"Bike trails get short shrift in Milwaukee area"
Pulse, by John Fauber,
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel staff column
April 27, 1998*
It was a telling moment.
A group of government planners was sitting around earlier this month, debating the issue of whether a bike and pedestrian lane should be built over the Hoan Bridge.
The topic quickly focused on how many more cars might travel over the underused structure in 20 years, and whether it would be wise to create a permanent bike lane.
Virtually no time was spent discussing how many bicyclists, runners, walkers and in-line skaters might be using a bike lane in the years to come. No one had even looked into the issue.
Despite a surge of interest in outdoor recreational activities, bike trails and bike lanes in the Milwaukee area have been an afterthought.
Occasionally, a new trial segment will open, but for too many officials, trails aren't even on their radar screen, despite the fact that people flock to well-constructed trails.
Consider the most recent addition to the area's fledgling trail network - the 1.5-mile asphalt path installed late last year along the Menomonee River Parkway and behind Hart Park in Wauwatosa.
On weekends and early in the evening on weekdays, the path is teeming - parents with baby joggers, couples walking their dog, families on in-line skates, bikes and more bikes.
"It promotes the idea of going for a walk," said Kerri Weishoff, a Wauwatosa resident who regularly uses the path with her husband, Todd, their 5-month-old son, who rides in a baby jogger, and their 135-pound Akita, Makhura.
Weishoff said the old trail, which was much narrower and shorter, was cracked and potted.
She said her family uses the new trail nearly everyday.
The $842,000 project (80% federal funds, 10% county and 10% State Stewardship Fund), makes it possible to travel from N. 91st St. and the Menomonee River Parkway to about N. 72nd St. and Honey Creek Parkway without having to venture onto the road.
Someday, the trail will be expanded to become part of the proposed Henry Aaron Trail, which will run all the way through the Menomonee Valley to the lakefront.
"I see tons of people out here," said Martin Knippel, a Wauwatosa resident who recently took his three sons in-line skating on the trail. "I wish it was longer. It would be great to have something that goes all the way to the lakefront."
Yes, it would be great, biking off-road through Wauwatosa to the Menomonee Valley before hooking up to a Hoan Bridge bike lane. The Hoan Bridge lane would offer a panoramic view of the lakefront and downtown skyline and a link to the county's Oak Leaf Trail in Bay View as well as all points south to Grant Park.
The problem is, ideas like the Henry Aaron Trail and a Hoan bike lane are a long way from getting off the drawing board.
Some of it is understandable delay, just part of the planning process.
Some of it makes no sense.
County Executive Tom Ament says he opposes a Hoan Bridge bike lane, supposedly for safety and cost reasons. But those arguments ring hollow. There is a legitimate safety issue. Ask anyone who has biked over the bridge. And, so far, no one has asked Ament or county taxpayers for one cent.
... Sure, the Hoan Bridge may be a freeway in name, but in reality it is a highly over-engineered and vastly underused structure that bears as much resemblance to a freeway as Lake Champlain does to being a Great Lake.
In the meantime, the painstakingly slow planning process of the State Department of Transportation inches along.
**The earliest a Hoan Bridge bike lane could now be built, according to state planners, is the year 2000.
Probably the most intelligent comment made during the DOT's most recent planning meeting came from Dick Stenzel, a northwest side resident and member of the city's bicycle task force.
"Freeways have been dividing communities for 30 years," Stenzel said. "Maybe, for once, they can bring them together."
*Yes, some issues have been settled since John wrote this column. The Federal Highway Administration has accepted the traffic projections.
**Reparing the bridge has been a set back to all users.
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