Comment on the August 8 Decision by WisDOT
"Pedaling Uphill: the Wisconsin DOT, its Citizens, and their Bicycles"
"Democracies die behind closed doors.... When the government begins closing doors it selectively controls information rightfully belonging to the people. Selective information is misinformation." Judge Damon J. Keith writing for the unanimous three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. August 26, 2002.
This is a summary of what I, one citizen, observed while participating in the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's Citizen Advisory Committee on the Bay View to Downtown Bicycle Path Study.
WisDOT spent federal money to make a choice that had few advocates and arguably will cost taxpayers more than the popular choice. The DOT decision ignored its own $370,000 Study.
The Elroy-Sparta, a bike-hike trail in Western Wisconsin attracts 65,000 users per year; why can't Milwaukee, with a continuous recreational trail on the second largest fresh water lake in the world? Five thousand San Franciscans bike or walk the Golden Gate each week; why would not Milwaukee put thousands on the Hoan each year, tourists in restaurants, bike renters in our bike shops, hungry people eating our fish fries and sipping Lakefront, Sprecher, Water Street or Ale House beer?
Who is the DOT?
Their choice reveals the culture of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation which controls one of the largest pots of state tax money, and spends these sums on roads to move - maybe not people - but cars and trucks, in particular to move Single Occupancy vehicles. While bicyclists mitigate traffic and beg for paint, signs, road sharing, courtesy, safety, and driver education, our land is paved to adjust to the latest congestion as if no one has learned the lesson. Pavement breeds cars. To pave two cemeteries on the west side of Milwaukee befits the history of unfortunate transportation priorities in that stretch. Tomorrow: driving over soldiers' graves to get to work two minutes early. Yesterday: this tract was a fast commuter rail line that worked, connecting downtown with Waukesha and East Troy.
Our city has unique needs; distance and segregated poverty demand low cost transportation options.
Exciting downtown events demand transportation, but as you tear down buildings for parking, jobs move away. Or, you can make a downtown unexciting just by doing nothing. In fact, for some this city is one of the best kept secrets in the states, according to a resident whose scholarship is in demand worldwide; his international reputation in the humanities allows him to live anywhere in the world; he chooses our Lake Front.
The Citizens Advisory Committee
Writing in 1997, and defining our responsibilities, the Department of Transportation invited citizens to participate in the Downtown to Bay View Study and offered that The Citizens Advisory Committee:
"... will play several important roles over the course of the study. Committee members will be asked to: ... Recommend a final alternative for further development." (letter to City of Milwaukee Bicycle Task Force, May 7, 1997) [emphasis mine]
Well, what happened, from my perspective?
From the start of the Citizens Advisory Committee in 1997, there were, each year, one or two meetings. The CAC was composed of citizens and government-appointed officials. Milwaukee County Executive Tom Ament sent a representative, as did the City, the Port of Milwaukee, as did (occasionally) the Federal Highway Administration, the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, the DNR. The Department was represented by technical people and usually the DOT project manager. The meetings were conducted by the Department's consultant, URS represented by Bill Weber and Chris Devery - experts on bike trails we were told.
Tension in these afternoon meetings was palpable. Government representatives were there on salary; citizens donated time, begged off work or closed our businesses - it was our chance to bring a vision to the city. We brought a sense of "let's not waste time."
Each meeting seemed to me clouded in a battle of language - government operatives relished a jargon ordinary citizens were not to comprehend - maybe an insecurity or two, having "their" policy meetings watched. They made clear we were on their turf. We tried to be nice, mostly - a sorry analysis of a citizen's role. Even city reps (supposedly on the side of the Mayor who supports the dream of a bicycle path on the Hoan) were odd ducks speaking in long convoluted time consuming sentences that would not come back to haunt them if they ever had to explain these meetings to the Mayor. The City's role in the process was clarified after the appointment of Jeff Polenske as City Engineer. Tom Ament's personal representative spoke up only, and I mean only, to underscore a problem associated with bicycling on the Hoan. She became known as the "Ah Hah! Lady." Otherwise she made no contributions. Her replacement also distinguished himself, which I will describe.
