Sour grapes: I won’t bike to the farmers market anymore

No, this is not a bad joke about the weather. I may not have a green thumb, but even I know most farmers markets have been closed since the end of the fall harvest. I’m talking about the Milwaukee County Winter Farmers Market, which I biked to religiously every Saturday morning last year. The Milwaukee Winter Farmers Market had a surprising amount of fresh produce all winter last year when it was at the Tommy Thompson Center at State Fair Park. It was a real treat to shop for fresh, local greens, apples, potatoes, onions, herbs and proteins every week, well past the time when I am typically scraping the bottom of my personal root cellar.

The first week of December last year: Me and Oma riding through the gate from the Hank Aaron State Trail to the winter farmers market at the Tommy Thompson Center at State Fair Park.

We had a pretty mild early winter last year, and I was able to take the Hank Aaron State Trail to the market much of the winter. I particularly enjoyed that they opened the normally locked gate from the trail to the market. When the snow got too deep on the trail (the State does not maintain the Hank Aaron in the Winter), I grudgingly switched to a less pleasant road route, but kept going even though every trip it bugged me that the trail was not being maintained.

This year, they moved the winter market to the Domes at Mitchell Park. My friends and family all know I love Milwaukee’s famous Domes, so you would think I would be even more inclined to go this winter. The problem is, this summer the Sate built a bunch of sweet new trails and bridges in the Three Bridges State Park to connect the Hank Aaron State Trail with Mitchell Park. I love the new trails and they make an ideal route to get to the market … but they are not plowed!

If we had another mild early winter like last year, I’d still be shopping at the winter farmers market and enjoying the route, fresh local produce and new location at the Domes even more.

The City of Milwaukee does a really good job clearing the bridges on the Hank Aaron State Trail, because they agreed to take ownership of them in order to get the trail constructed, but that leave the rest of the trail, which is supposed to be maintained by the State , covered with snow, despite a signed memorandum of understanding that they would agree to clear maintain the trail.

This view of the Hank Aaron State Trail looks east from 32nd Street and is part of a bridge maintained by the City of Milwaukee Dept. of Public Works bridge maintenance crews. As you can see, they do a killer job keeping the trail clear.

I’m not blaming the Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resourses’ regional trail manager. She was not given any equipment, staff or budget to clear the trail of snow or ice. I also understand that the senior staff at the WDNR have been forced to make due with an ever shrinking budgets for years, so I don’t blame them either. Hey, I give them mad props for building the awesome trail and park in the first place.

Based on the last couple state elections, it appears the majority of my fellow voters in Wisconsin¬†chose to elect leaders to Madison with a mandate to spend pretty much all of our transportation dollars on bigger, wider highways, despite years of declining traffic counts. It seems those leaders feel their constituents don’t want even a relatively small amount of money spent on winter maintenance for trails with increasing user counts.

The snow is so deep on the unplowed sections of the Hank Aaron State Trail that my heavy commuter bike can stand up without the kickstand down.

In fact, last winter, the trail counter at the Menomonee Valley Passage recorded 6,659 users from December  4, 2012 though February 7, 2013, even though the trail was not being plowed. As I mentioned above, we had a mild early winer, but who knows how many people would have continued to use the trail if it was consistently cleared of snow?

Regular readers will remember I recently built a rear rack for my Schlick Northpaw Fatbike. With the agressive tread pattern on the Surly Nate tires I am currently rolling, I know I could get to the market via the trail if I really wanted to. Alternatively¬†I could take City of Milwaukee surface streets to the Domes, quite a few of which have bike lanes. The problem is every time I did it, it would really bug me that we built an even better route on great new trails through a fabulous new park connected by wonderful new bridges, and we don’t plow them.

Meanwhile, just a few feet away, the City of Milwaukee DPW keep trail at the end of the bridge by the Menomonee Valley Passage clear of snow, but they stop plowing where the State section of trail begins. You can hardly blame the City of Milwaukee for not plowing the rest of the State’s trail when their State Shared Revenue funds keep getting cut every year.

Yes, that is the definition of sour grapes. I am depriving myself of access to great locally grown food because I can’t just let it go. If there are any Zen Masters or Psychologists out there reading this, I’d be happy to get your advice about how to try to forget about the disappointing allocation of my tax dollars and enjoy the routes that are available to me. On the other hand, maybe part of the reason I have chosen a career as a bicycle advocate, is that stuff like that does bother me so much.

I guess for now, I’ll channel that disappointment and keep looking for some way to get the Hank Aaron trail plowed.



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.

12 thoughts on “Sour grapes: I won’t bike to the farmers market anymore

  1. When I worked over that way I biked the Hank every day year round, now I do a a couple of times per week. I usually see a couple of sets of bike tracks along the plowed section along Canal but typically not more than an extra set or two per day if I bike it two days consecutively and conditions are such that I can see my old tracks. It would be interesting to see how much usage of the trail would increase if it were plowed.

