Big Ideas: The Hoan rises above them all

It will come as no surprise that when I asked for big ideas for catalytic projects that could spark new ridership in Milwaukee, a number of people suggested a bike path over the Hoan Bridge.  I’m going to discuss that big idea in this post, and will discuss the other suggestions in a later post.

If you don’t know anything about the history of the proposed bike path over the Hoan Bridge, you can bring yourself up to date by looking over this excellent website devoted to the project. The abridged version of the story is that there was a federal earmark set aside to construct a bicycle and pedestrian path over the Hoan Bridge. The Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation hired a consultant to analyze alternative bicycle routes between Bay View and Downtown Milwaukee.  The consultant facilitated a long series of public meetings and did a very detailed engineering study to come up with a bunch of variations on several alternative routes.

The public reviewed those alternatives and loudly and clearly selected the path over the bridge over all the options.  Instead of going with public opinion, WisDOT choose a mostly on-street route that uses Bay Street, S. 1st., and S. Water St. WisDOT, but promised to reconsider a path on the bridge as part of the redecking project, which has been delayed each year since that promise.

Due to lack of public sponsor, that on-street Bay View to Downtown connector project sat idle for many years.  WisDOT recently asked the City of Milwaukee to implement that project.  As I explained in the original Big Idea post, the City of Milwaukee DPW staff is working on that now, and the plans are at about 90%.

Now that everyone is up to speed, is a bike path over the Daniel Hoan Memorial Bridge a big idea worth pursuing?  Would it be attractive enough for our design vehicle of a 60-year-old woman with a couple of shopping bags or a 13-year-old boy with a fishing rod?   Would it inspire people in other areas of Milwaukee to ask for innovative bicycle facilities in their areas?  I have to say the answer is yes to all of those questions.

The primary argument against a bike path over the Hoan is that it would require the elimination of one motor vehicle travel lane in the northbound direction to make room for a 10ft wide path and maintain a full breakdown lane.  Clearly if this was done the world would stop spinning and economic collapse would ensue in downtown Milwaukee.

Well, last time I checked the world is still spinning, and WisDOT has both a motor vehicle travel lane and the shoulder blocked off  in both directions on the Hoan right now while they do maintenance work on the deck.  Not only is the world still spinning, but take a look at this video of the traffic during morning peak (rush) hour and traffic was free-flowing with lots of gaps.

[wpvideo p5Q7R0FQ]

Now the ramp at Car Ferry Drive is closed, and if that were open, it would allow a lot more cars on and definitely increase traffic congestion.  But lets imagine twice as many cars in the above video.  Even with twice the volume, the level of service would be more than acceptable for the busiest time of day.

Big Idea #1: Hoan Bridge Bicycle and Pedestrian Path.

Champion: Bill Sell has been the citizen champion for quite some time.  As great a guy as Bill is, I don’t think he has enough connections to serve as the main champion.  And I think anyone with the connections will still need a lot more public support to move this big idea forward.  So we still need someone with some power to work on this, but that person will need strong public support.  Who is that person?  The local alderman?  A local business group? The local County supervisor?

What are the next steps?  A meeting?  A Social Media campaign?

What do you think?

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.

10 thoughts on “Big Ideas: The Hoan rises above them all

  1. Thanks for the kind words, Dave, but the Hoan already has thousands of champions. I will be posting some of that material in the next few days. In the world of bicyclists, anyone who rides is our champion. Let’s make this our story and stick to it.

    I would further enlarge on this point by suggesting that any one person is not enough. The Hoan is a “victim” of multiple jurisdictions – plenty of people who can say No, definitively, and plenty of politicians who have reasons not to cross other politicians. Let’s identify a City, a County and a State leader – preferably someone higher up in WisDOT. We had that before and we need to find those resources again.

    And a caution: I wonder how effective it will be to recruit a champion in a blog – if he or she is surprised the first statement out of his or her mouth will be, “well, um, maybe…”

    Let’s get a plan, first, and use that to recruit champion(S).

    • I still think we need someone or some group to act as a leader. Unless the thousands of people who support the path suddenly take to critical mass rides or mass demonstrations, we need a loud and articulate voice.