We examined 21 alternative bicycle routes from Bay View to Downtown. One lower cost Hoan alternative, offered by a citizen engineer, was quietly taken off the table; my understanding is that the Port of Milwaukee squelched it. No discussion.
We assessed 20 alternative Bay View to Downtown bicycle routes. All were scored based on 12 criteria which, generally, asked: Would the bicyclist like it and use it? Would the path interfere with motorized traffic? And what is the neighborhood impact? An army of critics - WisDOT engineers, Milwaukee County, SEWRPC (planners for seven counties), the Federal Highway Administration, and the Port of Milwaukee - brought to the table all possible objections to the Hoan path down to the question Do we bolt or not bolt the concrete barriers to the pavement? They brought no challenges about the Railroad path, how security would be addressed, what would need to be purchased other than asphalt, fence and light.
Selecting a Bike Route
When we voted to pare down the 20 alternatives to three, value voting (1,2,3) was employed so we could prioritize our choices on each vote. The bicyclists believed that the Second Street path should be done - folks living on the near south side need a marked and paved direct route to downtown - although Second Street was not an answer to the purpose of the Study (a Bay View to Downtown bike route). Second priority votes for Second Street were votes for more bike access, generally. I believe none of the Railroad votes were from bicyclists. Three alternatives emerged in a virtual three-way tie. The Railroad path collected the "anti-Hoan" votes. Second Street received many "second choice" votes. These three alternatives were taken to two public hearings. Had the DOT honored its original agreement (May 7, 1997) for CAC to "recommend a final alternative" the Hoan would probably have been chosen.
The Project's own record clarifies why the Railroad path is a wretched choice - more later. Second Street? In time the City announced that no matter what WisDOT decided on the Bay View Project, the City would repave and stripe Second Street, leaving the Hoan the standout alternative. Because the CAC understood that the Hoan will be used by walkers, the entire CAC agreed that the path had to be safe for everyone. The commuter route Study became a recreational trail Study.
The Voice of the Public
For this Study two public information sessions were conducted. Both sessions reinforced the popularity of a bicycle path on the Hoan. By now over 2200 citizens had signed a petition in favor of the Hoan; 84 businesses and organizations ncluding Rockwell International, the U.S. Postal Service, the American Lung Association of Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Art Museum, bicyclists from all over the metro area, the City of Milwaukee (Mayor and Common Council).
Where was the Opposition?
Oftentimes Milwaukee citizens speak in hushed tones about the "power" of certain talk shows. Talk jocks, however, did not attend the public information meetings. I read all the public comment from the public hearings. None of it contained the neurotic itch-scratching that Mark Belling and Charlie Sykes use to stir an incurably angry 10% of the population. Did they encourage their audience to come to the hearings, to listen, to ask, to challenge? I don't think so. Facts melt fear; fear drives their ratings.
Mark Belling's pitched whining about Hoan winds and the "steep" incline shows he is a clever entertainer, but not a journalist. Fear brings out the adrenaline of his listeners. There is plenty to hate in this world and, for some, hate may be their "rush."
Charlie Sykes pronounces that his view is a conservative perspective. I personally do not understand how he can say that and favor government-subsidized transportation choice (the car). Government subsidized anything is what used to be "wrong" with liberals. For many citizens, the car is a burden on the household budget.
