Never get ticketed, towed or plowed in again in a snowpocalypse!

Passing good samaritans hop of their bikes to help push a car out of the snow.

A friend of mine (who is a pro-bike guy btw) recently wrote this open letter on Facebook in response the ticketing and towing during Milwaukee’s recent snow emergency:

Dear City of Milwaukee.
On this wonderful snowy Holiday, please refrain from ruining the days of hundreds of families’ by stealing their cars before they are due for work in the morning. I understand that you are desperate for revenue… but… for real…Its snow!

Others in the thread suggested someone do a study to prove the lost revenue from people missing work because their cars were towed outweighs any revenue the City might gain from tickets. While I sympathize with anyone who was ticketed or towed, I couldn’t help but bicycle advocacy bomb his thread with this response:

Someone already did that study. His name is Donald Shoup, and his book is an 800 page long tome called The High Cost of Free Parking. After his exhaustive study he found out cities drastically under charge for parking and it costs us all a bunch of money, increases our property taxes, causes congestion, etc. Parking is a sacred cow in most US cities, Milwaukee is no exception. We actually subsidize parking even more than most cities. If we spent our money on better transit, better bike facilities and planned for more dense development, it would be way easier to plow and easier for those who have to drive. Too many people drive even short trips (50% drive trips less than 1 mile), which makes it harder for those who must drive.

Cars aren’t bad, they’re just not ideal for urban travel. Even in winter, it is easier to ride a bike for 1-5 mile trips to work or go out in the city ( that covers more than half of all trips made). My family of three drivers has a car, but we don’t use it for those short trips.

Again, sorry to all who got ticketed, stuck or towed. Heck, I got off my bike and helped push a guy stuck in the snow this morning. Just trying to share a very different perspective that is often left unsaid in the US.

This guy never gets ticketed or towed; never has to shovel out his vehicle; never pays for parking; is warm as soon as he starts pedaling, and if he ever does get stuck in a snow bank, he just climbs over it and keeps going.

In addition to stories about people being ticketed so the snow plows can clear the snow, multi-car crashes on I94 in Racine made national news after 50 people were injured and one person was killed. News reports said law enforcement and emergency workers from 13 municipalities responded to help in the tragic crash. The Sheriff reported the crash was caused by people driving too fast for the slippery conditions.

We all know snow and ice are part of Wisconsin winters. We all want our streets plowed and salted as quickly as possible to help prevent crashes, but for those who live in neighborhoods with lots of multi-unit housing, street parking is the only place for their cars. Snow emergencies certainly do cause a lot of problems for those folks. Imagine how much easier it would be to park, drive and clear snow if everyone who lives five miles or less from their workplace would walk, bike or take transit?

I have neighbors who literally drive five blocks to work. I know another neighbors who drive three blocks to go out to dinner, and they drink and drive home. With a little preparation, it really is not much more difficult to ride your bike all winter long.

My winter cycling basics:

  • Windproof and breathable is the key. Many inexpensive jackets and wool pants fit the bill. No need for expensive high-tech fabrics.
  • Cheap rain pants block the wind and let you wear lighter pants so you don’t sweat all day once you get to work.
  • Barmitts “pogies” on the handlebars keep fingers warm even in sub-zero temps.
  • Cheap ski goggles and a scarf or turtle fur keep my eyes from tearing and face warm. I put a little tape over the nose of the goggles to cover the tip of my nose too.
  • Platform pedals and boots are warmer than the best winter cycling shoes and clipless pedals
  • My wife slips on a cool vintage snowmobile suit to ride the five blocks to her work. When it is really bad she skis to work!


I used to work for the City of Milwaukee Dept. of Public Works. I saw first hand where money was wasted, but I also saw where the City was giving tax payers a tremendous value and doing a great job. Clearing the streets of snow is one of the places the City, County and state get high marks in my book for quality of service and price paid. As long as I stick to the streets, riding my bike to work is typically easy, even after a “snowpocalypse.”  The video I shot above shows just how easy it is to ride most of my 4 mile commute in the snow. Just don’t get me started on the bike lanes or trails, though!


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.

8 thoughts on “Never get ticketed, towed or plowed in again in a snowpocalypse!

  1. I’ve always have felt it was completely selfish to leave your car out on arterial streets during a snow storm. Leaving your car out there leaves the street narrower after plowing making it more dangerous for the thousands of people that will have to use that section in the morning on their way to work.
    That one person might get a ticket or towed which will inconvenience them but they forget about the thousands they’re inconveniencing by being lazy. Come one really????
    As to your thought the cost of parking…about $6.66 per month in the city for roughly 140 sq feet(or 8cents per sq foot) of a public road has got to be the best deal for any real estate.

  2. Riding to work this morning, it was like a heatwave compared to yesterday. Tomorrow morning may be a different story. I like biking in the winter for the most part, but I would really love to have access to trails rather than roads. This is because all of the plowing in Milwaukee eliminates the curb lanes for riding, which puts us cyclists farther into unwelcoming traffic, which stresses drivers out. We have the Oak Leaf Trail in Milwaukee which is fantastic and plowed. We also have HAST which is a wonderful trail that rarely, if ever, gets plowed. I understand the reasons why, but wouldn’t it be nice just to experience it in the winter after a fresh plowing.

  3. Dave,

    I would really love to hear what you have to say about the bike paths/lanes. I sent a complaint e-mail into DPW about the KK river trail not being plowed or salted. I was given a personal phone call back explaining that, you must be confused, we actually don’t salt or plow any bike paths in Milwaukee ever. What? How/why does this happen?

    As a first time winter rider, and a first time winter rider in Milwaukee, I am absolutely befuddled by this. This is like pretending the paths don’t exist when there is snow on the ground? I don’t get it.

    PS LOVED the video.

    • Hi David,

      I suggest you call or email your alderman. The City Milwaukee does not have a plan to maintain their new trails in the winter, but they should. The Federal Highway Administration requires that facilities built with their funds be maintained all year, but many communities don’t maintain trails in the winter because there are no FHA “trail police” and everyone’s budget is tight.

      For instance even the State does not maintain the Hank Aaron State Trail.

      I have been working on this issue locally for more than a year but I have not made a lot of progress. The County does a pretty good job on most of the Oak Leaf where it is densely populated areas (Wauwatosa, East Side, Bay View), but when they plow the trail varies in snowstorm to snowstorm.

      I want the County to either agree to plow the trails by a certain day after it snows, or create a place online where people can check to see of a trail has been plowed. I want the City to begin to plow their growing trail system (KK River Trail and the Beerline Trail). And since the City maintains all the bridges on the Hank Aaron Trail, I would like them to plow all of the trail in between the bridges they clear from 6th Street Bridge to the bridge up to the Mitchell Park Dones. I have suggested either they state compensate them to keep the blade down or the Friends of the Hank Aaron State Trail.

      This has gotten to the point where people are offering to plow the trails. For instance Marty Weigle, an alderman in West Allis who owns Bennos on 74th and Greenfield and a bike guy, has offered to clear the western part of the trail from 94th to the Valley Passage if he had access to a truck with a plow.

      The long term answer is that the government agencies that build bicycle facilities should clear them of snow in the same way they maintain roads and highways in the winter. Short term, I’d take any solution that allows me to ride the trails.

      Thanks for reading, writing and riding.

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