  2. I definitely support a bike lane over the Hoan Bridge, but if Dave’s looking for Big Ideas that support and encourage bike transportation riding by a 60 y.o. woman with 2 grocery bags….I respectfully offer that the Hoan’s not it. As someone who is closer to that “design vehicle” than a lot of folks, seeing as I’m already a woman transpo biker but not yet 60, I gotta say that the route I’d want to rely on in ten years (ok, that’s showing my age) between downtown and the south side would be an excellent bike path on or paralleling the existing city street grid (really glad to hear how far the City is on implementation of that). I think I’d still want to use the Hoan by then as an exercise ride or a commute on a gorgeous day, but not rely on it for my daily roundtrip. Reasons….
    1) Convenience: the beauty of the city grid (for bikers or drivers or bus riders) is that you can filter in from anywhere, to anywhere and stop anywhere you want along the way. It’s easy to imagine feeling as if getting to the entry and exit points of a Hoan bike lane would more out of the way than just starting where I am or stopping where I am going….for instance, from my office at Erie and the Pittsburgh Bridge, I’d rather just hop on a well-designed bike path on First Street and be able to do a few errands on the way to the south side in the evening than go north to Michigan to get on the Hoan and from there go back south. And in the morning, I’d pass multiple excellent coffee shops on KK and First (particularly in the future state view), but nothing of the kind on the bridge.
    2) Effort and perceived safety: the Hoan is a big hill to climb…would I really choose to climb up and over it twice a day ten years from now as a regular commute? With two grocery bags or with laptop, briefcase & lunch? Gosh, I already think about strategies for getting up the bluff on the east side at night, and I only have to do that in one half of the round trip. I think the Hoan’s height and grade would be an obstacle to me and if a street level path existed I’d choose it first. On the perceived safety side, the Hoan route seems more exposed to weather and much more separated from help if I needed it than is the street grid. Rather than have a flat on the Hoan at night and be an awfully long way from a bus stop, I’d probably just not use the route.

    We need the Hoan *plus* just reaching saturation on the smaller projects. Good bike lanes connecting all the parts of our City, including in and through downtown, and continued development of and connections among off-road paths like the Hank Aaron, the lakefront, the Beerline and others. Maybe in ten years when I’m fitting Dave’s definition of the design vehicle we’ll have all that *plus* a lane a on the Hoan.

    • d’Andre, if you have never ridden over the Hoan, you need to try it. Although it does look like a really big hill, the view is so grand that you forget about the very gradual grade you are climbing.

      That said, I agree, we should have both routes, both for those who want to skip the hill, but also for those who need to go places in between and to the west a bit.

      As soon as S 1st Street, S 2nd Street, the KK River Trail and the Bay View to Downtown Connector are done, we will have dramatically improved connections between Bay View and Downtown Milwaukee.

        • In years past the Santa Ride has gone over the bridge, but the Santas got busted one year and they have not done it since. There were also a couple legal rides over the bridge when the path was being considered.

          Right now, it remains illegal to ride it.

      • Let’s think this one through. Bicycles may not be allowed, but the recent death of a bicyclist in Lake Country area was on a narrow road in the country. Bikes are allowed on these roads for good reason, but the shoulders are narrow and I would surmise that the speed of those passing cars is much faster and closer than those on the Hoan. Rather than dogged repeating of a rule that permits us dangerous situations, we need to talk about the wide shoulder on the Hoan as an advantage in our campaign to bike there.

  3. I think this is a great idea. Though I had no idea that a bike lane was supposed to be there all along. I have ridden the bridge waaay back when there was a bridge walk. What a rush!

    I would definitely ride the path just for the sake of it! Plus the safety of the riders goes way up vs the street path across the river. I have ridden the street route many times and traffic congestion is far heavier on the streets and rider safety is a very big concern.

    I see no issue here with traffic either as long as there is a nice big concrete wall to protect the riders from motor vehicles.

    Also a concern would be bike riders playing speed racer on the downhill side of their ride. Dangerous speeds can be attained while on a bike, on that bridge. (Don’t ask me how I know that) While a minor issue indeed I think the bicycling community has to present a united and safety conscious front on this.

    I no longer live in Milwaukee but do come back “home” several times a year and do ride while I am home. The bridge path would definitely be a fantastic link to the south side and east side/lakefront trails! So, I sit back, waaay up here in the U.P. and wait for a leader or organization to appear that needs sound backing.

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