Anger to Advocacy = Success!

I learned a long time ago to stay “zen” while riding my bike. Riding a bike is an inherently fun, healthy and safe way to get around, but if you don’t maintain your cool, you run the risk of letting others ruin your ride. While I still take responsibility for my attitude, I think it is OK to get angry about the inequities in our auto-centric culture if you channel that anger into effective advocacy.

Ten little reasons why the Hank Aaron State Trail should be maintained in the winter. There are classes of little kids who use the trail most every day, all winter long. Here you can see they have to hold the railing and inch along the raised edge of the bridge because the path is iced over.

Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t flip my middle finger or curse after a close call with an inattentive driver, and I don’t rant when I have a ride ruined by poorly maintained bikeways. I’m human, and those things bother me just like anybody else, but I try to bottle my frustration to fuel my advocacy efforts to make a positive change. I try to channel my anger into advocacy.

Regular readers may remember a recent blog post I wrote in which I complained that I wouldn’t ride my bike to Milwaukee’s Winter Farmers Market because the best route from my house is on the Hank Aaron State Trail, which has not been plowed this year. Even though there are other on-street routes to the market at the Mitchell Park Domes, the lack of winter maintenance bugged me so much that I ended up coming home from the market all pissed off.

Despite almost daily, heavy, drifting snow, Milwaukee County Parks have kept the Oak Leaf Trail plowed through Doyne Park.

I recognized that I was depriving myself of locally grown produce in the heart of winter and the lack of plowing was really no different from any of the many other inequities we face given our unbalanced transportation system. I considered trying to be more zen about it, but sometimes we just have to make a stand or things will never change. So I sipped on my bottle of frustration while I made phone calls, sent email and met with the WDNR regional trail manager, the City of Milwaukee Engineer, the Commissioner of the Milwaukee Dept, of Public Works and even the head of Milwaukee DPW Bridge Maintenance because they maintain the bridges on Canal Street.

Truth be told, I’ve been talking to these folks about winter maintenance of the Hank Aaron State Trail for a couple of years. The trail functions as a sidewalk along Canal Street, so by city ordinance it should be cleared of snow and ice, just like any other walkway. Most of the Canal Street property owners along Canal do a pretty good job of clearing the trail, but large segments of the trail have no adjacent private property owners and so the task fell to the State since it is their trail. Unfortunately, the WDNR has never had a budget for winter maintenance, even though they signed a Memorandum of Understanding that they would plow it.

Not bare pavement, but thanks to the City of Milwaukee, you can ride the Hank Aaron State Trail again on a mountain bike or fatbike. It is a big improvement over last year.

What to do? I couldn’t help but point out that the City of Milwaukee maintains the bridges at 6th Street, 32nd Street and at the Menomonee Valley Passage and they have several properties on the trail. I suggested that they keep the plow blade down from 6th to Selig Drive rather than just do the segments on the bridges and by their properties. The City resisted given it is the State’s trail, The State’s responsibility, and there are real additional costs associated with the pro-bono work.

Eventually I filed a formal online service request to get the trail plowed from Milwaukee Road Selig Drive, just as I would do if a neighbor or a business refused to shovel their walk. The City has a policy that they give a warning, and if the property owner still does not clear the walk, City crews plow the walk and bill the property owner.  Because I filed the report, a crew was sent out to clear the trail, they even called me to figure out what kind of equipment they would need.

Following that, there was a meeting between key staff from the City of Milwaukee DPW and the WDNR Trail Manager, Melissa Cook. I called Melissa to see how the meeting went and she said it went wonderfully. In fact, the City has agreed to plow the segments of the trail  up to the Menomonee Valley Passage and even to Selig Drive after the packed down ice melts. While this is a temporary and partial solution, given the trail is now rideable, I am now pedaling to the Winter Farmers Market again!

Plenty of free parking at the Winter Farmers Market, though it could be shoveled a bit better.

To market to market to buy some fresh locally grown leeks, apples (carrots, potatoes and onions not pictured).

I would like to thank the City of Milwaukee Dept. of Public Works, the WDNR and Milwaukee County Parks. I talked to the Parks Department about improving winter maintenance of the Oak Leaf Trail. Even given our tough winter this year, I can testify that the County has done a much better job of plowing the sections of the Oak Leaf that are most heavily used. Three cheers and many thanks to all the government agencies involved.



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 “Anger to Advocacy = Success!

  1. Thanks for the all hard work Dave. Good to get some results, hopefully future generations of cyclists will enjoy all the infrastructure that has been built on a year round basis.

    • Thanks Peter, Bob and Tim,

      Although I am happy about this, my point of writing the blog post was to show how we can all try to channel our frustrations in a positive way to make progress in our own communities. I also wanted to point out that it takes time to make changes. In this case I spent at least two years on this.

      Having worked in government, I saw from the inside how long it takes to get some changes made. From the outside it might look like nobody cares and requests are falling on deaf ears. Your average citizen might not have the energy to keep at this. That is one reason why people should join the Bike Fed, because we can stick with those advocacy efforts.

      Anyway, I’m sincerely happy the City, County and State have gotten together and the result is our trails are more accessible in the winter, but there is more work to be done.

  2. cool thanks for the update, out of interest sake how much of the Oak is plowed, I’ve been NOT taking any of the trails assuming that they arent plowed, it no sounds like I can atleast take it part of the way. I usally catch the OAK at Heart park and ride it all the way 115th. Would really like to get back on the trails because my alternate route is on Greenfield whcih sometimes gets dicey especially in witner

    • Brian,

      I can confirm that you can ride the Oak Leaf through Doyne Park. I have heard from ‘Tosa friends that the trails have been plowed from Hoyt through Hart Parks too.

  3. Dave,

    Thank you so much for the work you do! I took the Hank Aaron for the first time today since before Christmas – what a treat. It’s so nice to be on the path instead of racing along with traffic.

    Now, is there a way to get the KK River Trail plowed too?


    • Hey David,

      The KK River Trail is a new City of Milwaukee Trail, like their Beerline Trail. For a long time, the City of Milwaukee did not have any trails, so they don’t have a policy on it yet, nor any funds in the budget. The City Engineer has mentioned to me that he would like to see Milwaukee’s new trails maintained in the winter, but that discussion has not happened yet. I will mention it to the City Engineer again to start the conversation.

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