Update on trails, maps and plowing

DPW bridge maintenance crews already have to clear snow on the Hank Aaron State Trail bridges at 6th, 32nd and the Menomonee Vally Passage, as those bridges are City owned.

This is an update on projects for those who couldn’t make it to the last Milwaukee area members meeting . Most of this information comes from the updates we get at  the Milwaukee County Trails Council and City of Milwaukee Bicycle and Pedestrian Task Force.  Both these meetings have some cross over, and are attended by Chris Squires, the SE Regional Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator from WisDOT,  Melissa Cook, the WDNR Regional trail manager, staff from SEWRPC, representatives from the Metro Mountain Bikers and representatives from the Rolling Dice Riders, the Milwaukee County member of the Association of Wisconsin Snowmobile Clubs. Chief City staff at the Task Force Meeting is Kristin Bennet, is the City of Milwaukee Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator and Ramsey Radakovich, the Deputy Regional Trail Manager for Milwaukee County.

Oak Leaf Trail Extension North: Phases 1-3 of this project are complete. Phase 4 is the final 3.1 mile link between where the trail currently ends in Estabrook park and dumps you out onto Wilson, just south of Hampton Avenue and the newest segment of trail that begins at Sydney Place.

Click the image for a larger view.

The staff from Milwaukee County Parks are still negotiating to purchase the right of way from the railroad. Real estate purchases using federal funds are always complicated and take quite a bit of time, and purchasing railroad ROW complicates things further. The project has been advertised, and they should be opening bids soon. If the bids come in on budget (not guaranteed), the Milwaukee County hopes to have a contract signed and start construction this year!

Given the project includes four bridges, I would think it will take at least a couple years to complete the trail, if not more. The good news is this project is moving forward and will fill in an extremely important missing link in the incredible network of trails along the Lake Michigan shore.

New Trails along the Milwaukee River: Some mountain bikers and hikers have asked who has been building new trails along the Milwaukee River near Estabrook Park. Those trails were bench cut in by members of the Friends of Estabrook Park (and some members of the Metro Mountain Bikers) to provide an alternative to the section that floods every year closer to the river. Note, these are hiking only trails, as mountain biking is technically forbidden along the Milwaukee Greenway.

Menomonee River Parkway Menomonee River Parkway Reconstruction: The Wisconsin Bike Fed is part of the consulting team on this project. Our role is small, but important as we review bicycle and pedestrian accommodations.  Anyone who has ridden on the Menomonee River Parkway knows it is in dire need of reconstruction. This project will include a separated multi-use path, better on-street accommodations for bicycles as well as rain gardens and bioswales to collect stormwater runoff and cleanse it of silt and pollution. There also will be new LED lighting, improved pedestrian crossings and some minor traffic calming to keep motor vehicle speeds down and help reduce cut-through traffic. The overall goal of the project is to restore a parkway feel to the road, oh, and to fix the pot holes! The project has a website with more information here,  but the update is that phase two of the project planning has started. This is the section from Burleigh to Church Street. Construction on Phase One should begin this spring.

The first phase, from Capitol to Burleigh, was designed last year and there were a number of public information sessions. As I said, design work is beginning on the second phase. The county has budgeted about $3.1 million for the first phase, which will cover about two miles of the parkway from Capitol Drive to Burleigh Street. A second phase would be funded in the 2015 budget, includes another 2.5 miles of parkway from Burleigh Street to Church Street in the Village, likely to cost about $3.8 million.

Construction on the project will be done in 2015, and it includes a new section of trail along with improved bicycle/pedestrian and storm water facilities on the parkway itself.

Beerline Trail Extension: The City has hired a consultant to begin acquisition of the abandoned railroad right of way needed to extend the Beerline Trail north from Keefe Avenue to Capitol Drive. The project will also include elements from The Artery. This has the potential to be one of the most unique trails in the state because the project has one numerous large financial awards to include art and interactive amenities.

Click to open a Google Map of the final phase of the Bay View to Downtown Connector WisDOT Preferred Alternative.

Bay View to Downtown Connector: Construction on this project is pretty much complete, but Kristin Bennett said she plans to add better way finding signs. This segment begins where the Kinnickinnic River Trail ends at East Washington Street and is planned to continue north along S. Water Street to Erie. The project includes a combination new pavement, removal of some abandoned railroad tracks, improved track crossings for those the active rail lines that remain with a side path to get people over the oblique crossings at a safe angle, new bike lanes, and anti-slip places on the Pittsburgh/Young Street bascule bridge over the river.

The photos below were taken last fall and appeared in a previous update about the project.

