Dave Reid

Enough with the excuses already, add the bike lane to the Hoan Bridge

By - Sep 1st, 2011 01:56 pm
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Riding Over the Hoan Looks Tough - Photo by Brian Jacobson, courtesy of ThirdCoast Digest

Riding Over the Hoan Looks Tough – Photo by Brian Jacobson, courtesy of ThirdCoast Digest

Should the Hoan Bridge have a bike and pedestrian path or not?  According to comment section of the Journal Sentinel it appears that there are numerous ‘reasons’ why a bike lane should not be built on the Hoan Bridge, but are they really valid?

  • It will be too windy, bicyclists will be blown off the bridge.
  • The climb is too difficult for most bicyclists.
  • It will be too dangerous.
  • It will make automobile traffic congestion worse.
  • It is illegal to have a bike lane on an Interstate.
  • Nobody will use it during the winter.
  • It will cost too much.

Certainly, wind impacts bicyclists ability to ride, but this is not a problem unique to the Hoan Bridge in Milwaukee.  In fact people walk and bike over the Brooklyn Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge regularly, so it seems the wind issue can be managed or is simply a lot of hot air.  Additionally, it should be noted that this past summer 7,000 bicyclists road over the Hoan, and not one of them was blown off.

From the ground the Hoan Bridge certainly looks like it would be a difficult climb, but again this past summer 7,000 bicyclists of all ages, including children, riding a wide range of bicycles, and of  all skill levels rode right on over it.  As one of those bicyclists, I can tell you it is not a difficult climb, in fact it is not nearly as difficult a climb as numerous of the hills located around Milwaukee that people bike over regularly.

Concerns over the safety of bicyclists are often raised, and safety should of course be a significant concern.  However, the design would not to simply paint a white stripe on the Interstate and designate a section for bicyclists.  The design would include concrete walls separating bicycle traffic from automobile traffic.  This separation would keep pedestrians and bicyclists out of automobile lanes, and of course keep automobiles out of the path, making it perfectly safe.

Some people, and one Milwaukee County Supervisor in particular, fear that removing an automobile lane would cause traffic backups and congestion.  The truth is the bridge carries just 40,000 cars a day, barely enough for it to qualify for Interstate status, and far from a two-lane highway’s capacity.  In fact the bridge likely never hits peak traffic levels, and it is also likely that the UPAF ride was among the most highly utilized couple of hours in the bridge’s history.  Further, on either end of the bridge travel lanes drop to two-lanes negating much of the value of the additional lane.  Finally, there have been numerous times when these lanes have been closed (as they are now) and traffic didn’t backup.  To make this perfectly clear, Dave Schlabowske took some videos on multiple days showing how traffic flows fine, during rush hour, without the additional traffic lane that would be removed for the bike trail.

Although, it may seem on its surface that bicyclists shouldn’t be on Interstates, the reality is that bicyclists are allowed on Interstates unless otherwise posted, which often enough individual states decided to post a restriction.  But, in the case of federally funded bridges it is actually the case that bicycle and pedestrian considerations are required by the United States Code (U.S.C.) and the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) in Title 23—Highways, Title 49—Transportation, and Title 42—The Public Health and Welfare.  Additionally, there are examples such as Interstate 90 in Seattle which currently has a bike lane on it, with few or no issues.

There is no doubt that during the winter bicycle traffic will drop off.  But winter isn’t twelve months of the year, and bicycling isn’t a summer only activity.  Further, people have no issue with other outdoor winter activities including skiing, sledding, or ice skating, and every year more and more year-round bike commuters are entering our roads, myself included.

The most serious of these ‘issues’ revolves around cost.  Certainly, if the new bike trail is to cost $100 million it maybe shouldn’t be built, but if it is a small portion of a $300 million re-decking project, it is worth the cost.

There are plenty of valid reasons to build the bike lane, including enhanced tourism, healthy living, improved air quality, congestion reduction, and improved connectivity to name just a few.  So enough with the excuses already, add the bike lane to the Hoan Bridge.

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24 thoughts on “Enough with the excuses already, add the bike lane to the Hoan Bridge”

  1. Daniel Laughland says:

    It just might approach your $100 million “not worth it” cost, because you can’t just add it on to a redeck. They would have to widen most of the 1-lane on/off ramps too (or build new bike ramps), and that’s not in the scope of the project right now.

    If there was bike congestion on 1st/KK this might be an easier sell, but it only saves you half a mile to take the Hoan, and the slower climb likely negates any time saved. Anyone who is going to bike-commute that route already does it, and all the advantages you named only apply if there are additional bikers as a result. You’re right, the downsides might be weak (besides the cost) but the upsides aren’t real strong either.

  2. Dave Reid says:

    @Daniel Ummmm the estimates have put it in the $3 to $7 million range, and in fact the DOT says it would fit in the existing budget. So no it won’t cost $100 million.

