Bicycle Boulevards Evolve Into Greenways

Bicycle Boulevards have proven to be incredibly successful in Portland and other cities where they have been installed.  They offer a lot of advantages that bike lanes don’t.  In addition to providing a pleasant place to ride a bike, they slow motor vehicle traffic, making neighborhood streets more pleasant and safe for the residents.

This new video from the folks at Streetfilms takes a close look at the bicycle boulevard network in  Portland. It shows how they have evolved from bikeways into greenways that not only calm traffic, but treat storm water runoff and provide park-like corridors through urban neighborhoods.

Both Milwaukee and Madison include bicycle boulevards in their bicycle planning, but neither city has yet to implement one comparable to a Portland bicycle boulevard. Madison has three streets signed as bicycle boulevards, but many still have stop signs turned the wrong way, so they can’t really be put in the same class as the facilities described in the video above. Milwaukee has a number of streets with traffic calming every block, but has not yet labeled the streets bicycle boulevards, and those streets also still have the stop signs turned the wrong way.

Bicycle boulevards are inexpensive to construct, reduce crashes, improve the quality of life for the residents, and decrease the cost of speed enforcement; so why the slow implementation in Wisconsin?  I think it may be because the community buy-in necessary to approve traffic calming and diverters within bicycle boulevards is much more difficult to achieve compared to bike lanes.

It's time to turn the signs.

When a Dept. of Transportation stripes a bike lane on an arterial street, they don’t need to ask everyone their opinion because the bike lane typically has no impact on motor vehicle traffic operations, parking or access.  When you install traffic calming for the bike boulevard, it changes traffic operations on streets for every resident, which means you need to have neighborhood meetings and public approval for every block. That is time consuming to organize and, sadly, the residents of most cities in Wisconsin do not share Portland’s zeal for cycling. The residents of Madison are closest in their acceptance of bicycle facilities – perhaps that is why they are closest to having a true bicycle boulevard.

The major bicycle advocacy group in Portland, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, has a focused bicycle boulevard campaign. Perhaps once Madison’s Wilson Street Bicycle Boulevard has the stop signs turned to prioritize bike traffic over motorized traffic, our members there will sing the praises loud enough for the rest of the state to hear.


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.

4 thoughts on “Bicycle Boulevards Evolve Into Greenways

  1. One key difference between Portland Oregon and any municipality in Wisconsin is that Portland has strong regional planning that has prevented development that would make biking impractical. Meanwhile, just as Wisconsin’s relatively weak comprehensive planning law was about to require compliance with plans, the assembly goes and passes a bill weakening that requirement by allowing municipalities to “opt out” of thier plans. I would have expected an organization like the BFW to strongly support planning efforts, but the lobbying records suggest BFW took no position on the issue.

  2. Thanks for sharing this video, Dave. It’s inspiring to see all kinds of people riding through urban neighborhoods and to hear from articulate younger civic leaders who understand the benefits of reducing car traffic. Having participated in many productive public input processes at the level of blocks, BIDs or small neighborhoods over the years, I see potential for bike boulevards in Milwaukee. Are you able to share more information in future posts about the streets that have been identified as possible bike boulevards in previous planning processes? A good choice would be Cambridge Ave. north of Locust St. It already has traffic calming like speed bumps and mini-roundabouts, and it is used heavily by cyclists going to and/from UWM. I’d be willing to talk to my neighbors about the benefits of bike boulevards.

  3. I lived 17 years in Wisconsin (northern Wisconsin) and currently find myself living in Portland. One of the main reasons I find myself living there is the bike infrastructure – and a HUGE part of that are the bike boulevards. I highly encourage neighborhoods in Wisconsin (and everywhere else) to implement bike boulevards to make the cities more livable and enjoyable, and residents LOVE them here.

    I say this because I know how important it is for cities in the midwest to attract younger residents. The ‘brain drain’ that occurs when younger people leave in search of ‘greener pastures’ is a problem – and I will admit I am a part of that problem, saying otherwise would make me a hypocrite. I love what is happening on the coasts, but would love it even more if cities across the country started adopting bike boulevards within their designs. Maybe, just maybe, I would come back if that were the case……… (and how many other people would move to Wisconsin if that were the case?)

    The world is changing quickly – plan for the future now.

    • While we hate to lose you to Portlandia, I appreciate the comment Kirk. The third coast certainly is a bit slow to change. We had it easy for a long time when manufacturing and agriculture jobs were plentiful. Those ships have sailed and we need to embrace the new economy, which requires attracting and retaining a young, educated workforce. It is only part of the equation, but but bicycling is a simple and inexpensive way to do that. The Bike Fed has been building alliances with many business leaders in Wisconsin, and whether they are into bikes or not, they all seem to get that. Now we need to spread that message to the general population and our political leaders across the state.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *