Milwaukee Wants Protected Bike Lanes and Neighborhood Greenways in 2015

Could Milwaukee we see protected bike lanes in 2015, like this one on Elston Avenue in Chicago?

Last night about 20 Bike Fed members met to create an exciting new list of advocacy goals for the Milwaukee area that includes protected bike lanes, bicycle boulevards and better maintenance of bike lanes. There were some new faces in the crowd of about 20 regulars who showed up for last night’s Milwaukee Metro Members Meeting last night at Anodyne Coffee in Walkers Point.
Last night, after I gave a brief overview of new bike projects and plans for the area, we had a good discussion of which specific local advocacy goals we want to work towards this year. We worked from top down, beginning with where we would like to see the City of Milwaukee install protected bike lanes:

  • S 1st Street, Maple to Pittsburgh
  • Kilbourn Avenue, Water to Astor
  • Martin Luther King Drive, North to Knapp
  • Michigan Avenue, 6th to Lincoln Memorial Drive
  • Van Buren Street, Brady to Kilbourn

We discussed other streets around the city, but everyone agreed the road segments on this list are either overbuilt for current traffic volumes or have such low parking demand that on-street parking could be sacrificed to allow for the extra room needed for protected bike lanes. Protected bike lanes have been proven to be the best way to get more people riding, and they work in cities with snow, like in Chicago, where they get just as much snow as we do. According to the Chicago Bikeways Tracker, they have 21 miles of their 100 mile goal for protected lanes.
Below are two videos I made of protected bike lanes. The first is in Washington, D.C., where I ride through a variety of protected lanes, some two-way, some one-way, but all are bollard protected. You note that parking is outside the bollard protected buffer zone and the bikes rare next to the curb instead of parked cars next to the curb and bikes next to the traffic lane as with traditional bike lanes.

Click on this image to see a larger version. This is an example of the elements that might go into a bicycle boulevard.

The groups also picked a few streets for bicycle boulevards or neighborhood greenways. Bicycle boulevards are side streets in which slow through traffic is optimized by removing stop signs and stringing together a series of traffic calming devices to insure cars travel the speed limit and reduce cut-through traffic. Neighborhood greenways are not only great for bicycling, they end up being wonderful streets to live on because traffic and speeding is reduced. The traffic calming can also include beautification, like plants, and passive storm water management. Below is the list of streets the group has at the top of the list for neighborhood greenways.

  • Fratney, a group in Riverwest is already advocating for this
  • Washington Street, from 2nd to Chavez
  • The signed bike routes that parallel S. 27 Street (26th and 29th) from Pierce to Greenfield
  • S 37th Street, from Pierce to Greenfield
  • Cambridge, from Locust to Providence

A number of those streets, particularly Cambridge, already have the elements of a neighborhood greenway, they just need a few tweaks to make them work better for bicycling, like removing the stop signs for through traffic. Once you have all that traffic calming, you no longer need those stop signs, which should never have been installed in a misguided attempt to stop speeding and reduce cut-through traffic. All unwarranted stop signs do is encourage disrespect for stop signs.

Finally, the group is advocating that the city paint bike lanes on the remaining 20 miles of streets where they fit, and do a better job of maintaining the bike lane paint. The official policy recommendation is that the city of Milwaukee re-prioritize their painting program as follows:

  • Crosswalks get painted first, in the spring
  • Bike lanes get painted next, also in the spring
  • Remaining long line program is painted next
  • Bike lanes that wear out from traffic driving on them are maintained during the year along with center lines and fog lines

The group suggested the Bike Fed draft a letter to the Mayor, Commissioner of Public Works and City Bicycle and Pedestrian Task Force with these requests. The group felt that these efforts could also be part of the City’s effort to go from our current bronze level bicycle friendly community rating from the League of American Bicyclists and earn a gold rating.

Two representatives from the Southeast Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) attended the meeting and they suggested that we work with them and Kristin Bennett, the City of Milwaukee Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Manager, to do a more comprehensive review of Milwaukee’s 2010 bike plan’s recommendations for bikeways. They suggested such an effort would help them with the bicycle facility portion of their Vision 2050 planning process for the region. The group agreed with that suggestion and the Bike Fed offered to co-host a design charette.

Finally, I gave the group an overview update of all the bike projects for the area, from new maps to new trails. I will share that update with readers here in a blog post later this week, so stay tuned to this bike channel!

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 “Milwaukee Wants Protected Bike Lanes and Neighborhood Greenways in 2015

  1. I like the locations being discussed for the protected bike lanes with the exception of the 1st section. Wouldn’t that essentially duplicate what is on 2nd street to the west and the new trail just to the east?
    Also wouldn’t mind seeing both the Kilbourn and King Drive ideas extended. King all the way to Locust and Kilbourn all the way to 6th.
    If we don’t think the city will do more for King Drive maybe a good hard push for a Bike Blvd for either 2nd or 4th? Is there talk about working with the business owners along King Drive?

    • Oh yea….also I think it would be great to have protected bike lanes over the viaducts so there’s better north/south connectivity in the city west of downtown.

    • The parallel bicycle boulevards to Kind Drive is a good option Casey.

      I agree that S 1st is a bit redundant, but honestly that route is far superior to either the trail or S. 2nd as a commuter route between Bay View and Downtown. I think most people still ride S 1st rather than move over to 2nd or take the trail, because both are a block out of their way and you have to switch back to S 1st to get to Water and KK anyway. And there is room for a protected lane if we get rid of parking on one side. If you want to go down that roade, most of our streets are redundant except to get to the businesses and residences on them. If there is room for a protected bike lane there, I think we should put it in.

  2. I agree with Casey’s comment that protected bike lanes on S. 1st is redundant to the bike lanes on S. 2nd (especially the awesome new buffered lanes) and the new KK trail and bike lanes on So Water Street. And why stop the protected lanes on Kilbourn at Water – they should go to 6th Street – there is plenty of room. But why not ask for the City Bike Plan to be updated to add protected bike lanes. Right now the plan doesn’t really have much in it about these and it seems like it would be a good start to add a logical system of these into the plan than just throw some down on a few stretches of street.

    • I responded to the argument for S 1st in my reply to Casey, so see that please. As for extending the proposed Kilbourn protected lane at to 6th, that might be possible. I’m not as familiar with the traffic volumes vs capacity west of Water, but I can certainly mention that idea. It provides a connection to MATC. 6th is not a good street for cycling right now, but it could be improved in the future. Water north of Kilbourn is better, and could also be improved to the south.

  3. These sound like great improvements–I was also hoping to hear some kind of plan to improve biking across the Locust Street bridge over the Milwaukee River. Not sure what that would look like, but it’s a really difficult stretch to bike.

    • Bruce, that is a well-know barrier to biking. It was improved a bit with the last resurfacing, but still could use higher level of service for cycling given the importance of that as a bike connection. No easy answers on that one though given the current motor vehicle traffic volumes. Maybe Kristin Bennett has some ideas for a long-term fix.

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