  3. Daniel Laughland says:

    There’s been no engineering on this project yet; they have no idea how much it would actually cost. The budget estimate they have already gives them $75 million of wiggle room. I haven’t seen anyone say $3-7 million who wasn’t pulling numbers out of the air. We couldn’t put a bike lane onto half a mile of 2nd street for less than $4 million; what makes them think we can cover the entire bridge system for less?

  4. I’m all for this idea if it means I can walk/bike to the top of the bridge to take photos… Seriously, get the photography community behind this effort.

  5. Jeffrey Jordan says:

    Dave;
    I support this project because my biking friends tell me that it would be an advantage. Anyone that is objective will see that the Hoan Bridge has been a bad idea from day one. It’s history as the legendary first “Bridge to Nowhere” is followed by a foolish attempt to make it viable.
    If we are going to make lemonade out of this rotting piece of citrus fruit, adding a walking, running, bike lane, or simply put, a pedestrian lane to the bridge, will make it more useful as a reconstruction project and is a small and interesting gesture. My hope is they put the lane up the east side. I would love to walk up there, put down my folding chair and watch the fireworks. It would result in more traffic in one night than they get in a week.
    And by the way they could eliminate that grade if they brought the bridge down to grade level, but we lost that fight.
    Curious? What would be lost if we took away the Interstate status?

  6. Dave Reid says:

    @Dan Ummm yes there is, even designs. In 2002 the DOT hired a consulting firm to do just this… Here is a link with the simply designs http://overthebarsinmilwaukee.wordpress.com/2011/07/20/put-a-bike-path-on-the-hoan-and-the-world-wont-stop-turning/

    Further the $4 million on S. 2nd Street was not for a bike lane.

  7. Dave Reid says:

    @Pete Agreed… It seems to me this would become a regular tourist stop

  8. Dave Reid says:

    @Jeff Some funding I believe. But adding the bike lane won’t negatively impact that at all, as federal law actually argues for the bike/ped improvement.

  9. Daniel Laughland says:

    That’s not engineering, that’s a feasibility study. They clearly didn’t think about it that hard either, because if the SB bike lane is on the right side you either have to ride across the ramp from I-94 (which is stupid dangerous) or build a dedicated on-ramp for bikes which goes up about 60 feet (which is stupid expensive). The bike lane needs to be on the left side of traffic, just as it is on the Brooklyn Bridge.

  10. Daniel Laughland says:

    @Jeff I wouldn’t expect to watch the fireworks from up there. It’s still a lane of travel. You can’t block walkways with your folding chair at ground level; there’s no reason to think they’ll make an exception for a narrower lane on the bridge.

    Like I said the only real downside to this project is cost, but people are advocating that we go out on a financial limb (in a city that has no money) for a project that isn’t going to be nearly as awesome as you seem to think. At the end of the day, it will be a completely fenced-in regular old bike lane that goes over some smelly factories, has on-ramps that only go to two places, and doesn’t save you any travel time. I just want you all to think through the details and realize that it’s just a piece of asphalt, and is that one cool photo really worth a 3-mile walk and $40 per taxpayer?

  11. Dave Reid says:

    Pardon me… They did a study, and the cost estimates were in the $3 to $7 million range, which as the DOT has pointed out would fit in the existing projects budget. Not $100 million.

  12. Dave Reid says:

    @Daniel Ummm the city wouldn’t be funding this project. In fact the DOT has said it would fit in the current re-decking projects existing budget.

  13. Scott says:

    Daniel, I appreciate you pointing out any negatives in a constructive way. I take issue with what you said about bikers already using the 1st/KK route. I don’t think there’s a single person out there that’s biked that route and doesn’t wish there was an alternate *much safer* route to downtown. That route is even a bit scary in a car, much less a bike. There’s no wiggle room in the lanes (especially under the bridges) and a couple sudden/sharp turns in the road.

    It’s scary enough to me I don’t even consider biking past KK/Beecher and would love to be able to bike to downtown. I think a bike path over the Hoan is a lot more realistic than redoing the entire stretch of 1st/KK just for bikers.

  14. Daniel Laughland says:

    @Dave Ummm yes, the budget which I already pointed out has $75 million of wiggle room. Of course it fits in there! It’s a useless budget to start with! A decade-old consultant’s estimate (your $3-7 million) is equally meaningless. And it’s not like the DOT is flush with cash either–State or Federal. Does it honestly matter what department the funding is coming from? We’re still the ones footing the bill.

    @Scott Yours is definitely the most practical argument I’ve heard yet. I’m young and well-insured, so I guess I’m less averse to scary rides. 😉 A path over the Hoan is definitely easier to do all at once, so I guess it’s a question of improving the route with a less flexible, more expensive, but complete project versus the cheaper but longer-term plan of overall bike path expansion downtown. 2nd street set the precedent for cutting traffic lanes and the Earth continuing to spin, so I don’t think it’s insurmountable to rework 1st in a similar way. God knows that whole stretch needs repaving anyway.

