What Does a Bridge in Milwaukee Mean for Bicycling in Wisconsin?

In April, Governor Scott Walker announced that the Hoan Bridge would be reconstructed beginning in 2013. The bridge reconstruction is estimated to cost between $275 and $350 million dollars, and when complete, is expected to last between 40 and 60 years.

For years the possible bicycle and pedestrian accommodations on the Hoan Bridge have been characterized as making a “Bayview to Downtown connection” for people who walk as well as for people who bike. Bayview is the wonderfully diverse Milwaukee neighborhood that sits just south of the Hoan. Though a bike path on the Hoan would certainly create a connection for this one neighborhood, I believe the opportunity we face is far, far greater.

Bridging the Gap

The Hoan Bridge is the last remaining major gap in a 163 mile Lake Michigan trail network that runs between Chicago to the south and Sheboygan County to the north. Furthermore, Door County is now working on a Bicycle Master Plan as they have seen the value of trails to their community.  We have the opportunity to develop a nearly seamless trail system along Lake Michigan’s western shore. The impact of a nearly continuous trail system between Chicago to Door County would be huge.  Wisconsin is already leaps and bounds ahead of Pure Michigan in terms of trails that connect the communities along the lake.

Many people already come to Wisconsin to ride bicycles on the car-free trails constructed in the communities along the shore of Lake Michigan. They visit to ride trails in Kenosha and Racine in the southern part of the state, on the Oak Leaf in Milwaukee, and up the Interurban Trail in Ozaukee and Sheboygan. There is even a book about riding the trails between Chicago and Milwaukee.

People ride these trails to be away from traffic. Currently they must ride through the heart of Milwaukee’s industrialized south side and busy central business district to get from the trails that end on the south side of the Hoan to the trails that begin again in Veteran’s Park on the north side of the bridge. Rather than symbolizing a barrier to visitors, the Hoan could become the crown jewel in the trail network along Lake Michigan.

Visit Wisconsin

In the same way people travel to ride our Elroy-Sparta Trail, visitors from other parts of Wisconsin, Chicago and around world will come to Milwaukee and take pictures from atop the Hoan and tell their friends through blog posts about our wonderful state. Imagine a young generation of entrepreneurs discovering our tightly integrated trail network and deciding that Milwaukee and Wisconsin is just the active place for them to start their businesses.

In July the Wisconsin Department of Transportation announced they had engaged a consultant to examine the feasibility of providing a bicycle and pedestrian connection over the Hoan Bridge. Since that time, the Bike Fed has been working to build support for this connection. In late September, I met with the Governor’s Office and the Office of the Secretary of the Dept. of Transportation to deliver more than 30 letters of support written by business and civic leaders from across the state. I also delivered a Bike Fed support letter co-signed by myself, Bike Fed co-chair Chris Kegel and over 40 business and civic leaders from the state’s largest companies and organizations.

These letters emphasize how important Wisconsin’s bicycle trail system is to our businesses and communities.  Since 1967 when then Gov. Warren Knowles approved the construction of the Elroy-Sparta Trail, the nation’s first rail trail, Wisconsin has been recognized as a leader in trails. Communities and businesses across the state benefit from those trails and enhance Wisconsin’s reputation as a good state for bicycling. The trails improve the quality of life for our residents, bring in more than $900 million in tourism revenue annually, and make it easier for businesses to attract and retain talented workers in an increasingly mobile market.

World class cities and states have world class bicycling.  Wisconsin’s huge bicycle industry already produces the best bicycles in the world and keeps more than 13,000 people employed. Over the last several decades, the communities along Lake Michigan have invested in scenic trails to attract visitors and improve the quality of life for their residents.  Slowly, the gaps between these trails have been filled.  The two most heavily used segments of trails in the Lake Michigan trail network are the Oak Leaf Trail to the south and the Oak Leaf Trail to the north of the Hoan Bridge.

The Hoan is certainly an important connection for commerce that moves tens of thousands of workers and hundreds of tons of freight each day.  The Interstate 94 bridge over the St. Croix River from Hudson to Minnesota already has a bicycle path with no negative effect on traffic. WisDOT is planning to allow bicycle and pedestrians on the I-94 bridge project in Dunn County. MNDOT is considering a bicycle path on the Dresbach Bridge from La Crosse to La Crescent.  From the Brooklyn Bridge, to the Golden Gate, and in between, there are other examples of providing safe accommodation for bicycles and pedestrians on landmark bridges across the country.

