MILWAUKEE – Construction season will be here before you know it, and this year in the City of Milwaukee, that construction will include dozens of projects aimed at both combating reckless driving and growing a network of protected bike lanes on city streets.
Gathered at the soon-to-be Harley Park at 38th and Highland, where an already-existing stretch of PBLs will be extended west from 35th to 20th Streets, Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson reiterated his goal to have a protected bike lane network of 50 miles in the city by 2026. “Milwaukee’s roads WILL be safer” Johnson said Tuesday. “Is it ambitious? Absolutely it is, but it is a cause worthy of all of our endeavors.”
While the implementation of PBLs is presented as a method to combat reckless driving, Mayor Johnson says he also hopes they serve the purpose of making the city a more attractive place to live for young professionals.
“They’ll fall in love with the city and its amenities first, before they decide to take a job or settle down or what-not” Johnson told WTMJ’s Vince Vitrano during an event held by Walker Media Agency Monday, referring to young workers. “That’s why I talk about this protected bike lane network. It’s certainly got an application in terms of reckless driving, but that’s a bonafide amenity that’s become very, very popular in cities across the United States.”
As you might have seen from my X thread on the unveiling yesterday, I was curious to know what the cost comparison is for the post-concrete island combination being utilized across the city versus a complete concrete separator method. City Engineer Kevin Muhs explained to me the individual posts cost between 80 to 100 dollars each, while the islands are around 6,000 dollars apiece. Muhs did not have a cost estimate for how much a concrete-separated bike lane would cost per city block, but in Denver the Colorado Department of Transportation in 2022 estimated the cost of one mile of one-way protected bike lanes to be around 300,000 dollars.
Of the projects on tap for 2024, there are 18 intended to improve access for students riding their bikes to school as part of the Safe Routes to School partnership between the Wisconsin Bike Federation and Milwaukee Public Schools. According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, the programs encourage children in grades K-8 to walk and bike to school by creating safer walking and biking routes.
SRTS Program Manager with the bike fed Michael Anderson tells me that warmer winters like the one we’re seeing this year encourage people to take two wheels during a window in time when biking is usually not feasible for most. “Any year, there are days in January and February where anyone can come out and ride, and even with our current infrastructure people have been riding year-round in Milwaukee” Anderson tells WTMJ. “We’re going to have more and more of these warm days, but that makes Milwaukee a more year-round climate where walking and biking to school isn’t so much of an obstacle.”
A handful of other PBL variations have been utilized across the city, perhaps most notably on North Avenue, where concrete planters have been installed by the East Side Business Improvement District. However, these planters have faced scrutiny from both cyclists and residents for the debris left behind when they are struck by cars. A post on the East Side Neighborhood Facebook page showed one stretch of North Avenue where a planter had been destroyed:
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As for whether or not the planters will be removed, Muhs acknowledged that while they are being damaged “at a relatively high rate, planters are better than people”. Other options may be considered for the stretch of road in partnership with the B.I.D.
Some PBL projects have already been completed; the most recent on Walnut Street between 12th and 20th Streets opened late last year, and includes bike lanes separated from the main road by a grass terrace.
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