If you live in Milwaukee and ride a bike, you have probably notice a lot of recently spray painted lines and symbols on the roads. There a skip dashes, little arrows and other odd symbols in white paint on streets all over the city.
I am very pleased to report that these markings denote the locations of 38.1 miles of new bike lanes and another 38 miles of shared lane pavement markings (often called “sharrows). The Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation recently approved a bike lane project to paint the new bikeways. City painting crews will be painting the lines in a systematic way as their long-line pavement marking truck moves around the City streets.
Milwaukee currently has 56 miles of bike lanes, and this project will fill in all the remaining streets on which bike lanes fit without changing any motor vehicle traffic or parking lanes. Essentially there are 38 miles of streets in Milwaukee with an extra ten feet of pavement not necessary for motor vehicle travel lanes (typically 11 ft) and parking (8 ft). That means the City can add two 5 ft bike lanes without affecting motorized traffic.
The shared lane pavement markings are a little different. These go in on streets that have more room than needed for parking and a motor vehicle travel lane, but not quite enough room for a bike lane. This is often the case with city bike routes. There might only be an extra 3 or 4 feet of space, not enough room to paint a bike lane, but still enough to make a street comfortable to ride an bike on. These are the roads that will get sharrows.
The last time the City of Milwaukee made a big splash like this was in 2005 when they painted 30 miles of bike lanes. Since they did that, they have been slowly adding new bike lanes as roads are repaved, but nothing that will have this noticeable of an impact. The percentage of people who rode bikes increased by 50% after the last big installation and the bicycle crash rate dropped 75%. I hope this new batch of bikeways will have a similar effect.
Milwaukee has about 1,400 miles of streets that allow people in motor vehicles to get efficiently anywhere they need to go. Of those, 450 miles or so are major streets (arterials and collectors) that have centerlines, bike lanes and other pavement markings. These are the streets that bike lanes go on. Low volume side streets are generally fine for bicycling and don’t have any sort of pavement markings.
After the new lanes and shared lanes are painted, about 35% of that 45o mile major street network will have accommodations for bicycles. That is still a long way from a complete, complete streets network, but it is a lot better than the 12% we have now!
I must emphasize that filling in the gaps in Milwaukee’s growing the bikeway network will take time. We have decades of autocentric planning to correct and that can’t be done overnight, but this latest bike lane project is a significant step in reclaiming our city streets for people.
Yesterday the City celebrated another big step towards making its streets more bicycle friendly. Aldermans Zielinski and Kovak joined City Engineer Jeff Polenske and about 25 cyclists to formally open the raised bike lane on Bay Street. The Bay Street raised bike lane is the first in what will hopefully be many miles of protected bike lanes to come in Milwaukee. While regular painted bike lanes are great, buffered, raised and bollard protected bike lanes are really the key to getting a lot more people riding because of the additional comfort and protection they offer.
All-in-all, it really looks like the City of Milwaukee is making consistent progress towards becoming a more bicycle friendly city. One of the advantages a densely populated City with a complete street network that takes advantage of walking, bicycling and transit is less congestion and more commerce. Single occupancy vehicles are great for some things, but they are a very inefficient and costly method of moving people in an urban area.