Wiggy Responds to the Two-Wheeling Zealots…

Bicycle. Bicycle. I want to ride my bicycle. I want to ride my bike.  I want ride my bicycle. I want to ride it where I like Queen “Bicycle Race”

Heaven help the person that would dare disagree with that sentiment. Even I was shocked at the reaction to my column from last week criticizing the City of Milwaukee for deciding to make bicycle travel an $8.6 million priority over the next ten years.

Actually, that $8.6 million does not include the $2.6 million needed for off-street paths and connections. As table 5 in the report shows, the cost of infrastructure improvements for bicycles is closer to $11.3 million.  Even then, that does not include any land acquisition, nor does it include the estimated $9.8 million total spent so far on bicycle infrastructure.

I wrote that the Milwaukee By Bike plan was a needless expense, it created unrealistic expectations of increased bicycle usage, and it would actually hamper automobile traffic because of its insistence to make bicycle and auto traffic equal in priority. Despite my standing athwart the expanded bicycle trails yelling, “Stop!” only Alderman Joe Dudzik voted against the plan.

Silly me. I would have thought spending that kind of money so the East Side of Milwaukee can ring the little bells on their yuppie Treks would be considered a wasteful luxury.  Given how quickly this plan passed, the city of Milwaukee must be flush with cash.

Unfortunately, because of space limitations I could not report last week on the plan creating “a dedicated $450,000 budget to be used to fund bicycle and pedestrian programming in Milwaukee” within the Department of Public Works, and the addition of a full-time employee and some interns to work on the bicycle plan.

If you are someone who wants to put government on a diet, the bicycle plan adds a few glazed doughnuts to the budget.

In between making jokes about my weight, some critics wondered about my own bike riding. One critic even wondered if I was brave enough to ride one of the proposed bicycle routes before the little lines are painted so (presumably) I could make an informed decision on whether the $11.3 million was necessary.

I will concede bravery is required to bicycle some of the planned bicycle trails. On some of them I might even ask for a police escort lest my bicycle be taken out from under me at gunpoint on the city’s crime-ridden streets.

Perhaps a fairer question might be just how much public safety might be purchased if the Common Council planned to spend an extra $11.3 million on the police department. I might ask if the police department could use a dedicated $450,000 fund to fix the radio system that is placing officer lives in danger, as reported by Badger Blogger.

My favorite critic raised a theological point when he suggested a special place in hell awaited me for possibly driving in a parking lane, a reference to my pointing out the absurdity of a dedicated bike lane on Bluemound Road. In defense of my immortal soul let me point out that Bluemound Road is a major thoroughfare, a frequently cited “alternate” route for I-94. Given Bluemound Road’s status, it would make more sense to expand the capacity of the road by allowing cars to travel in the parking lane at peak times, just as is currently done on stretches of Capitol Drive and Appleton Avenue. Instead automobile traffic is constricted by the addition of the bike lane, even though someone would have to be near insane to actually use the bike lane during rush hour. Given the paucity of bicycles I have seen during those times, insanity has not reached mass proportions yet outside of Milwaukee’s Common Council.

However, if the city is wed to the bicycle lane, might I suggest an expansion of I-94, thus reducing the need for Bluemound Road as an alternative route?

Finally, there is a complaint that I compared Milwaukee’s apples to Portland’s oranges when it came to the relative ridership rates, and then asked whether Milwaukee’s ridership goals are indeed obtainable. Milwaukee’s goal is 5% of all trips by 2020. I said that was unlikely, given that the most “bike-friendly” city in the United States, Portland, has a bicycle commuter rate probably around 2.6%.

Some have pointed to more recent census data showing 6.4% of Portlanders commute by bicycle. Given the self-reporting factor, the number is probably closer to 4.8%.  Due to the difficulty of capturing the different modes of transportation, the self-reported data of the Commerce Department’s survey is the best count available. However, we need to take into account that self-reporting bicycle commuters generally do not take their bicycle to work every day.

Milwaukee, in stark contrast to Portland, only has 0.7% of commuters using a bicycle, even before taking into account self-reporting. Milwaukee’s goal for commuters is 4.5% by 2030. Milwaukee’s plan admits that this is an ambitious goal, but claims if Portland can do it, Milwaukee can, too. The plan also notes Milwaukee doesn’t even have a truck yet to properly do the striping for the bicycle lanes (page 97). I wonder how those trucks handle in the snow.

But even if Milwaukee succeeds in its bicycle goal, at what cost? We have lost sight of what ancient Rome understood long ago. Roads are there for the purpose of moving people, goods and services in the most efficient manner possible. By committing to putting pedestrians and bicycles on an equal footing with automobiles, we will slow down commerce and people in order to indulge a tiny minority’s luxury that our cities cannot afford. They get to feel good about themselves while the rest of us pay for it.

By James Wigderson
Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute