You Will Make a Difference: Final Hoan Bridge Public Meeting

Next week Monday there will be a very important public involvement meeting (PIM in government speak) to get public comment on the WisDOT feasibility study for a bicycle path on the Hoan Bridge.  It is vitally important supporters of the project turn out for the meeting to demonstrate steadfast support for this once in a generation opportunity to remove the biggest barrier in our 160 mile long Lake Michigan Trail Network from Chicago to Sheboygan. The world is run by people who show up, so please don’t miss this opportunity to impact the future of Milwaukee and Wisconsin’s vitality, competitiveness and world standing.


I-794 Public involvement meeting (PIM)

November 14, 2011 - Public meeting is scheduled from 5-7 p.m. at the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) downtown office building 1001 West St. Paul Avenue, Milwaukee, to review the draft feasibility study report.


  • Free parking available outside the building
  • For bus route information, visit
  • Open house meeting with a presentation at 5:15 p.m.
  • WisDOT project team will be available to discuss the analysis and receive comments
  • Study does not contain a recommended alternative
  • For more information and to submit a comment
  • To read the draft report

Just as important as showing up is having a good understanding of the issues and making intelligent comments based on facts.  The Hoan Bridge issue is often heatedly discussed in an information vacuum.  In order to clear the fog of political dogma, I have provided a few responses to common objections to the project.  These talking points are based on facts taken from WisDOT studies and Federal Highway Administration policies.


It’s too much money

Even including the cost of the Hoan, we only spend a tiny fraction of our transportation budget on bicycle projects.

It’s prudent to choose the the least expensive option, and we encourage WisDOT and the Federal Highway Administration to look at ways to lower  that cost.  For instance, if it saves money, bicyclists would be happy with a narrower path than the proposed 14 ft.

At $9.4 million, the least expensive alternative is less than 3% of the total $350 million Hoan redecking project, well below the FHA 20% threshold for exception to their requirement that such projects include bicycle accommodations. While $9.4 million is a an expensive bicycle project, that investment needs to be weighed against the potential return. The Hoan will remove the biggest barrier in the 163 mile-long Lake Michigan Trail Network, significantly increasing the value of these state assets.

Finally, it’s also important to note that the redecking project will increase the life of the structure by 40-60 years. This investment ($350 million and less than $10 million for the bicycle connection) will provide for generations of use and value.


It is a freeway 

No federal law prohibits bicycles on freeways or interstate highways. In fact, bikes are allowed on more than 40 Interstate highways and bridges in the US, including two bridges on I-94 in Wisconsin.

On the contrary, federal law actually requires the consideration of bicycle and pedestrian travel. The federal statute on bicycle planning and pedestrian planning, 23 U.S.C. 217(g), states:

(g) Planning and Design.—

  1. In General — Bicyclists and pedestrians shall be given due consideration in the comprehensive transportation plans developed by each metropolitan planning organization and State in accordance with sections 134 and 135, respectively. Bicycle transportation facilities and pedestrian walkways shall be considered, where appropriate, in conjunction with all new construction and reconstruction of transportation facilities, except where bicycle and pedestrian use are not permitted.
  2. Safety considerations — Transportation plans and projects shall provide due consideration for safety and contiguous routes for bicyclists and pedestrians. Safety considerations shall include the installation, where appropriate, and maintenance of audible traffic signals and audible signs at street crossings.

Nobody will use it

You cannot measure demand for a bridge by counting the number of people currently swimming across the river. That goes for car drivers as well as cyclists. That said, our most recent user counts on the trails that dead end at the south and north approaches of the Hoan Bridge showed 80,000 bicyclists, runners, dog walkers, roller bladers, etc. using the trails in the month of October.  While not all those people will go across the bridge, it is reasonable to assume that the path will induce additional people to come, just to be able to go over the bridge.

Another strategy is to point to well‐designed bridges that have large numbers of bicyclists and walkers. Advocates in the San Francisco Bay Area got a bike path included on the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge by using bike counts on the Golden Gate Bridge: 220‐250 bikes per hour. Twenty percent of all of the traffic on the Hawthorne Bridge in Portland, OR is made up of bicyclists. New York City’s bridges carry nearly 40,000 inbound cyclists per day in the spring, summer, and fall.


