With enthusiasm pent up over a decade, hundreds of cycling advocates argued passionately Tuesday night for a bike and pedestrian lane to be added to the Daniel Hoan Memorial Bridge.
Roughly 250 residents turned out for the fast-paced town hall meeting in Bay View, and the overwhelming majority made their case that the time had come to provide access to non-motorized traffic on the two-mile span that connects downtown Milwaukee and the lakeshore neighborhoods to the south.
In a rare sight, the bike racks and vehicle parking stalls outside the Beulah Brinton Community Center were filled equally.
By one tally, those who spoke in favor of the bike lane on the Hoan outnumbered the opponents by 55 to 5.
“I was shocked by the level of support out there,” said State Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee), one of the legislators who hosted the meeting.
Several residents raised questions about the cost and the usefulness of a bike lane that they believe would be difficult to traverse in high winds and winter weather. Others objected to the potential that one of the six traffic lanes for cars and trucks would be turned over to slower-moving vehicles, creating congestion on a bridge that carries 40,000 vehicles daily.
Supporters of the idea drew steady applause and showed a “seize-the-moment,” mindset, appropriate given the tight time-frame for decision-making by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
The state’s road planners attended the meeting to gather input on the feasibility of a bike and pedestrian on the Hoan, which could be included in a large-scale reconstruction set to begin in 2013.
The DOT will make its decision - yes or no on the nonmotorized addition to the Hoan - by late fall, according to Brian Roper, design supervisor for the I-794/Hoan Bridge project.
The decision on the bike lane would be folded into the engineering work for the larger rehabilitation. Engineering for that project is set to be done in spring 2012.
Roper said the creation of a bike and pedestrian path, either on the current bridge or an addition, would fit into the current estimate of $275 million to $350 million for the upcoming reconstruction.
The options being studied include closing one or more traffic lanes to accommodate nonmotorized vehicles, widening the bridge in some fashion to add the bike/pedestrian path or suspending a secondary bridge under the current structure.
A proposal to close a traffic lane was rejected in 2002, in part to maintain traffic flow during the reconstruction of the Marquette Interchange. That project is finished and the Hoan rehabilitation planning provides another opportunity to consider the options, Roper said.
County Supervisor Patricia Jursik encouraged the DOT planners to think grand, and to consider the bike lane addition to the Hoan a “millenium project if you will.”
The majority at the meeting simply argued for a stretch of pavement separated from cars to make their commute easier.
Teens said the lane would give them a transportation route, other than being driven by their parents. Senior citizens said the bike lane would be a path for their healthy recreation.
Supporters cited global politics and rising oil prices, the need to fight the growing obesity epidemic, the potential tourism draw and simple transportation needs.
Brent Emery, a local bike shop owner and former Olympian, said the issue of adding a bike and pedestrian accommodation on the Hoan fit into the larger question of the type of activity public officials want to support. Allowing people to bike and walk over the Hoan would show that they encourage active, healthy lifestyles, he said.
Alexander Pendleton, an attorney from Shorewood, said the numerous elite cities allow bikers and pedestrians to use their famous bridges, citing San Francisco and New York as examples. Even Shorewood now has a first-class bridge, one that carries cyclists on the Oak Leaf Trail over Capitol Dr.
“World-class cities have world-class bike and pedestrian infrastructure,” Pendleton said. “Does Milwaukee want to be a world-class city or not.”
Other supporters said allowing people to bike, walk or run over the bridge would attract tourists to the Milwaukee lakefront and its amenities, including the Milwaukee Art Museum. The bike lane also would fill the missing link, “the missing jewel” in the segment of Oak Leaf Trail that extends south from Veteran’s Park to Grant Park.
That route now follows city streets, and several cyclists said they felt frightened riding S. 1st St. from Bay View to Downtown.
One cyclist challenged the DOT team in attendance to ride the Oak Leaf Trail and see the potential.
“You’ll see this is such a no-brainer,” he said.
Earlier in the day, four Milwaukee aldermen issued a press release stating their support for adding the extra accommodation to the Hoan. Ald. Robert Bauman, Tony Zielinski, James Witkowiak and Nik Kovak all touted the tourism benefits the bike and pedestrian access would provide.
DeWayne Johnson, the southeast regional director of the DOT, said the meeting provided a good opportunity to gather input for the upcoming decision. A consultant will be reviewing the feasibility and analyzing the costs for the DOT.