In spite of the demagoguery, 45 of 64 (70%) of elected officials - city, county, state - signed or voted their support of the Hoan bicycle path. But the High Priests of Milwaukee were always in the background with their theology of taxpayer fundamentalism, telling Milwaukee to stand firm, to make no change, to spend zero money, to despise Milwaukee's progressive history, to forget what we will be leaving to our children, and to hang up on all critics. They are a protected lobby - never having to show their face or bring their "debate" style into the fresh air where it would die like mold. Bicyclists don't hide in transportation boxes; we are out in the fresh air and not afraid of the glare of public scrutiny. How many times did we answer that question what about Hoan winds (measured by the Electric Company)? How many times did we explain the Hoan only appears steep (riding with our committee a nine year old girl biked the entire Hoan sitting down)? How many times did we say the local match could be raised privately? How many times did I say I would debate these Ayatollahs in a town hall meeting? Democracy requires a public debate.
The County - Controlling the Citizen
County Executive Tom Ament's last representative, Ronald Rutkowski, waged mini-war on democracy. Funny gesture it was. At the CAC, after the January 22, 2002, public hearing, exasperated as he was with the fact that the public hearing generated an avalanche of support for the Hoan, he lamented that those who participated were, after all, "advocates!" In a few minutes the entire committee was laughing at this foolishness but we could not kill it.
After the meeting we laughed all the way home. On rides through congested traffic, we laugh. Every year, Bicycle Beats Car And Bus in the commuter race and we laugh. Our children on skateboards laugh. Roller-blading teens laugh. We laugh at politicians who cannot see past the gas pump prices. But oil is not funny anymore as it is about to cost us our children.
At the "final" meeting of the CAC, Mr. Rutkowski was now representing the "new" County Executive. Again, he repeated his fears of advocates and how they "must be controlled" to "insure good outcomes" whenever policy is discussed in public. His confusion of outcome and process reflects poorly on the "reform" and citizen-minded government who sent this holdover from the Ament regime, and allowed such nonsense to stand without rebuke. But it helped me recall that during a meeting a year or so back Mr. Rutkowski stated the "County was against the Hoan path" and for that reason the Hoan "should not even be on the table." Thereupon a bicyclist asked simply: "Did the County Board adopt this policy?" (Seventeen county supervisors - 68% of the Board - eventually endorsed the Hoan.) I don't wish to sound overdramatic and Mr. Rutkowski has a job to do, but what is it about County Government that even a Recall cannot fix? What kind of theory of civics operates in seats of power that citizens are considered a problem to be solved?
URS, the Consultant to the DOT
About two or three years ago, the tone had changed at the CAC meetings. URS, hired by the Department, was bicycle friendly at first. But after the vote to establish three alternatives, and the clear Hoan support at the first public hearing, something changed. Chris Devery replaced the avuncular Bill Weber; Chris is less experienced than Bill conducting a discussion with 15 to 25 participants. Dissent seems to rattle him.
(I will mention briefly my own work with consultants. One consultant lost his business; he was the one who directed me to edit the data he collected from his client - saving the president any embarrassments was his way of getting more work. The successful ones told me, 'I would never think of giving my clients what they think they need.') And so I have come to believe that Chris is more comfortable in small meetings than large; officials rather than citizens. They liked his advice.
If WisDOT were a private business, this Bay View Project would now, at the end, be evaluated - on several measures: focus, technology, communication, stakeholder satisfaction, thoroughness, accuracy of estimates, stewardship of funds. At the final meeting of the CAC Ryan Luck told us that the final Study Report will appear without CAC review. Is this a surprise?
Becoming more withdrawn with each meeting, I observed Mr. Devery was cutting off discussion at the CAC meeting. Yes, I grant that he did seem to want to hear each remark; he was paid to listen. However, he appeared to me heavy handed in not allowing us to ask each other questions that would clarify "citizen advice" [our task] to him. Rejecting citizen clarification undercut our usefulness. While Chris Devery conducted meetings without Bill Weber, I observed that no one took notes on citizen comments.
The Hazards and the Silence
Before the Public Hearing in January 2002, unresolved technical matters dropped out of the Consultant's presentation. There are seven (7) railroad tracks embedded at angles in the South Water Street stretch. Chris Devery did not return a phone call from me asking a question about the technology he was recommending to protect bicyclists crossing those tracks. Angular tracks are a well-known and fairly serious hazard for a bicycle. In the "DOT public information" session on January 22, 2002, this hazard was not listed as needing attention or as having been resolved. The route as shown to the public was stripped of engineering and safety challenges.