Traffic is too heavy to lose a lane

These are direct quotes from WisDOT’s own study:

“Note that speeds on the bridge drop one mile per hour, from 53 to 52 mph due to the bikeway.  The bridge is currently posted at 50 mph, so traffic continues to operate at a higher speed than the speed limit.”

“In the range of traffic that we’d expect on the Hoan in 2020, 4 lanes or 6 makes no difference. The Hoan Bridge will have less traffic than any 6-lane freeway in Southeastern Wisconsin — about 1,500 ADT less than the lowest 6-lane freeway US Hwy. 41 in Germantown.”


It wouldn’t be safe

All studies done by the Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation say there are no safety reasons to prohibit bicycles on the bridge.  The path would likely be safer than any on-street facility in Wisconsin because it will be separated from traffic with a 42 inch high concrete parapet wall.  These are the same walls that separate the two oncoming  lanes of traffic on the interstate.  Wind has been proven not to be an issue.  Wind affects bicycles much differently than vehicles traveling 50 mph.


The Bottom Line

Bicycling is good for Wisconsin. It adds $1.5 billion to the state’s economy.  It provides 13,000 jobs.  Bicycling is one of the things that makes our state a great place to live. Cities that want to attract and retain a talented young workforce need to be vibrant, active communities.  The heads of more than 40 businesses, from our largest corporations to main street storefronts, have signed letters to the Governor in support of a bike path on the Hoan because a bike path on the Hoan would be good for their businesses. Bicycling is free of politics.  Conservatives ride bikes.  Liberals ride bikes.  Libertarians ride bikes.

Since Wisconsin built the nation’s first rail trial, the Elroy Sparta in 1967, we have distinguished ourselves as a great place to bike and we have attracted visitors from around the world. Connect our extensive Lake Michigan Trail Network over the Hoan to solidify Wisconsin’s reputation and enhance it’s value for the next generation and beyond.

About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

7 thoughts on “You Will Make a Difference: Final Hoan Bridge Public Meeting

  1. Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t $6 million of the $9 million for the bike lane is for structural expenses that would be done regardless of wether there is a bike line or not. So really the the “net” cost would be closer to $3 million. Again please correct me if I’m wrong because I really don’t want to have wrong info in my head. :)

    • Mr. Wheeler,

      If you look at page 94 of the draft study report, they break the project out between the main span and the new structure at the north and south approaches. In the section under the main span, they drop the costs of the deck and only add the cost of the barrier and the railing/fence. So, no there is no overlap on project estimates. It should be noted that each element of the estimate includes a 10% contingency for overages and WisDOT has been doing a very good job of bringing projects in on time and under budget. So it could be that the real estimate is only about $8.5 million. And as I mentioned in the post above, we would certainly hope that if WisDOT decides on option 1A, they might be able to find additional cost savings with slightly narrower ramps.

      • I don’t remember where I saw the numbers I was refering to but thanks for clearying that up for me. Those ramps are expensive.

  2. Great stuff Dave. Thanks. I too am interested in the answer to the question that Mr. Wheeler raises in his comment.

  3. It is difficult in this time of low economic expectations to see why funds should be invested in something that would be “nice” for a relatively small segment of the population that could be expected to use a bicycle and pedestrian lane on the Hoan Bridge, BUT, if you believe in progress, in greatness, in quality (especially quality of life), in the attractiveness of Milwaukee for tourism, this is a very small incresse in the cost of the necessary bridge refurbishing that will pay huge dividends in all of those respects. I am a strong advocate first as a cyclist, but much more so as a 42 year resident of the Milwaukee area who is rediscovering the beauty and greatness of the City. This project will great enhance that beauty and greatness. Good work Bicycle Federation.

    • Thanks Dave, you certainly seem to get the bigger picture. That is really what this project is about. It is not as much about a path over a bridge as it is an amenity for our city and state that makes a huge statement about our culture. Are we a rustbelt city with boarded up bowling alleys (and I love bowling btw) or are we part of the modern economy and a magnate city that can attract and retain the most talented businesses and workers. Many of the business leaders who support this project are NOT commuter cyclists or bike racers, but they do compete for talented workers in a market where salaries are competitive and job choices are often made based on the amenities a community has to offer. Milwaukee must be able to compete with the magnate cities like Charlotte, Austin, Minneapolis, Seattle, etc. Milwaukee has a lot of other great things to offer, but cycling is definitely a big part of those amenities and the path Hoan can be the jewel in that trails network.