  15. Dave Reid says:

    @Dan I’m not sure why an estimate would be worthless. That said I’m well aware that materials and labor costs could have gone up, but not to $100 million from $3, that simply doesn’t make sense.

    As far as which budget yes it does matter, because yes it might (might) be true that the city might not have the funds to do it, (and of course couldn’t because it is an Interstate) but the funds are available as part of the re-decking project.

    Further, if ‘we’ were honestly concerned about cost, then ‘we’ wouldn’t be re-decking the Hoan as that is the far more expensive option.

  16. Daniel Laughland says:

    Re-decking the Hoan actually is an investment because of its access to the Port. Until bikes start hauling commercial freight, their paths are luxury expenses. Yes, I know, lots of folks commute with them, but that’s very easily substituted. If trucks can’t get to the Port easily, the Port doesn’t get used and manufacturers leave. That would cost our economy a LOT more than $300 million. I seriously doubt that the tourist draw for a bike path will be measurable, much less in the millions. This is a commuter service. Keep it simple, keep it cheap.

    Why is the 2002 study useless? First, when you see an estimate whose range is larger than the actual estimate, that’s a bad sign. Second, that part of the city has changed a lot since 2002; the M-Change especially. Plus, actual construction costs on infrastructure projects usually run way over their initial estimates, and often over their final estimates too. This bike path is still in its infancy. Nobody has done a comprehensive study on what it takes to build it. It’s utterly reckless to support a project that you haven’t seen the price tag on. Call for more research into the bike path; don’t call for the bike path yet.

  17. Dave Reid says:

    @Dan “Second, that part of the city has changed a lot since 2002; the M-Change especially. ” Uh the bike path wouldn’t directly impact the M-Change, and the route it would be located on hasn’t changed either.

    “Plus, actual construction costs on infrastructure projects usually run way over their initial estimates, and often over their final estimates too.” So then I guess we can’t judge any infrastructure project, now can we? Of course not.

    “This bike path is still in its infancy.” No. This project has been debated, studied, meetings were held, even funding was dedicated, dating back to the 90s. Hardly infancy.

  18. Daniel Laughland says:

    Uh yes, the ramps onto the Hoan were part of the M-Change reconstruction. Any bike plan has to be adjusted for the larger ramps and new arrangement. Have you really not noticed how different that interchange is? Any place they wanted to put a bike ramp likely doesn’t exist anymore.

    Not until they have actual engineers do an actual plan on the road that exists today, no we can’t trust their cost estimates, and you shouldn’t be clinging to your $3 million like it’s a real number. Despite being a decades old idea, the current incarnation of the bike path is in its engineering infancy.

  19. Dave Reid says:

    @Dan No. The flyover ramps weren’t rebuilt during the M-Change project (in fact they will be getting new concrete as part of this project). And regardless the bike lane doesn’t go on the flyover ramps. Where the bike lane would go is the same road as it was 10 years ago.

    And again the project is between 10 – 20 years old I hardly call that infancy… Same design (unless the DOT is pushed to do some crazy design), same road, and even the same traffic numbers.

    PS I don’t believe it will come in at the $3.2 million number either (it is just an estimate), but if the estimate was $100 million well that would be a different story.

  20. Joel says:

    Dan, exactly what ramps ONTO the Hoan are you talking about? The Marquette Interchange rebuild project from 2004 to 2008 went east on I-794 ONLY to the Milwaukee River. The Hoan Bridge is a PART of I-794, and that part is the north/southbound section.

  21. Daniel Laughland says:

    @Dave don’t say the words “crazy design” too close to anyone from DOT..they’ll run with it! These are the same guys itching to build over-engineered roundabouts that handle 20% more cars at 200% the cost. If they decide to make it a pedestrian path too, it’s got to be ADA-compliant which means some zany spiral ramp thing to reduce the grade. I’m already concerned that they still have the “second bridge suspended underneath” plan on the table.

    There are just too many unanswered questions about this plan for me to feel comfortable with it, and everyone’s rushing to get something, ANYTHING approved so they can slap it on to the redecking project. I have no faith that they’ll spend prudently without significant pressure from the public.

  22. Dave Reid says:

    @Dan “I’m already concerned that they still have the “second bridge suspended underneath” plan on the table.” I agree with you on this one.

  23. gleiss says:

    @Dave – You know I’m a huge MKE fan and love everything about what makes our city better. Why, in all the discussion, does no one mention that we are not a growing metropolis, and as such, there is no need for excess driving capacity because we are not adding new drivers to the mix. Now, it needs to be a question of the quality, usability and livability of all infrastructure for Milwaukee’s citizens. Sure, I-43 is a regional connection, but the Hoan, 794, etc. are just overblown engineering wet dreams that in reality should better connect our city, not create more barriers. Put the d@mn bike lane in, and if you don’t like it, find a different route to drive.

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