The Railroad Segment of the Plan and Its Problems
Mid-August, 2002, just before the "final" meeting of the CAC, I walked the Railroad section. The CAC should have done this as a team. Let me describe what I saw. There is a chain link fence or building along the entire western edge of the path. From the South starting point at Maple heading north, three long buildings hide one quarter mile of the path from the street, from traffic, and from people: two County Transit bus barns, and a foundry make the path invisible to First Street from Maple through Orchard; from there the path is spottily visible from a junk yard, a dead end street, an industrial back yard void of people but filled with rusting equipment. Three buildings appear to be abandoned, abutting backyards cluttered against a steep embankment, and the ever-present chain link fence. The two dead-end streets abut a nearly vertical 20 foot embankment.
To make this secure, WisDOT has set itself a large task. Will they acquire any properties? What of the buildings that are vacant or semi-retired? Will they tear down any buildings, fill in where the bluff is steep, make intermittent safe passage - yes, an occasional escape hatch - to Barclay or First Street? What will they ask of County Transit and the foundry to make their eastern walls (no windows) more people friendly? Ramps off? Hand railings? Lights on the street? Will they use foot patrols? Bicycle cops? At what time of day can we expect them to be available? Commuting is 24/7 stuff. There was no preliminary engineering on any of these matters. Will the CAC be invited to work with DOT engineers, walk the path, and let them see it as a bicyclist and parent would see it?
With all that, where is the outcry of the citizen about these hazards? It is in the DOT record:
"User Safety - Fair [sic]. Hazards at north and south connections and western bluff.... User Security - Poor. Isolated, inaccessible and poorly visible. Enjoyability - Poor. Nearby trains are very intimidating. Personal security fears. Unattractive environment." ... "Traffic impact and Parking impact - Good." (Stage 1 Report. "Alternatives for Further Study," January 1999, pp 5-6.)
An asphalt path and lighting will help. The eastern fence separating bike and train will alleviate one danger but introduce another, reducing flight options. Without mid-point off ramps, a stalker has an advantage. Escape - if you are free to choose - means racing to one end or the other - 1,000 yards is a short bike ride but a long sprint. Clearing trees may remove blind spots but sacrifice scraps of nature left on this stretch. A stalker or bike jacker will be prepared to conceal himself in a junk yard and scale a chain link fence upon spotting an isolated bicyclist. Would adult males use this? Probably, in the daytime. Some men might go at night. We can expect that children would go because they feel it will be "cool" to be near the trains. Children at night? Who is to say? Women bicyclists said they will not use it because they would not feel safe there. In my opinion, a civilized man listens when a woman talks about her personal safety. This is not a trade-off issue like "enjoyability," "traffic impact," or "convenient restaurants."
Based on the 12 criteria, the Railroad path scored well for motorists: no traffic impact; no parking impact. Second Street scored fair on Safety, poorly on Enjoyability and Bay View access. The Hoan scored high on all factors: bicycle, motorist, neighborhood. Even that single factor that needed study, the Hoan was found to be acceptable, for about 20 years, maybe more. Traffic impact.
Traffic Projections alongside a Hoan Bike Path
There were two traffic projections to study the impact of giving up one northbound Hoan lane for bicycles; both came to the same conclusion: A single (1) weekday hour of modest congestion could occur, maybe, in 20 years or so. The Northbound Hoan is a 3-lane, 50 mph stretch fed by a 2-lane 40 mph parkway. At the November 6, 2001, CAC meeting we observed a computer simulation of "worst case congestion" for rush hour - that singular 7 to 8 a.m. hour each weekday - Chris Devery operating the latest software.
