In April, Governor Scott Walker announced that the Hoan Bridge would be reconstructed beginning in 2013. The bridge reconstruction is estimated to cost between $275 and $350 million dollars, and when complete, is expected to last between 40 and 60 years.
For years the possible bicycle and pedestrian accommodations on the Hoan Bridge have been characterized as making a “Bayview to Downtown connection” for people who walk as well as for people who bike. Bayview is the wonderfully diverse Milwaukee neighborhood that sits just south of the Hoan. Though a bike path on the Hoan would certainly create a connection for this one neighborhood, I believe the opportunity we face is far, far greater.
Bridging the Gap
The Hoan Bridge is the last remaining major gap in a 163 mile Lake Michigan trail network that runs between Chicago to the south and Sheboygan County to the north. Furthermore, Door County is now working on a Bicycle Master Plan as they have seen the value of trails to their community. We have the opportunity to develop a nearly seamless trail system along Lake Michigan’s western shore. The impact of a nearly continuous trail system between Chicago to Door County would be huge. Wisconsin is already leaps and bounds ahead of Pure Michigan in terms of trails that connect the communities along the lake.
Many people already come to Wisconsin to ride bicycles on the car-free trails constructed in the communities along the shore of Lake Michigan. They visit to ride trails in Kenosha and Racine in the southern part of the state, on the Oak Leaf in Milwaukee, and up the Interurban Trail in Ozaukee and Sheboygan. There is even a book about riding the trails between Chicago and Milwaukee.
People ride these trails to be away from traffic. Currently they must ride through the heart of Milwaukee’s industrialized south side and busy central business district to get from the trails that end on the south side of the Hoan to the trails that begin again in Veteran’s Park on the north side of the bridge. Rather than symbolizing a barrier to visitors, the Hoan could become the crown jewel in the trail network along Lake Michigan.
In the same way people travel to ride our Elroy-Sparta Trail, visitors from other parts of Wisconsin, Chicago and around world will come to Milwaukee and take pictures from atop the Hoan and tell their friends through blog posts about our wonderful state. Imagine a young generation of entrepreneurs discovering our tightly integrated trail network and deciding that Milwaukee and Wisconsin is just the active place for them to start their businesses.
In July the Wisconsin Department of Transportation announced they had engaged a consultant to examine the feasibility of providing a bicycle and pedestrian connection over the Hoan Bridge. Since that time, the Bike Fed has been working to build support for this connection. In late September, I met with the Governor’s Office and the Office of the Secretary of the Dept. of Transportation to deliver more than 30 letters of support written by business and civic leaders from across the state. I also delivered a Bike Fed support letter co-signed by myself, Bike Fed co-chair Chris Kegel and over 40 business and civic leaders from the state’s largest companies and organizations.
These letters emphasize how important Wisconsin’s bicycle trail system is to our businesses and communities. Since 1967 when then Gov. Warren Knowles approved the construction of the Elroy-Sparta Trail, the nation’s first rail trail, Wisconsin has been recognized as a leader in trails. Communities and businesses across the state benefit from those trails and enhance Wisconsin’s reputation as a good state for bicycling. The trails improve the quality of life for our residents, bring in more than $900 million in tourism revenue annually, and make it easier for businesses to attract and retain talented workers in an increasingly mobile market.
World class cities and states have world class bicycling. Wisconsin’s huge bicycle industry already produces the best bicycles in the world and keeps more than 13,000 people employed. Over the last several decades, the communities along Lake Michigan have invested in scenic trails to attract visitors and improve the quality of life for their residents. Slowly, the gaps between these trails have been filled. The two most heavily used segments of trails in the Lake Michigan trail network are the Oak Leaf Trail to the south and the Oak Leaf Trail to the north of the Hoan Bridge.
The Hoan is certainly an important connection for commerce that moves tens of thousands of workers and hundreds of tons of freight each day. The Interstate 94 bridge over the St. Croix River from Hudson to Minnesota already has a bicycle path with no negative effect on traffic. WisDOT is planning to allow bicycle and pedestrians on the I-94 bridge project in Dunn County. MNDOT is considering a bicycle path on the Dresbach Bridge from La Crosse to La Crescent. From the Brooklyn Bridge, to the Golden Gate, and in between, there are other examples of providing safe accommodation for bicycles and pedestrians on landmark bridges across the country.
We are confident that the engineers at the Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation can design a safe and effective bicycle accommodation on this landmark bridge at a reasonable cost. This accommodation will not impede the flow of motorized traffic, but will further enhance the trail system along Wisconsin’s beautiful Lake Michigan Trail Network.