We are confident that the engineers at the Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation can design a safe and effective bicycle accommodation on this landmark bridge at a reasonable cost.  This accommodation will not impede the flow of motorized traffic, but will further enhance the trail system along Wisconsin’s beautiful Lake Michigan Trail Network.



7 thoughts on “What Does a Bridge in Milwaukee Mean for Bicycling in Wisconsin?

  1. The Bong Bridge (US2) across St Louis River connecting Duluth to Superior has a bike path. The bridge is similar to the Hoan Bridge in design, length, and height. The path was included when the bridge was built in the mid 1980’s. US 2 is a 4 lane road with a 55 mph speed limit on the bridge. The bridge has been open to traffic since 1986. If pedestrians and bicyclists can be safely accomandated on the Bong Bridge, the same can be done on the Hoan Bridge.

  2. Thanks for the feedback Greg. The Bong Bridge is another great example of a bridge that can safely accommodate people on bikes and people walking and running.

  3. I am an avid biker, but also a taxpayer, and a rational decision-maker. I expect the Fed would look into alternatives to get to and from Bayview on and off the Hoan Bridge, and weigh the costs of each alternative. I don’t think the bike lane should be on the roadway. Perhaps a suspended bike lane alongside or underneath should be considered. There is such a bridge on Commercial Drive in Milwaukee.

    • Morning Jim, thanks for the comments. If you look select “Hoan” from the categories section on the right hand side of the page of the blog you a handful of posts will be selected. Those posts discuss a study WisDOT had a consultant do about 10 years ago to analyze 21 alternative routes between Bay View and Downtown Milwaukee. That includes suspended or cantilevered options. The path on the bridge is BY FAR the least expensive option. The consultant and WisDOT both analyzed the traffic impacts of having the path on the bridge and their reports say that the speeds would only drop to 50 mph, from the present speeds of 53 mph at peak commute hours. That’s right, they would drop to the posted speed limit during rush hour.

      Also, Milwaukee’s Marsupial Bridge suspended from the Holton Street Viaduct, is often referred to as the most expensive bridge per foot ever built in Milwaukee. It seems counter-intuitive, but hanging a structure from another structure is almost always very expensive, even compared to building a new structure, and bridges are always expensive to start with.

      But we agree here, as every advocate for the path on the Hoan I have ever met is a taxpayer. And the staff at the Bike Fed have met with WisDOT and they have hired another consultant to take an even closer look at alternatives and costs. That consultant is looking into it now and we should have their report soon.

      But please take the time to read those other blog posts about the Hoan. We have looked at the cost, how much gas taxes and the motorists who drive on the Hoan cover, etc. And stay tuned here as we will certainly share the report when the consultant is done with it. We have met a number of times with the governor and his staff as well as the Secretary of Transportation and the staff at WisDOT. In those meetings we told them the Bike Fed and our members understand these are tough economic times and we are all in favor of a safe, but low-cost alternative. We are confident in their ability to design a safe, attractive and affordable route that fills in the last major gap in the great 163 mile trail system along Lake Michigan’s shoreline.

  4. I believe that building a bike path on the Hoan Bridge is a “big picture” decision. Linking the Oak Leaf Trail through the Hoan not only connects the East Side with Bay View and vice versa, but it allows relatively uninterrupted travel between Chicago and potentially Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Mackinac Island. If they build it, we will ride.

  5. I am a Milwaukee City resident living and working in the central business district. I frequently bicycle to the North, West (Hank Aaron), and South (to Grant Park and beyond). I also have a son and family that live in Bayview and frequently travel over the Hoan bridge to visit them and to travel to the airport.

    I enthusiastically support Alternative 1A (bike lanes on East shoulder)

    • It is cost effective
    • It is much more direct and quicker than the alternatives.
    • It is safer than traveling south on KK Street. Limited access highways with reasonable shoulder width are safer for bicyclists than streets with cross traffic, parked cars, and the like.
    • It is more scenic and should attract both residents and visitors to the city.
    • Except during a brief rush hour periods the bridge is lightly traveled.

    I do think it would be reasonable to post lower speed limits on the bridge, and to reduce the sense that the motorist is on a freeway. As it stands now, automobiles accelerate to 60 MPH or even higher on the bridge only to slow to 45 MPH or so on Lake Parkway (heading South). They are traveling too fast for safety on the bridge and too slow on Lake Parkway, given road conditions. A more uniform speed would make sense.

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