Hoan Traffic during the Marquette Interchange Reconstruction
A week later, I talked to consultants, hired to plan the Marquette interchange reconstruction. They told me that the heaviest use of the Hoan to accommodate the Marquette project would add about 200 cars to the northbound lanes during the morning rush hour - worst case - and only when the Marquette plan will impact Northbound traffic. These two CH2MHill consultants told me that such small impact should not be a consideration in a decision to segment a lane on the Hoan for pedestrians and bikes. (Conversation, Marquette Interchange Reconstruction Public Outreach, November 15, 2001.) The maps they sent me show eight (8) more choices for the motorist traveling north to downtown: 35th Street, 27th Street, Muskego Avenue, Canal Street, 16th Street, 6th Street, 2nd Street, and 1st Street. After the Hoan bridge broke in December 2000 - giving us a one-lane Hoan for nine months - city engineers adjusted Kinnickinnic traffic lights to favor rush hour. My car-commuting experience during the repair of the Hoan was that First Street and Kinnickinnic were busy, but not congested.
The CAC traffic projection presentation came as a relief to bicyclists because the Hoan plan survived traffic projection challenges. We viewed the projections on a large screen. What I saw would make commuters on I-94 ecstatic, if they had to "endure" that kind of traffic: Hoan traffic flowing smoothly, none of the start and stop that characterizes congestion. (The three Southbound Hoan lanes are unaffected by the Plan.) As we watched, the latest CORSIM software generated traffic flow with mounting complexity: 3 lanes to 2 lanes; and 1, 2, 5, 10 and 20 years down the road. The flow was smooth; there was no start-stop traffic at all. I left the CORSIM traffic projection presentation meeting bursting with relief.
A Secret Meeting before the Decision
At the March 7, 2002, - after the CORSIM demonstration - Ken Yunker (SEWRPC) told WisDOT that he had yet another set of traffic projections and that maybe "our technical people could meet" to discuss this discrepancies (yet another meeting to which citizens were not invited). Since two projections and three statistical analyses of traffic were already done during the Study, I wrote Mr. Yunker and the Department of Transportation on March 21, 2002, asking for the traffic projection documents that were being exchanged between the Commission and the Department. At this moment (mid-September) I have not received that information. An intervention from my State Assembly Representative, Jon Richards appears to have prompted Ken Yunker to call me early in July and promise the material "in a few days."
Misrepresenting the Study and CORSIM
In spite of all the evidence to the contrary and the CORSIM evidence that the Hoan is and will be underutilized, Ryan Luck stood in front of TV cameras and stated that "concerns about traffic flow" was a major reason why the Hoan would not work for bicycling. Yes, we all had concerns, but what's the point of ignoring what his own office did about it? Why spend the money to address the concerns and then misrepresent the results to the public? Why did WisDOT not tell the public what they told the CAC? Why did WisDOT not put CORSIM on Channels 4, 6, 10, 12, and 58 for the public to view?
The Price - the Railroad Path
Based on comments made at the final CAC meeting, the $1.2 million to be spent on the Railroad path will not include any major infrastructure revisions to solve the "invisibility" inherent in the Railroad alternative. No purchase of industrial land to make easements for escape ramps. This path will either be perceived as unsafe, or the cost overruns to make it safe will be borne by property tax payers.
The Price - the Hoan Path
The DOT's estimate ($3.5 million) on the "temporary" bicycle path cried out for detail. Alderman Paul Henningsen - on the occasion of the Common Council endorsement of the Hoan, April 23, 2002 - asked me why it would cost so much. So, I wrote Mr. Devery and asked. After waiting over a month, I called Chris to remind him of my letter and he said that he had forwarded my request to the Department; the DOT was not giving out this information - because, he said, it was "sensitive." Sensitive? Estimating public expenses is sensitive?
