What’s 20 minutes after waiting decades?
Last-minute patches on the Hoan Bridge delayed the start of the Ride for the Arts about 20 minutes Sunday morning, and stretched the already worn patience of bicyclists anxious for the first legal opportunity to ride the span in nearly 30 years.
The delay and congestion (bicycles not cars) were the shaky notes in what was otherwise a masterpiece: the Milwaukee skyline looming into view, Lake Michigan sparkling in the early sun, a light breeze and an incline that proved much less severe than many had expected.
Children still short of their teens, guys past 60 and riders pulling trailers managed the pedal to the top, 120 feet over the Port of Milwaukee; then swoop down the long descents.
“I didn’t see anybody struggling, or anybody having a tough time,” said Marty Weigel, a biker and West Allis alderman.
“It was beautiful. I think they gained a lot of support today. I hope some of the decision-makers were here to see it. ”
The Hoan has been officially off limits to bikers and pedestrians since it opened in 1978, and the practice of closing it to motor vehicles one day a year ended in the 1980s.
The Ride for the Arts secured permission from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to route bicyclists over the bridge this year, and the opportunity helped boost participation to more than 7,000. That’s up about 1,000 from recent years, according to Cristy Garcia-Thomas, president of UPAF.
“We definitely reversed our trend,” Garcia-Thomas said.
“Our goal is to get the Hoan again next year.”
If that happens, consider Sunday’s ride a dress rehearsal that uncovered a few flaws.
After the delayed start, hundreds of bikers were forced to endure another wait at the Henry G. Maier Festival Park because of the congestion on the ramp leading to the Hoan. Riders returning northbound and those just getting started crossed paths at that point near the Discovery World Museum and created further delays.
“It was way too crowded,” said Keith Ziolkowski, an area dentist and veteran of the Ride for the Arts.
On the plus side, the tight spaces on the bridge forced everyone to mind their brakes on the long downhills.
Contrary to the naysayers, no one was blown off the bridge, or collapsed under the strain of going uphill.
And those patches – planks placed over the joints on the bridge deck – took some of the jolt out of the uneven surface.
“It was a nice experience,” said Phil Lentzke, 59, of Pewaukee. “I hope they keep doing it.”
Cops on bikes: About 20 Milwaukee Police officers joined Chief Edward Flynn on the 25-mile route that bypassed the bridge on the way to South Milwaukee.
Flynn called it a great ride, well-organized.
The exercise put him in a humorous mood.
Playing off the recent dispute over concealed carry legislation in Wisconsin, he said: “Anybody who carries a concealed violin is OK with us.”
And he followed that by pledging to support “the constitutional right to keep and bear musical instruments.”
The High Life: More than two-dozen riders decked out in Miller High Life jerseys were a popular attraction all along the Lakefront. The group from Iowa came to Milwaukee after a chance meeting with MillerCoors executive Jim Malcolm on the RAGBRAI in July 2010.
“The ride was just beautiful,” said Aaron Klinge, 39, from Des Moines. “I loved going by the beach and the Lakefront.”
By the numbers: Garcia-Thomas expects to have a final tally on Tuesday, but the Ride for the Arts has generated about $325,000 each year for UPAF.
The High Life team jerseys fit Milwaukee perfectly.