      All that said, don’t discount the number of people who would use the trail. The cost to user ratio is pretty consistent with the percentage of users to dollar ratio for the motor vehicle projects. Sure there are 45,000 cars per day compared to 80,000 bikes and pedestrians per month, but the highways cost billions compared to the millions for the bike and per projects. Bicycles and pedestrians make up 14% of all trips, but only use 2% or less of the total transportation budget.

  4. Kevin Hardman BFW,

    Last week I sent you my comments regarding the feasibility study recently released by WisDOT. I also submitted this to Ms Gellings at WisDOT. I was hoping to include here a reply from WisDOT, but have, as of 1 PM this Friday the 11th, yet to hear back. (See below for the full text of my initial comments on the draft feasibility study.)

    And here’s something I’ve yet to address. The bridge deck of a long-span bridge such as the Hoan, which is located over a navigable waterway, is one of the more expensive bits of real estate there is, from a bridge engineering standpoint, and you don’t want to have large areas of a bridge deck sit unused or underutilized. If you look at Exhibit 3.1 (page 20 of the report), just the existing bridge as it sits today (without any future modifications that could take place) has a total of 32 ft (out of a total of 104 ft) of open area across its deck that is unused except for emergency, snow removal purposes, plus the potential of future traffic needs; note that the whole issue of future needs is a topic open for discussion, but let’s assume for now that 3 lanes in each direction will suffice. So, this 32 ft of open deck area equates to 31% of the bridge deck that is sitting idle, except for singular emergency situations. Let me repeat: On a daily basis 31% of the bridge is not being used-31%! (and this is a conservative calculation, with the real number actually slightly higher, if you were to take into account things like a reduction in lane widths, possible deck widening, possibly connecting the NB & SB and making them continuous, and current traffic volumes being smaller than the 3-lane bridge capacity). In my eyes this 31% is excessive. The Golden Gate Bridge, for example, is fully utilized and has 0% of its bridge deck sitting idle. A lot of money has already been spent to build the Hoan Bridge, and is still being spent to maintain it, and you want to fully utilize this investment.

    The bottom line question to WisDOT - “If you were tasked with devising a method to add a shared-use path (of a constant or even varying width, but still sufficient for bike and pedestrian travel) to the Hoan bridge, while still maintaining 3 lanes of traffic in both directions, could you do it?”

    And a follow-up question would be - Can we all agree that there is value in adding a shared-use path to the Hoan Bridge, that it’s not merely an expense? If the answer is yes, than I wish you (WisDOT) would change your POV, change your mission from one of asking, Whether or not this is feasible? to one of, What is most cost-effective means of adding a shared-use path to the Hoan Bridge? The addition of such a path will become an asset to the area, adding value to the lakefront, adding value to the City and County of Milwaukee, and adding value to the State of Wisconsin.

    So I see three possible courses of action, that’s if we agree with the premise that doing nothing is not an option and that this figure of 31% is unacceptable:
    -We could proceed with Alternative 1A in its present form and accept the loss of one NB lane, which would be the cheapest;
    -Or we could investigate further Alternatives 1A & 1B (as outlined in the draft report) plus the Modified Alternatives 1A & 1B, as I’ve outlined (below), to determine which is the most cost-effective way to include a shared-use path while still maintaining 3 lanes of traffic in both directions;
    -Or we could investigate combining these two approaches, and by that I mean to initially accept the loss of one NB lane, but also build into the structural work that we’re doing now the contingency that if in the future we find that we do require 3 lanes in both directions, we could easily and efficiently reconfigure the bridge deck and lane layout to add 1 more in the NB direction.

    Thank you for your time and consideration.


    Al Heldermon

    The following is my review of the draft feasibility study:

    General Comments and Questions on Hoan Bridge Bike Path Feasibility Study

    ) Page 12 - Purpose of Report; Can the purpose of the report be expanded to include “the study of the most cost-effective means of adding a shared-use path along Interstate 794 (specifically the Hoan Bridge) per FHWA guidelines?”

    ) Page 118 - FHWA letter; What is the projected cost of the current transportation project? What would be the amount available for adding a shared-use path?

