Recently there was a thread on the Milwaukee bike to work listserv about some problematic stretches of bike lanes on a couple different city streets. The thread began with a complaint that motorists were ignoring a bike lane and just driving in it like it is a regular travel lane. The thread shifted to another street where cars are encroaching into the bike lane at a curve. The law is pretty clear on this:
(12) Driving on bicycle lane or bicycle way. No operator of a motor vehicle may drive upon a bicycle lane or bicycle way except to enter a driveway, to merge into a bicycle lane before turning at an intersection, or to enter or leave a parking space located adjacent to the bicycle lane or bicycle way. Persons operating a motor vehicle upon a bicycle lane or bicycle way shall yield the right-of-way to all bicycles and electric personal assistive mobility devices within the bicycle lane
Rather than just complain, the person who brought up the bike lane at the curve got proactive and suggested cyclists band together, ala Common Ground, and make an appointment with the local alderman to ask that he do something about it. While Common Ground techniques may be effective, based on my experience as a professional bicycle advocate and my insider bureaucratic knowledge gleaned as a former City Bike Ped coordinator, I have a few suggestions on how to increase the chances of getting what you want. Rather than respond directly to a relatively small group on the MILBTW listerv, I thought I would use this comment thread as a foil to offer some suggestions to the much larger blog readership on how to be an effective advocate.
Let’s start by taking a look at the initial comment about the problematic bike lane:
“My personal “bad spot” lately has been Highland Blvd. west of 35th Street where it curves at the bridge. People take that curve far too fast and often veer into the bike lane. I had one moron give me three feet (gee thanks) and then right in front of me veer into the bike lane, his passenger side tires right in the middle of my lane. It’s a bad spot because that’s a blind curve. I curse everytime I see said behavior because there could be someone in that lane and the driver would not see them as they come whipping around that corner. I was mere inches myself from a guy’s side mirror as he came around that curve 15 over the speed limit, hurtling well into the bike lane. This is the prime spot for the city’s next raised or protected bike lane. Who do I call at the City to get this done?”
This was the final comment in the thread that prompted me to write this post:
“How many are familiar with the work of Common Ground? This grassroots organization achieves change by simply placing large numbers of people in front of politicians. They have found that when you pack 20 people into the office of an alderman or State Rep, they listen. They even managed to get DuetchBank to pony up millions to relieve the foreclosure crisis in the city. Surely if people power can make this happen we can get a protected bike lane on Highland Blvd. Let’s get 20 people who live in Alderman Murphy’s district (Washington Heights and Sherman Park) to pack into his office and demand that something be done to make the said Highland curve safer for us cyclists. Mike is my alderman and is a good guy. He will listen. And let’s stick on him like white on rice until it happens. Who’s with me?”
Ostensibly this sounds like a reasonable plan, but let’s take a look at what Common Ground does. This is from their website:
Issue Campaigns are the work we do. Members of Common Ground identify problems and concerns in our communities. Through research, relationships and action these problems and concerns become our Issue Campaigns. We usually have more than one active campaign at any given time. The more Issue Campaigns we win — the stronger we get.
Let’s use that strategy for the Highland Ave bike lane issue:
Identify problem and concern: Person expresses concern to fellow cyclists on the MILBTW listserv that it is sometimes unpleasant and scary to ride in the bike at the Highland Ave. bridge. Some others second those thoughts.
Relationships: Organize a group around this problem and meet with the alderman regularly until a protected bike lane is installed.
The key problem here is that the research is missing. I can help a little with that, because I worked on the bike route spot improvement project that resulted in the initial installation of bike lanes on Highland Ave. I also worked as the bike coordinator for Milwaukee Dept. of Public Works when the Highland bridge was reconstructed.
When the bike lanes were first retrofitted to Highland Ave., they would not fit on the section where the bridge crossed the railroad tracks at the curve because the road narrowed. This was a real drag, but we decided that it was better to put in the bike lanes where they fit and worry about the bridge later, as it was scheduled for repair.
A few years later, the bridge did get reconstructed and it was widened to fit the bike lanes. Widening a bridge is quite expensive, so this was no small thing. I think it demonstrates the commitment of the City of Milwaukee to improving conditions for bicycles in that they took this bicycle bottleneck seriously and made quite reasonable efforts to fix it.
I think you can see by the photos that the bike lanes really did make a huge improvement for bicycle conditions. Given all that the City has already done, is it reasonable to ask that they do more? Certainly it is reasonable if a significant number of people still feel unsafe pedaling through the area, but the first thing traffic engineers are going to do is look for crash statistics. I am willing to bet there are virtually no crashes involving bicycles and motor vehicles at the bridge. Assuming that is true, what can cyclists do?
I would still suggest people contact the alderman, but begin by thanking him for his support of all the bicycle improvements the city has already done on Highland and the bridge. Then mention that despite all those improvements, the curve remains a scary bike lane to many people on the bike to work listerv because cars are taking the turn too fast and entering the bike lane. Ask the alderman to request a peak hour traffic study that includes the following:
- Count the cars and the number of cars that veer into the bike lane.
- Count the bikes
- A speed a speed study to see how fast the cars are taking the turn.
- Perhaps volunteer to make video tape the cars if it seems quite obvious that they are entering the bike lane and taking the turn too fast.
If that traffic study backs up the complaint, then it would be time to suggest improved signage to take the curve slowly and stay out of the bike lane, perhaps install a colored bike lane in the most problematic areas. Ask for increased enforcement, and if all that doesn’t work, suggest that the City bike plan includes protected bike lanes and that given the importance of this bike route, this might be a good place to pilot a flexible bollard protected bike lane.
When the inevitable “how will we plow it?” question comes up, suggest the flexible bollards could use recessed mounts and be removed prior to winter.