Let's take a look at the "sensitive" date I received in July, 2002, from Ryan Luck, the new WisDOT Project Manager of the Study. In my humble opinion, with professional experience around document sources and validation, I believe this estimate was put together hastily. Some of the results had multiplication errors. Over a half mile of chain link fence appears on the ramps. The bike ramp - the most expensive and most controversial expenditure studied in all of the CAC meetings - has a $1.6+ million figure, no detail.
If the spreadsheet of $3.5 million took seven (7) months to finish, why did it appear thrown together? I have asked WisDOT, again, to divulge the basis for their $3.5 million quote. Meanwhile, theories abound. Was the high estimate inflated by design? Would an inflated number during the 2002 recession kill the project politically? If so, what political pressure held sway over the widespread official support this bike path earned?
The Lower Hoan Estimate
In fact, a Hoan plan closer to budget ($2.6 million), was rejected by the DOT because it would have required modest and temporary compromises to the AASHTO standards. These standards are periodically refined (like a tightening winch, only in one direction) to give motorists more and more of a straight line ride, without - God forbid - reductions in speed. Where they are not implemented perfectly, adjustments are made. AASHTO compromises abound in older urban landscapes because the alternatives are expensive (land acquisition, moving businesses, esthetics). Examples of such compromises are well known to Milwaukee motorists: Brown Deer southbound ramp on I-94. North Avenue southbound ramp on Highway 45. Capitol Drive southbound ramp onto I-43. "Perfect" on-ramps increase congestion by feeding cars faster, and then, ironically, stop and go lights are installed to control on-ramp volumes. AASHTO.
The "temporary" nature of the Hoan alternative was an internal WisDOT decision three years ago to allow WisDOT flexibility in devising access, without committing to the project long term. If traffic became unbearably congested with only two lanes, shutting down the bike path was an option. If the bike path proved wildly popular, it would remain a part of any design when the bridge is redone - after the Marquette project. This was a win-win that bicyclists could embrace because it seemed fair - and we believed that the Hoan path would be so popular it would never be dismantled.
But by the time of the press conference on August 8th Wisconsin Department of Transportation had caved to its car culture with (1) its outrageous dollar estimate for "temporary" access and (2) a citizen-be-tricked, Study-shredding distortion of DOT's own traffic projections.
At the press conference the WisDOT Decision was stoutly defended by the Ryan Luck, the Project Manager, with generalities about the internal decision making of the Department. Mr. Luck's performance was stunning. He offered glowing generalities about "practicality, community access, lack of traffic impact, concern for safety" - sweet phrases for television, but taken from the Study as the rationale for the Hoan!
Community? An unsafe corridor of chain link fences in a "neighborhood" of abandoned buildings? Paving grass on Bay Street to keep bicycles off the most unused four lane divided highway in the world? Did they ask the homeowners along that stretch? Community.
Access? The reason the Hoan got metropolitan support - not just the Bay View Bicycle Club - is the fact that it would complete a 13-mile recreational parks trail that serves the entire Metro area.
Concerns for safety? Seclusion? Escape limits? Night-time questions? Trains? The Hoan would be made safe night and day with concrete barriers and many eyes watching. Safety.
Finally, Mr. Luck tossed out that old red herring of how it would be expensive to de-ice the Hoan with a bike path - one issue long ago resolved as a capital, not maintenance, cost ($500 per drainage grate and not bolting the concrete barriers - not bolting had other advantages too). But even in the hot summer sun it sounded good in front of TV cameras.
WisDOT might have offered this Decision: "The Hoan is DOT's choice, and we give you citizens six months to find the local money or we will build the Railroad path." The Citizens were cut out of the things we could do best, with WisDOT support. Surely this will cost Milwaukee in esthetics, tourist dollars, and probably more taxes to fix a bad plan.
The local share to be spent for the Railroad path? $250,000. The Hoan? $520,000 (using the AASHTO-compromise). A per county resident difference of about 30 cents. It was never written in stone that Hoan path had to be built during a recession or with public money.