    ) Page 17 - Scope of current project (rehabilitation of the current bridge structure) does not entail any major modification to the existing bridge. Can the “scope of current project” be expanded to include a structural retrofit (reconstruction of the main span) of the existing bridge to accommodate the addition of a shared-use path (as per FHWA 23 U.S.C. 217(e) stated above)? Clarify the the differences between the phrases “rehabilitation of the current bridge” and “reconstruction of the main span.” It is unclear to me where WisDOT stands on this point. Also, see comments for Page 61 below.

    ) Page 22 - Both the left and right shoulder widths can be reduced to as small as 4 ft. Why was this excluded from WisDOT’s considerations when preparing their study?

    ) Page 22, 24 - Only a bike width of 14 ft was considered in the review. Why can’t a smaller one be considered, say 12 ft of even 10 ft? Is this something for the Bike Federation to address? I would hate to hear someone say later that, We could have accommodated a 10 ft lane but you guys wanted a 14 ft one.

    ) Page 23 - A 12 ft minimum width (of bike lane) is needed along outside edge of bridge (east side) to accommodate existing inspection equipment. Can different equipment be used that will fit within a 10 ft bike lane? If not, can the inspection methods be altered such that now, what had previously been done using equipment from the top deck of the bridge, now be done through access from below the bridge deck? Could a combination of these altered methods be devised to adequately inspect the bridge with a 10 ft bike lane running along the east edge of the bridge deck?

    ) Page 24 - Alternative 1A (see comments below for modified alternatives).

    ) Page 24 - Alternative 1B (see comments below for modified alternatives).

    ) Page 27 - Alternative 2A (see comments below for Alternate 1A modified).

    ) Page 27 - Alternative 2B (see comments below for Alternate 1B modified).

    ) Page 27, 20 - Alternative 2E; It’s stated that “the maximum amount the bridge could be widened is 3 ft on the approach spans and no widening on the main span (without requiring modifications to the existing superstructure or substructure).” According to the drawing on page 20, some space exists (approx. 1 to 1.5 ft) between the outside face of the existing barrier and the inside face of the arch on the main span. What are you basing your statement that the bridge can not be widened on the main span? Is it impossible? If not, what would be required?

    ) Page 42 - I’m unable to read the design requirements stated within the sentence “WisDOT designs freeway systems in Milw. Co. at LOS ‘D’ condition during ???? periods” due to the DRAFT stamp. I’m assuming it says “peak” because this is what they then use.

    ) Page 42 - Why can’t WisDOT alter their design criteria of LOS ‘D’ condition during peak periods and make an exception for the Hoan Bridge? I don’t have much background in this but these criteria are not set in stone. To me it seems very limiting to rule out the shared-use path because you may not be able to drive 55 mph on the bridge between 7-8 AM. I do realize, however, that for morning commuters this may be essential, but it seems that there should be some kind of flexibility on this. The Lake Park freeway south of the Hoan, for example, is not posted at 55 mph. Could this segment of the Hoan freeway be redesignated, or have a different posted speed?

    ) Page 52 - Summary; The statement that reads “peak weekday morning and evening traffic conditions will fall below WisDOT LOS ‘D’ design requirements” I believe is in error. I didn’t see any analysis for Alt. 1A showing that the northbound lanes in the evening fail WisDOT standards.

    ) Page 59 - It’s stated that the bridge decks could be made continuous between the NB & SB lanes. Note: Any change in loading would still need to be evaluated.

    ) Page 61 - Alternative 2A; It’s stated here that this option would require “major retrofitting” to the main span of the Hoan. This seems to contradict the limitations WisDOT had previously placed on this feasibility study, Page 17 above. Are we to assume the this feasibility study allows, and WisDOT is willing to entertain, major retrofitting of the Hoan Bridge?

    ) Page 64 - Alternative 3B; Same comments as for Alternative 2A above, page 61.


    Modified Alternatives: Why were these not also studied to determine their feasibility and cost?

    Note: Based on the below stated assumptions, other permutations than what are described below are possible for the layout of the bridge lanes and shared-use path for Alt. 1A & 1B.