The side path along the east side of S Water begins just north of Washington Street. here you can see how the City designed the crossing of the oblique railroad track to be at a safer angle. I remember red lining these plans when I still worked for the City!

These riders are taking advantage of the new anti-slip plates on the metal grate lift bridge over the river, and ignoring the ironic view of the Hoan under construction in the background.

Way-finding Signs: Milwaukee County has purchased 200 new signs for the Oak Leaf Trail and hired Keith Holt to review the existing signs along the trail. Last year they replaced, realigned and installed 90 signs. They will finish that project with the rest of the signs this year. The County and City also have a grant to study all the bikeway signs in Milwaukee County and come up with a plan for a more consistent and better plan for facility and way-finding signs for all bikeways.

Milwaukee County Trails Map: Parks Department staff are working on the GIS and design for a new map of all trails in Milwaukee County.  The maps will be printed, distributed and sold by volunteers who put together the Oak Leaf Trail Discovery Tour. They are considering printing the maps on waterproof, tear-proof paper. The maps will be sold with a Oak Leaf Trail Discover Tour Passport this spring. They will include hiking trails, the Oak Leaf of course, and perhaps water trails and birding trails. The money raised by the sales will help purchase more trail counters.

City of Milwaukee Bike Map: Kristin Bennett, she told me she had someone working on updating the GIS for a new map and was 90% sure she would have funding to reprint the map in 2015, hopefully done in time for the Wheel & Sprocket Bike Expo in April.

State Bike Map: The state map is generally updated every five years. WisDOT is almost done with the GIS update and the UW Madison Cartography Lab is almost done with design. I have to confess, the Bike Fed is holding up the project at this point. We maintain the GIS of all the bike shops in the state, the mountain bike trail heads. At this point, we have to update both those files and send them to the state. Our staff have not prioritized the completion of the GIS updates. We are looking at hiring a consultant to do that unless there is a GIS savvy volunteer out there!

WisDOT if the Bike Fed would distribute the map and pay for printing this time. It seems as if the company that previously printed and sold the map to us is no longer interested in printing maps. While digital maps are probably making it harder for for-profit companies to print maps, as a non-profit, we can build the limited sale of maps into our budget. We are thinking of trying to offset the cost of printing by offering sponsorship on the map, and then sales would cover the cost of distribution.

Mountain Biking: The Metro Mountain Bikers are interested in revisiting the Memorandum of Understanding with Milwaukee County that defines their roll building and maintaining mountain bike trails in the County. We are talking about the possibility of legitimizing the social trails that connect the official trails at Hoyt Park with the other set of official trails at Harley Woods and Oak Hill. There has also been work defining a route on the north side of the Menomonee River just west of the Village of Wauwatosa. This new route would be used to encourage people to stop riding illegally along the railroad tracks to access the trails behind Hoyt Park Pool.

Winter Snow Plowing of Trails: Milwaukee County has been doing a better and more consistent job of plowing the more heavily used segments of the Oak Leaf Trail. Ramsey has also been doing an inventory of what does get plowed and trying to create a map. There is no rule of thumb for all trails, as different parks and park managers have different histories of winter maintenance. Once Ramsey has a map done, we will look at sharing it so people have a good expectation of what is usable in the winter and when.

The City of Milwaukee has for the first time included winter maintenance of the KK River and the Beerline Trails in their contract to have private contractors clear snow on city properties. This is a great new policy and both trails should be plowed within 24 hours of a major snowfall. City of Milwaukee Dept. of Public Works crews are also plowing the Hank Aaron State Trail from Freshwater Way to Selig Drive by Miller Park. They do this even though the Hank is a state trail, not a city trail, because the state will not maintain it. This section functions as a sidewalk along Canal Street, and the pedestrian connection to Freshwater Way. It is very nice of the City to do this given the state is really supposed to do it.

I noticed the New Berlin Rec Trail is being plowed this winter. I was not aware that it was plowed in previous years. I have been told that the Bugline Trail and the Lake Country Trail are not being plowed. If anyone has any different information, please let me know in the comment section.

Rock River Trail Initiative: Cue sheets and maps are almost done for the official bicycle route portion of the Rock River Trail. I hope to be able to announce this spring that all those are available online and maybe even in a printed version. About half of the 150 or so miles of the Wisconsin portion of the Rock River Trail are on bike paths, the rest are on low-volume roads or highways with wide shoulders. This trail initiative has been interesting to watch over the last few years. Much of the work is being done by volunteers, but with cooperation from WisDOT, the WDNR, the National Parks Service as well as local and county officials. I am very excited to try riding this trail this summer. I am considering doing it with a folding bike and folding kayak so I can paddle and pedal!