    Maybe an experiment is in order utilizing a trail camera and some volunteer shovelers? Figure out how many people utilize it now unshoveled and see how many more start using it when it is clear. It should be pretty easy to estimate a cost for keeping it clear. My guess is that the cost/person is going to be high enough that the money could be better spent on some other bike transport initiative in Milwaukee but can’t say for sure…

    • Hey Dan,

      Thanks for the comment. The problem with kinda plowing any transportation facility to see how many people use it is that a route has to be dependable for people to use it. It would be like if we only plowed a road once in a while. As soon as people knew there might be a chance a road was not passable, they would stop going there.

      If we want people to use the trails we build year round, we need to maintain them. Cities like Madison and Minneapolis that do maintain their bikeways in the winter, have lots of people using them.

      Another part of my point is that we keep spending more and more money on bigger highways, even though traffic counts have been falling since before the recession. So we clearly don’t actually care about saving money or making wise investments in transportation. People talk a lot now about running government more like a business. What business would look at years of declining sales and expand their factory?

      I agree with you that there are more demands for bikeways than we have money, but if we build new facilities, like we did with the HAST and the Three Bridges Park, I think maintaining those should be a top priority to maximize that investment.

  2. Of course, your refusal to go the Winter Farmers Market despite the fact that the lack of plowing has nothing to do with that market means there will be one less person going there, and if others followed your lead, would lead to a decline there which would mean maybe fewer farms frequent it, or it goes away all together.

    While I understand your advocacy for plowing the path, I don’t see any reason why it should prevent you from (*gasp*) using a car to go to the farmers market if that is important to you.

    • Hey Nick,

      The Market is not far enough away that I can’t bike there. In fact, as I mentioned in the blog, there are suitable on-road routes with bike lanes much of the way. I recognize this is my bad attitude about what I view as a gross misallocation of tax dollars unrelated to the good folks and farmers at the market, hence the “sour grapes” pun.

      I just know that when I ride there and go over the viaduct and can see the unplowed trail, it is going to bug me a lot. I end up going into the market in a crappy mood. This happened occasionally last year when I would get to the Tommy Thompson Center and the gate was locked.

      If I had a stronger mind, I would be able to continue to advocate to get the trail plowed and ride the bike lanes to the market until that happens.

      Perhaps I need professional help.

  3. I have been committed to riding my bike every day over the last two years, most of which is my commute from Whitefish Bay to the Medical College of Wisconsin. Last year I attempted to ride the Hank Aaron Trail but it became too difficult to ride with the winter snow and lack of plowing. This year I haven’t ventured over to the trail and choose to ride city streets as an alternative. I would love to ride the trails all the way to work but it seems like it will never happen. I have been very impressed, however, with the condition of the Oak Leaf this season, way to go City of Milwaukee Parks!

    • Hey Roger,

      That is a pretty good commute to keep up all winter! Is it about 9 miles? I agree, the Oak Leaf has been well maintained this winter. Not salted much, but that is OK as long as it gets plowed. As to the Hank Aaron, never say never! And just for clarification, the Oak Leaf is Milwaukee County Parks, not City of Milwaukee. Gotta give credit where it is due since they have been doing a much better job this year. It is much appreciated and the trails get more users because of it.

      • Thanks for the clarification Dave regarding MKE County Parks, they’ve been doing an awesome job. As for the mileage, it’s 14 miles door-to-door and it helps to build my base for spring training.

        • Roger, do you log your miles in the Bike Challenge on Endomondo? Sounds like you would be right up there with the top leaders.

  4. Thanks for fighting the good fight Dave and thanks to you, the City of Milwaukee has been much better with maintaining the Oak Leaf Trail. Many people who have stopped in our shop have been appriciating a much smoother and safer route to work this winter!

    As for the Hank Aaron Trail, I hope you keep fighting for better plowing and maintenance by the state. Maybe not this year- but the next budget year bicyclists may get heard and it will get better. The squeaky wheel eventually gets the grease I hope?

    As for showing how much it get used, could there be a day where we have a physical demonstration of bicyclists using it for a day with press and a new story to get the attention of our state leaders that the state needs to maintain this trail. A public protest of bicyclists physically showing our numbers who use those trails during the winter.

    Personally, I know I’m grateful for the work you’ve been doing and making cycling better in this city.

    • Thanks Carolyn! But as I reminded Roger in his last comment, Milwaukee County Parks does the winter snow removal on their Oak Leaf Trail, not the City of Milwaukee. I just like to make sure they get credit now that they are doing a much more dependable job.

      I am still working to try to get the Hank Aaron State trail plowed. Keep your fingers and toes crossed.

  5. Hey Dave, thank you for a great truth telling post. You do not have a “bad attitude”, the total lack of winter maintenance of such an extensive and useful length of infrastructure is absurd.

    The only “professional help” you need is that of a snow plow driver.

    Thank you for your hard work.

    • Ha, thanks Tim. As to the professional plow driver, one idea I have discussed with one of the Valley business owners was to find a large employer in the Menomonee Valley that has their own plow and ask them to adopt the trail. We already have Valley business “Stew Crews” doing stewardship work in warmer weather, like pulling weeds and picking up trash.

      I was also wondering if there is a retired person out there with a plow on a truck or ATV who might want to do the plowing if we raised the money for fuel.

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