    The following is a list of possible options to the alternatives put forth in the draft report. These are based on one or more of the following assumptions being met:
    1) That no exception can be made to the 3 lanes of traffic being required in both the NB and SB directions.
    2) That the scope of the current project can be altered to allow for the major retrofitting of the bridge to be done.
    3) That a 10 ft or 12 ft wide (or combination of the two) shared-use path is acceptable.
    4) That a new inspection regime can be devised to accommodate a 10 ft bike lane along the east side.
    5) That the bridge deck can be widened by approx. 1 to 1.5 ft on the main span, and 3 ft on the approaches.
    6) That the bridge decks can be made continuous between the NB & SB lanes.
    7) That the lane width can be reduced to below 12 ft, and yellow cautionary “Narrow Road” signs can be posted.
    8) That, where we use narrow shoulders, an emergency strategy could be developed to quickly and efficiently clear the bridge of snow.
    9) That, where we use narrow shoulders, an emergency strategy could be developed to safely remove stalled vehicles from the bridge and out of harms way, most likely by pushing.

    Alternate 1A.1
    Note (per drawing of existing conditions on page 20): Clear width between trusses = 114 ft; Distance from centerline of bridge to face of truss = 52 + 3 + 4/2 = 57 ft.
    A) Remove existing barrier east side; extend width of NB bridge deck to the face of arch (shown on page 20).
    B) Situate 10 ft wide shared-use path along right NB edge of bridge.
    C) Use a 1 ft wide exterior barrier for path (per drawing on page 29).
    D) Use a 1.5 ft wide traffic barrier separating path from traffic (per drawing on page 58).
    E) Use a 4 ft left & right shoulder width.
    F) Use 3 lanes of NB traffic, each 12 ft wide.
    G) Close gap and make bridge deck continuous across NB & SB lanes (per page 59).
    H) Remove the 2 existing barriers along center of bridge; replace with a single barrier, 1.5 ft wide (per drawing page 60).

    If you were to sketch this out, adding up the distances, the new single barrier separating the NB & SB traffic runs roughly down the centerline of the bridge: 1 + 10 + 1.5 + 4 + 36 + 4 + 1.5/2 = 57.25 ft.

    Alternate 1A.2
    Same as Alt. 1A.1, except use a 12 ft wide bike path.
    This would shift the center barrier to 59.25 ft away from face of NB truss.
    This would lead to the clear travel width for the SB lanes to 111 - 59.25 - 1.5/2 = 51 ft, resulting in a 1 ft loss of shoulder width for the SB lanes.

    Alternate 1A.3
    Same as Alt. 1A.1, except increase right shoulder width to 7 ft.
    Reduce NB lane widths from 12 ft to 11 ft.

    Alternate 1A.4
    Same as Alt. 1A.1, except for the approaches widen the bridge deck by 3 ft., and here use a 12 ft. wide path (approx.).

    Alternate 1B.1
    Note (per dwg. of existing conditions on p. 20): Distance from centerline of bridge to inside face of external barrier = 54 ft.
    A) Close gap and make bridge deck continuous across NB & SB lanes (per page 59).
    B) Remove the 2 existing barriers along center of bridge.
    C) Use a 10 ft bike path width, except run it down the center line of the bridge.
    D) Place 1.5 ft wide barriers on either side of path (per drawing on page 60).
    E) Use a 4 ft wide left shoulder for both NB & SB traffic.
    F) Use 3 lanes of traffic, NB & SB, all at 12 ft. wide.
    G) Maintain existing barriers along exterior edges.

    The resulting right shoulder width, NB & SB, is 54 - 10/2 - 1.5 - 4 - 36 = 7.5 ft.
    By reducing the vehicular travel widths, NB & SB, from 52 ft to 54 - 6.5 = 47.5 ft, does this result in some offsetting benefit in reducing the number of lanes that the bridge be designed for (as the bridge is designed using discrete lane widths; see page 55)?

    Alternate 1B.2
    Same as Alt. 1B.1, except use a 12 ft wide bike path.
    This results in the right shoulder widths, NB & SB, of 6.5 ft.
    By reducing the vehicular travel widths, NB & SB, from 52 ft to 54 - 7.5 = 46.5 ft, does this result in some offsetting benefit in reducing the number of lanes that the bridge be designed for (as the bridge is designed using discrete lane widths; see page 55)?

    Alternate 1B.3
    Same as Alt. 1B.2, except use a right shoulder width, NB & SB, of 8 ft.
    Reduce all travel lane widths from 12 ft to [ 108 - 12 - 2(1.5) - 2(4) - 2(8) ] / 6 = 11.5 ft.

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