Mayor Says We Should Be Arrested for Biking in Winter

Earlier this week on his during his regular “Hotline” radio show, Mayor Jeffrey Graham of Watertown, New York (population 27,000), said that he thinks people who ride bicycles in the winter should be arrested.

“I know I’m going to get in trouble for this: People who are on bicycles out on streets like this — they should be arrested,” I mean, that is a clear and present danger that is being created, and if you’re going to sit there and make the argument that texting while driving is reckless, doing that is reckless and it creates a danger for them and the motorists.”

Mayor Jeffrey Graham of Watertown, New York, told a local radio program that winter cyclists “should be arrested.” Photo: Watertown, New York

Despite making headlines around the county since, Mayor Graham has stood by his statement that people like me are reckless. Graham has even ignored local reporting after a Watertown man who has to ride bicycle to work because he suffers from seizures, was the victim of a hit-and-run. He even expanded his comments to include people in wheelchairs and anyone pushing a baby stroller who have to take to the streets because the sidewalks are not shoveled.

I have been thinking about this in light of my post yesterday about the State’s decision not to maintain the Hank Aaron State Trail in the winter. The upstate New York Mayor’s comments made me thankful that  I live in a more enlightened community. I guess we have a lot easier battle to fight than people in Watertown.

The other thing that stands out in the recording above is the complete lack of concern for the rights of people with disabilities. When I was the City of Milwaukee Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator, I got lots of calls during the winter from people with disabilities who couldn’t get to work because sidewalks or their bus stops were not shoveled. For those with disabilities who can drive, I heard complaints that they were forced into the streets after they parked because snow piles kept them from getting onto the sidewalk.

There are no police out there enforcing the rights of people with disabilities, let alone people who ride bicycles. And if there were, federal and state rules are pretty weak when it comes to clearing walkways of snow. Here is the federal guidance:

A public agency must maintain its walkways in an accessible condition, with only isolated or temporary interruptions in accessibility. 28 CFR §35.133. Part of this maintenance obligation includes reasonable snow removal efforts. (9-12-06)

Municipal rules tend to be more strict. The Milwaukee ordinance requires property owners to clear walkways of snow or ice within 24 hours after the snow and ice have stopped falling. Violators who are reported to DPW are issued a notice to clear the walk and will be assessed an initial inspection charge of $25 for the first notice, $45 for the second notice and $90 for subsequent violations per City Ordinance 116-8. If the sidewalks still are not clear the next day, a Sanitation crew will clear a path on the walk, and the charge will appear on the property tax bill.

Since the Hank Aaron State Trail functions as the sidewalk for Canal Street, the City of Milwaukee ordinance is pretty clear that the State is required to maintain it in the winter. Beyond that, because the City of Milwaukee agreed to own the bridges on Canal Street, the state and City have a formal Memorandum of Understanding about the Hank Aaron which defines who is required to do what. That MOU makes clear the State’s responsibility to clear the trail of snow and ice.

I requeste the trail be cleared from Selig Drive, where there is a curb ramp, to the intersection with Milwaukee Rd, just west of Palermos. The City of Milwaukee does a good job on the rest of the trail to the east, since it functions as a walkway and much of it abuts their property.

Given the City ordinance, and the MOU, it seems like the City of Milwaukee could take the stance that if someone made a formal complaint that the walkway along Canal Street was not being plowed, Sanitation workers would clear the path and charge the State for the work. People can make requests to get sidewalks or bus stops shoveled online here or by calling the City of Milwaukee Call Center at(414) 286-CITY (2489). If you want to use the Hank Aaron State Trail this winter, feel free to file a similar complaint.

Today I filled in a request to get the walkway along Canal Street plowed. I reported the problem at the intersection of W. Canal Street and Selig Drive, but because I am reporting a long section of walk that needs plowing, I added this description:

The Hank Aaron State Trail functions as a sidewalk along Canal Street, and the WDNR has not been plowing a path on it from the curb ramp at Selig Drive all the way to W. Milwaukee Road.

These complaints are logged, and I am sure someone will follow-up on it. I got an email response immediately after filing the service request and my case ID number is 101000667710. I will let you all know what I hear back. At least I don’t live in upstate NY and have to worry that I will be arrested for filing the complaint!

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.

7 thoughts on “Mayor Says We Should Be Arrested for Biking in Winter

  1. So didn’t someone lose their head once for saying “Let them eat cake”? Before someone brands me a terrorist let me say I’m not suggesting that for the mayor of Watertown, NY. Rather that he, and others with that attitude, think of what it’s like to “walk a mile in their shoes” for some of their fellow citizens. Maybe spending a day trying to get around in a wheel chair in winter would be a good idea. Also many people choose to bike in winter for economic reasons and for the health benefits. They get to work, support themselves and are less likely to burden the health care system. And every bike means one more parking space for the mayor. Maybe he needed some bogus issue to divert attention to something relevant. Maybe he was just having a bad day. Maybe I should walk a mile in his shoes. Just a reminder really that words can be very down heartening to those struggling with transportation challenges. And as mayor he is supposed to consider the needs of all the citizens.

  2. I think the case could be made that all off street bike paths in Milwaukee also function as sidewalks. Does this mean that you could file a complaint for an unplowed path, like the KK river trail, because it counts as a sidewalk? Or does it have to border a car-driven street to count as a sidewalk?

    • David, I agree you could make that case, but I think the way the ordinance is written, it is intended to cover walkways along streets. You raise an interesting point now that the City is getting into the trail business. It used to be only the State and the County who had trails. With the Beerline Trail and now the KK River Trail, the City of Milwaukee has a system that needs winter maintenance. I know the City Engineer is aware of this. I think it needs to be brought to the attention of the aldermen so they can get the funds included in the budget. Have you contacted Alderman Zelinski about it?

      • I think you would be better off trying to push the “bicycles = vehicles, vehicles = traffic; therefore bicycles = traffic” line of thinking.  Since the city clears streets and alleys for motorized traffic, they should logically clear cycle paths and sidewalks for non-motorized traffic.

  3. It has been said that in America anybody can be elected to political office.  Hizzoner Mayor Graham tends to prove that statement.

  4. In Madison, our off-street bike facilities (especially the major ones) are maintained reasonably well. The Capital City Trail section managed by the State is one exception. I’ve heard that a private citizen has even taken to plowing this in the past, but am not sure if this is true.

    Our bigger problem is with our on-street bike lane winter maintenance. These lanes are not well maintained and often become unsafe and unusable. I’m a confident rider and will take the lane as needed, but most of these lanes are on high-volume, high-speed roadways and taking the lane is not a good option.

    I’ve reached out to the city’s Streets Division, as well as the Common Council and Mayor’s Office and have come to understand that there is no standard or service-level expectation for the maintenance of these bike facilities.

    I’m meeting next week with Streets division to learn more about their current practices and to advocate for improvements and will be bringing my concerns to our Pedestrian, Bicycle & Motor Vehicle Commission and asking for their help as well. I’m confident that we have the competence and resources available to significantly improve things as long as there is a charge to do so.

    The next Pedestrian, Bicycle & Motor Vehicle Commission meeting is January 28th at 5:00 pm. If you’re concerned about the current state of on-street bike lane maintenance in Madison, consider providing public comment at the meeting or via email. The following link has the email addresses of the Commission members:

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