Manitowoc now grooming trails for fat bikes: Thanks to George Kapitz, owner of Broken Spoke Bike Studios, for letting us know that Manitowoc is now grooming fat bike trails at Silver Creek Park. There are an increasing number of trails being groomed specifically for fat bikes around the state. They typically requite 3.8 inch or wider tires.

The new groomer behind a sled.

Sorry for the very long blog post, but there is a lot going on. If you are working on something of interest in your part of the state, please let me know and I will try to share it.

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.

18 thoughts on “Update on trails, maps and plowing

  1. Great read, Dave.
    Concerning the Oak Leaf North side extension. For the sake of connectivity in the short term could they just pour a sidewalk / trail at the south end of Kletzsch Park from the waterfall to Green Bay & Mill Rd? This would link the River Parkway leg to the Brown Deer / Ozaukee leg. Mill Rd has a traffic signal at Green Bay and a bike lane the whole way between the two. The county already owns the property.
    Just something to bring up at the next meeting.

    • Thanks for the suggestion Bill. I will indeed bring that idea to the attention of the Parks Dept.

    • Hey Gary, we have the updated bike shop list, it just needs to be geocoded and errors corrected.

  2. Dave –

    Thanks for this excellent post. Is there any way to find out if additional Vilas County bike trails will be on the new State Bike Map? if WisDOT got GIS info from the county, it should include the Wilderness Lakes Trail in the Land O’ Lakes area and the Three Eagle Trail that connects Eagle River to Three Lakes in Oneida County. Also, there is now a bike trail extending north from Boulder Junction, and another one that connects Boulder Junction to Manitowish Waters.

    • Hey Jeff, I just got some GIS files from the Vilas County GIS department, but have not yet checked to see that they have all those trails. Can you share the shapefiles or a geodatabase for those trails? Even gpx or kml files would be helpful. I will try to get them included on the map.

      FYI, almost none of the Vilas County Trails are on Google Maps or the Rails to Trails Trail Link site.

      • I’ve been in touch with Cindy Burzinski, the head of county tourism, about what you have and what you could use. She may be able to help. I do not have access to any of those items. Pilch and Barnet may also be helpful because they have tons of Vilas Cty non motorized trail data for a JEM grant map project they’re working on with Vilas Cty. I asked Cindy about that too.

        • OK Jeff, I talked to Jill Mrotek about getting your trails on the map. I am forwarding the GIS data I got from Vilas County to the WisDOT GIS guy working on the map, but I don’t yet know if it has the Great Headwaters Trails or the Land O Lakes.

  3. To add to the list of winter plowing, the Ozaukee Interurban Trail is plowed from the county line through Port Washington. I think each individual community along the trail handles plowing, but they all do a pretty good job with it. Unfortunately, I don’t know that the section through Brown Deer is maintained in winter, though I haven’t personally checked on that either.

    • Thanks for that update Clark. Maybe I should put together a public Google Map on which people can put which trails are plowed in the winter. If everyone helped, we could create a pretty good map for the state without too much trouble.

      • The.city of Milwaukee has reached out to UWM to have their GIS students to create a maintenance map… Meeting with them next week about this.

  4. Speaking of plowing, I have noticed while biking that the designated bike lanes and the unofficial area that bikes use next to the lane of traffic are not often plowed (Humboldt, Holton, Prospect). This results in riding in slop, which can be dangerous, or riding in the lane and potentially backing up traffic. Why is this the case?

    • Yes, that is an unfortunate consequence of on-street parking. The plows are not able to keep that section of the road clear. The motor vehicle travel lane is plowed much more often, and cars help keep pavement clear by wearing down the snow. The only real solution is removing parking, or prohibiting parking more frequently. I doubt we have the political will for that. The slushy snow next to parked cars is one of the reasons I ride studded tires all winter.

  5. Hi Dave, Thanks again for all the great advocacy for biking. Can I throw my 2 cents in? 1. On the Oak Leaf Trail as it passes under the bridge at Layton, there is mud most of the summer. (easy to bypass though) 2. On the Oak Leaf trail just north of Layton is somewhat swampy and many times there is standing water.. 3. On the Oak Leaf Trail where it runs on the road (on South Root River Pkwy) between Cleveland and Lincoln there are so many holes and ruts.

  6. The New Berlin trail has been plowed for many years now so this is not the first year.

    How can we get the Hank Aaron trail plowed west of Meno river valley? Volunteers? Friends of the trail? I’d be willing to help. This trail is a life saver when it’s clear to get off of busy roads.

    • FoHAST is identifying their top 2015 priorities and improving safety and access are coming up high. Make sure you let Melissa Cook at the DNR know of your interest and we’ll add you to our committee.

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