The Milwaukee Board of Harbor Commissioners sided with cycling advocates on Thursday and endorsed bike and pedestrian traffic on the Daniel Hoan Memorial Bridge.
The unanimous vote in favor of a supportive resolution came just a week after Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke called a bike lane on the Hoan "the dumbest idea I ever heard." Clarke made his comments while discussing the death of Bobby E. Jiles, 39, who was hit by a car while tending to his disabled vehicle in a southbound traffic lane. The collision knocked Jiles off the bridge.
Since then, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and local law enforcement worked to improve safety for traffic on the bridge, which has limited room for vehicles due to ongoing repair work.
The Harbor Commission oversees the Port of Milwaukee, directly under the Hoan, and serves as the landlord for the city's property extending from the Coast Guard station in Bay View to the Henry Maier Festival Grounds and Veteran's Park.
The resolution in support of a bike accommodation includes a caveat: that the access for bikers and pedestrians can be provided safely.
Whether that can be accomplished is being studied the consulting firm Graef-USA, under a $100,000 contract with the DOT. The engineering firm was hired to analyze alternative approaches to accommodating bike and pedestrians on the bridge, and to determine the safety and cost.
The study is part of a larger engineering project leading to the reconstruction of the bridge in 2013. That project is estimated to cost $275 million to $350 million.
The report on the bike lane feasibility is expected to be released later this year, after a review by department staff.
Bikers ride over the Hoan during the UPAF Miller Lite Ride for the Arts.
Commissioner Craig Mastantuono, a local attorney, moved for approval of the resolution.
"Commercial transit like that generated around Port activity and commuter and recreational transit like that on a bike/ped way need not be in competition with each other," Mastantuono said. "The Port of Milwaukee supports WisDOT's study on how to move this issue forward, and create a safe, non-motorized traffic alternative over the inner Harbor tract."
"We support studying ideas before criticizing or ruling them out, particularly when complex engineering issues are involved."
Dozens of cyclists argued in favor of a bike and pedestrian lane at a public hearing in August, continuing a drive that started shortly after the iconic bridge opened in the late 1970s. Bicyclists and pedestrians have been prohibited from traversing the bridge for decades, and the DOT and state officials have been firm in their opposition to opening it to non-motorized vehicles.
The push for a bike lane gained momentum earlier this year, when the DOT agreed to allow the UPAF Ride for the Arts and the Summerfest Rock 'n Sole runs to utilize the span.
On Wednesday, Kevin Hardman, the executive director of the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin, published a commentary calling the bridge a vital link connecting a 163-mile path for cyclists along Lake Michigan.
"The impact of a nearly continuous trail system between Chicago to Door County would be huge," Hardman wrote. "Wisconsin is already leaps and bounds ahead of Pure Michigan in terms of trails that connect the communities along the lake."