Milwaukee Streets to Get More Congested

Milwaukeeans may soon have a plan to allow them to bicycle just about everywhere on even the most crime-ridden streets. Mayor Barrett’s city may have cut back on the number of firemen per truck, raised the tax rate by 10% last year, and dumped raw sewage into Lake Michigan, but Milwaukee will consider a plan Tuesday night to more than double the number of miles on Milwaukee’s bike paths on the city’s crumbling roads.

The plan Milwaukee by Bike would expand Milwaukee’s bicycle network from 116 miles to 356 miles, including 153 new miles of bike lanes and shared lanes. Milwaukeeans will never be more than a quarter mile from the bicycle lane network.  Presumably driving in your SUV with the bicycle rack to the nearest bike trail would be discouraged.

The city hopes bicycles will be used for 5% of all trips less than five miles by 2020, and the cost of pursuing this folly is $8.63 million. That’s more money than the state is willing to give the city of Brookfield to build a train station.

The 5% goal, of course, is silly. Portland, OR, is considered one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the country. In 2007, the census reported Portland had the highest percentage of bicycle commuters at 3.5%. The Cato Institute’s Randal O’Toole (a bicycle enthusiast himself) pointed out in the Los Angeles Times that because of the nature of the self-reporting, the number of bicyclists commuting is closer to 2.6%. Unlike Milwaukee, Portland only has 3 or 4 days per year that get over an inch of snow.

Snowy Milwaukee will somehow double Portland’s bicycle ridership? Ah, but Milwaukee has a plan. Milwaukee by Bike actually recommends snowplowing the city’s off-street bicycle trails. That’s right, folks, the city has a hard enough time keeping the streets clear of snow for automobiles, but the bicycle paths will have to be plowed for the ten-speed commuter on his Huffy. The authors of the plan must not have been paying attention when Waukesha Mayor Jeff Scrima was roundly ridiculed for making the same suggestion earlier this year.

Part of the number one objective in the plan is to, “Provide equal, and sometimes preferential consideration, to bicyclists and pedestrians in the planning, design, and operation of transportation facilities.” When it comes to modes of transportation, bicycling is more equal than others in the eyes of liberal urban planners. For example, Milwaukee by Bike calls for all bikeways to be swept regularly, prompt maintenance of potholes and other pavement damage on bikeways, and bicycle lane stripes to be rep-painted before they fade.

Have you driven the streets of Milwaukee lately? If only they would promise to do the same for the streets where cars drive.

Why the favoritism? Bicycling is the “green” way to travel. The worst part of the “carbon footprint” is from the huffing and puffing when a bicyclist attempts to go over a big hill. Imagine how much carbon dioxide will be exhaled if they put a bicycle path on the Hoan Bridge, as the plan calls for.

If that wasn’t enough of a justification, bicycle path advocates complain about the supposed obesity “epidemic,” as if fat people like myself are suddenly going to choose to ride a bicycle if we only had more painted lines killing a lane of traffic everywhere.

Don’t they know McDonald’s drive-thrus will not serve anyone not in a car?

What the urban planners don’t tell us is how we are supposed to leave work, go to the bank, stop at the grocery store, pick up the kids, take them to Cub Scouts or cheerleading practice, while carrying a bag of work and a lap top computer home from the office, all on a bicycle. That is the real challenge to transportation planners, and why more commuters are turning to riding alone in their cars, not less.

I remember the first time I was confronted with the urban planner’s love of bicycles. I was on Bluemound Road in Milwaukee stuck in the afternoon traffic gridlock when I noticed why people were not moving into the right lane. Painted on the ground was a logo designating the space as a bike path. Preference was absurdly given to an impractical means of transportation that nobody was using over the much more common automobile on a busy thoroughfare.

Adding to my frustration, a local tavern’s bicycle rickshaw driver had no problems navigating the street. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to give me a lift to Waukesha. He was too busy ferrying people to Miller Park. People are apparently too lazy to walk. Guess they forgot to bring their bicycles.

Then again, maybe this is part of Mayor Barrett’s  67 page jobs plan–hiring the unemployed to be rickshaw drivers.

By James Wigderson
Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute