Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Ravine Road Project Could Begin in 2024, With Pedestrian-Only Option

Parks requesting funding for planning, design and extensive public engagement.

By - Aug 1st, 2023 05:21 pm
Ravine Road in 2016. Photo by Dave Reid.

Ravine Road in 2016. Photo by Dave Reid.

Milwaukee County Parks may consider a reconstruction of Ravine Road through Lake Park that favors pedestrian use or fully pedestrianizes the roadway.

The department has requested just under $500,000 in the 2024 budget for the project. Jeremy Lucas, director of administration and planning, told Urban Milwaukee that the funding would cover planning, design and “extensive public engagement” centered on a handful of options for the road Parks has previously sketched out.

The parkway runs from the eastern end of E. Newberry Boulevard, at the entrance to Lake Park, downhill to N. Lincoln Memorial Drive. The meandering roadway is approximately 1,000 feet long.

Included in County Supervisor Sheldon Wasserman‘s 2019 legislation appropriating funding for the redevelopment of the Historic Ravine Road Bridge was a request for Parks to provide supervisors with plans for re-opening or closing the road underneath that included potential options for a pathway and bicycle use.

Parks presented these potential options for the road later that year, which included rebuilding it in-kind, converting it to a bicycle and pedestrian path, rebuilding it as a one-way road with a protected path, a one-way road with a separated path and taking the road out and restoring the ravine with natural vegetation. The options range in cost from $193,000 to approximately $1.3 million and all would include new LED lighting, new drainage and vegetation clearing.

The department also provided cost estimates for infrastructure that would allow temporary closure to vehicles, including gate arms embedded in the concrete ($15,000 each) and removable bollards ($800 each plus staff time).

Across the parks system, the department has been working to apply an internal policy of reducing the amount of pavement and paved area within the system. This includes naturalizing areas like streams and riverbeds and also converting parkways to paths and trails. This policy is aimed at a parks system that is better for stormwater management, less costly to plow in the winters and saves the county money long-term on maintenance and reconstruction.

The upfront savings to convert a roadway to a trail are not much, and the Ravine Road estimates from Parks reflect that. But long-term, it is far less expensive to maintain and reconstruct trails than it is to do the same for roads.

Ravine Road has been closed to all traffic since 2014. It was closed due to concerns about the structural integrity of the historic bridge that crosses it. The bridge itself was closed in 2016 and it was eventually reconstructed and reopened to the public in October 2022. Two months later, Wasserman released an end-of-the-year survey for his constituents that included a question about the future of Ravine Road.

“What should happen with the road running through Lake Park and under the Ravine Bridge?” asked the survey. The approximately 400 respondents chose between converting to a pedestrian and bicycle pathway, a “hybrid option with pedestrian infrastructure that maintained car access or just keeping it a roadway built for automobiles. The overwhelming response (80%) was for infrastructure that favors cyclists and pedestrians. A majority (60.5%) favored conversion to pedestrian and bicycle use only.

The general plans and cost estimates from 2019 will serve as the starting point for the reconstruction project, should it receive funding from the Milwaukee County Board.

Though, this project will be competing with others from Parks and even more from other departments for the county’s scarce capital funding, which is used for infrastructure and maintenance. The county imposed a limit on how much it can borrow each year for these types of projects and also committed to providing cash financing for approximately 20% of capital project costs annually. Taken together, this means the 2024 budget for infrastructure and maintenance will be approximately $58.9 million.

The total amount of capital requests for 2024 adds up to $177.5 million. With its cap on borrowing, and limited ability to cash finance, the county will be short approximately $118.5 million for all projects requested by departments in 2024.

Parks alone has requested roughly that amount in capital projects, though with no expectation to actually receive that much. Parks officials submit annual capital requests that reflect the funding the department would need to keep up with the system’s approximately $500 million maintenance backlog.

In-Kind Replacement

  • Mill and Overlay with 12-foot wide lanes: $380,000.
  • Full Reconstruction 12-foot wide lanes: $660,000

Convert Roadway to Path

  • A 10-foot wide path: $515,000

One-Way Road with Barrier

  • A 14 foot vehicle lane, a concrete barrier and shared use-path: $1,382,000

One-Way Road with Seperated Path

  • A 13-foot vehicle lane, with a five-foot-wide terrace separation between it and a new shared-use path: $1,387,000

Remove Pavement and Public Access

  • All impervious services removed and natural vegetation restored: $193,000.

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5 thoughts on “MKE County: Ravine Road Project Could Begin in 2024, With Pedestrian-Only Option”

  1. dmkrueger2 says:

    If a permanent change to Ravine Road (giving up on vehicular traffic), we NEED (so put that in the budget):
    a) dedicated turn lane (to turn south) from Lincoln Memorial Drive to North Lake Drive.
    b) dedicated lane (heading west) to E Kenwood Boulevard

    And it would be nice to update the paint for the two right (furthest north) lanes on Lincoln Memorial Blvd to communicate we can use both lanes to turn right (go north) on N Lake Drive (the merging happens on N Lake Drive).

  2. says:

    The best use for Ravine Road is clear–pedestrian and bicycle use only. Olmsted created the road when horses and buggies were in use. He had absolutely no concept of today’s cars and motorcycles and how they drive. Milwaukee is already trying to curb reckless driving–imagine when reckless drivers are free to use Ravine Road and come roaring up with parents and strollers, pedestrians and bicyclists trying to also use the road. A recipe for disaster.
    County Supervisor Wasserman did the right thing by soliciting the people’s wish for Ravine Road and the results showed that an overwhelming majority of 80% wanted Ravine Road for walkers and bicyclists only. Listen to the people!

  3. joerod says:

    This has been so annoying. They could have put up a new bridge in 1 year but it has taken nearly 10 inconveniencing everyone. Ridiculous.

  4. Marty Ellenbecker says:

    I’m re-posting this (from months ago) in the hope that my friend is wrong
    when he says “You give ’em books and you give ’em books,
    and they just eat the covers”.

    How about a compromise from somebody who doesn’t like closing roads
    but does like to see maximum safety, benefit, and usability
    of pedestrian sidewalks and paths?

    When opened to traffic, Ravine Road provides an early opt-out of
    or detour around heavy Lakefront user traffic.
    It provides closer/alternate access for police, fire and rescue.
    Same applies not just for users, but park employees,
    service contractors, suppliers, vendors, exhibitors,
    performers (and tired dogs too big to carry).

    Last time I was down there, I remember that sightlines
    around curves weren’t adequate for pedestrian or traffic safety.

    How about allowing traffic, and providing safely engineered
    sidewalks (on both sides of the road – let’s not let a mudslide,
    fallen tree or accident show the world our Milwaukee Cheap)?

    Addendum 03 Aug 2023:

    Make the walkways fun!
    Perhaps include bump-out observation / information platforms.
    Perhaps make parts of it elevated through tree crowns.
    Perhaps a section that crosses the road.
    Perhaps all 3.
    Include kids as design consultants!
    Go for an award.
    Go for a grant.

    If you make it enough fun, maybe kids will
    drag their parents out of their cars and lighten
    or moderate traffic.
    If instead it becomes a destination,
    emphasize plentiful parking, restrooms etc.
    on top of the hill.

  5. Marty Ellenbecker says:

    Please note the addendum on my repost (comment number 4).

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