the Hoan every day with the current maintenance work on the Hoan not only has closed down a travel lane, but the shoulder as well?  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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

9 thoughts on “WisDOT Hoan Bike Path Study Identifies 5 Options

  1. Dave- I’m curious what your take on this is…I read the executive summary and plan on drilling down through the actual report over the next couple of days. My initial response is not one of encouragement, unfortunately. With the non-lane-removal options seemingly unrealistic given their cost in the current political/economic climate, and the big “red flag” warnings on traffic volume…I don’t see a clear winning solution, especially one that will convince our Governor to give the final OK.

    Something seems askew with the traffic prediction, especially given your (albeit non-scientific) research on the matter.

    I’m ready to write to Carolynn but my sense is that we need to have some pretty good arguments against the big “red flags” in the report.

    Thanks for your work!!


    • Martin, the Bike Fed is looking into the level of service issue. I’m not a traffic engineer, but I do have three videos taken of rush hour traffic with not only a travel lane closed, but the break down lane closed as well, and the cars are all traveling at 50mph or faster with plenty of gaps between the platoons. If that is what LOS F looks like, I think we can live with it. Take a look at the videos here and tell me if you think this looks like a traffic problem: http://www.bfw.org/2011/07/20/put-a-bike-path-on-the-hoan-and-the-world-wont-stop-turning/

      An earlier WisDOT LOS analysis said that the Hoan Bridge has the highest level of service of any freeway in SE Wisconsin during rush hour.

  2. In the words of Sheriff Clarke, this is “dumbest thing I ever heard”. I ride my bike all the time, but this is just nutty. Too all of the proponents of the bike lane, I suggest you take a motorcycle ride over it on a windy day & get back to me.

    It would be 100x cheaper to have a dedicated shuttle van ferrying bikers/pedestrians across the bridge & back. What a waste of $99k of taxpayer money for the study.

    • Tim, thousands of local supporters of the route over the bridge have ridden it during the Miller Lite Ride for the Arts. I have ridden over the Hoan six times. My teenage daughter has ridden it twice. I have photos of her riding without her hands on the handlebars because it was so easy. On a bicycle, it is an easy climb and not much more windy than surface streets. There is a big difference between riding over the bridge at 12-20mph and 50 mph. The I 94 bridge from Hudson, over the St. Croix River to Minnesota is even higher and it has had a bike and pedestrian path on it for years. The Brooklyn Bridge to the Golden Gate, there are many, many other examples of highway bridges that have bike paths.

    • Tim, I understand what wind does to a car, and a motorcycle. But it does not do to bicycles. If you are traveling 50 mph into a 20 mph head wind your car or motorcycle feels like it is moving 70 mph relative to the air. That speed and higher may, of course, cause the powered vehicle to shake.

      With a bicycle it’s all different. A strong headwind slows down the bike or may even stop it, but it won’t be shaking like a powered vehicle with a fueled engine to push against a wind. And if the wind is too strong, the bicyclist still has an option: turn around and go back.

      Wind studies on the bridge show slightly higher winds at the crest of the bridge, but strong wind days are not that common. More at http://www.bikethehoan.com/doc_weather.htm

      happy riding on the path you choose

    • Tim,
      I have lived in Bayview since the late 90′s and motorcycles have been my profession for a big part of that time. I have ridden over the bridge daily on various types of motos in weather that would make most people seek shelter in their basement. Wind is not an issue, passing traffic is not an issue. I have had the opportunity to walk on the bridge in various weather conditions in all seasons of the year…I was not blown off the side. If you are going to make an arguement have a valid point it would not cost 100x less to have a shuttle. A bike lane on the bridge would be a great addition to MKE’s tourism draw and it would be just plain fun, unfortunately we have to fight this battle at time with historically low budgets.

  3. Dave, I have not had time to read the report but was curious if the long term maintenance costs were included in the analysis. It would seem maintaining the ped/bike area would be less expensive vs. the car lane. Do you know if ped/bike lane keeps maintenance costs down in the long run? Is that addressed in the study?


  4. To those who are speaking of the vast difference of riding a motorcycle over the bridge vs. riding a bicycle over it. In terms of speed, riding a motorcycle on the bridge is much more dangerous than a person riding a bicycle, because a bicycle is traveling a a much slower pace.

    I might get a lot of flack fro this, but I really wish people in Milwaukee would embrace change more readily.

    • Ah yes, change, is difficult. I have some ideas about change and the Milwaukee psyche that I might develop in more depth in a future post, but briefly, I think because it was less than a generation ago that Milwaukee was an economic powerhouse built on heavy manufacturing jobs that paid well, but did not require higher education. We are now facing a complete reversal of that situation, and it is difficult for many here to accept. I love all those great things about the Milwaukee I grew up with and miss many of the things we used to have, but I recognize that we must change to succeed.

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