In my business I have always purchased "up" - saving me from having to fix a bad decision later. On this committee, I thought like a businessman as well as a bicyclist, citizen and taxpayer. On long term investment, prudence is not cost-cutting, prudence is based on getting the vision right. In this study the vision was gutted. Yes, of course the "Hoan" decision would require funds. To those who build things funding is a challenge, not baggage. Seventeen courageous County Supervisors understood their endorsement of the Hoan was not yet a budget item. Private money was an option until WisDOT killed that, too. The City has enjoyed major private investments in its infrastructure: the Calatrava art museum extension, the original Pabst theater and its recent renovation, the PAC remodeling, the Riverwalk, the Third Ward, Kinnickinnic Avenue, why would anyone doubt the generosity of one well-heeled citizen to help?
In exchange for the spectacular Hoan view of the Calatrava Art Museum Extension we will get the glorious sight of a turn of the century rusting coal elevator. WisDOT's folly! Life in the past lane.
Citizens Question the DOT
The City of Milwaukee, in a letter dated June 13, 2002, questioned the Department for a reconsideration of the $3.5 million estimate and suggested small, safety-centered changes to the design. "We would like to review the methodology, assumptions and unit prices that were used in developing the estimate.... One possible cost saving proposal is to have both motor vehicles and bicycles temporarily share the existing ramp at the south end...." (at the lower speeds that make this a safe compromise). The compromises would be alleviated when, after the Marquette is built, the bridge is reconstructed in 20 years, the City wrote to DOT.
As taxpayer I ask WisDOT: why did it cost $370,000 of federal money to learn we must spend $250,000 of public money on a turkey?
Why did the DOT destroy a chance of getting private money to do the right and better thing arguably with fewer tax dollars?
At the "final" meeting of the CAC, August 29, 2002, I asked: "Ryan, you have obviously thought about the Railroad path more than I have, how many bicyclists do you figure will use it?" Mr. Luck and Mr. Devery each said they honestly had no idea.
Bicyclists Question Each Other
Bicyclists, we laugh, don't we? The Department appears to have painted itself into a corner, but it is not only their problem. Bicycle advocates are wondering, too. Shall we fight this plan? Is it our problem? What if the path is not used? What if there are cost overruns? If we don't alert taxpayers, will we bicyclists be blamed for the path's costs or its failure? If taxpayers object, will the path be done at the lowest possible cost?
Sometimes we don't get what we want. In a democracy we all face that from time to time. And when the decision is reasonable given all the factors, it's time to move on. There is a future of opportunity awaiting.
The WisDOT decision and process, however, severely challenge practical acceptance. Their work ought to be widely analyzed - whether you drive, fly or walk: The Railroad choice will cost more than they are saying or that path may remain unsafe and unused; it is esthetically loathsome; it flies in the face of popular and official support; it squanders an opportunity to make a brilliant Milwaukee County tourist attraction with private money.
Why The Hoan Pedestrian Path Will Be Built
A couple of hundred years ago the idea that you could have light in a bottle, without using fire, was the stuff of magic, not reality. That a piece of mineral could be made to burn a million times hotter than a piece of wood. That humans could fly. That you could hear voices over the ocean. Walking over a bridge would seem to require no imagination at all.
Government offices, often seem to be short on imagination. People in power begin to think like Mr. Rutkowski and believe they must do everything in quiet meetings and that barking citizens need to be on a leash. But reform succeeds if citizen imagination is welcome, if they are allowed to shed light on what governments honestly do not know.
Consider that County Executive Scott Walker did endorse the Hoan when he started his campaign in the Spring. After watching him, the governor and the mayor receive applause at the dedication of the 6th Street Viaduct, I am convinced he will find himself happy to visit this issue again with an eye for the day the Hoan path will open. After he changed his mind about the Hoan under pressure from the WISN Ayatollah, I brashly advised him in a phone conversation: "don't let those guys [talk radio] take charge of your political life." I am sure he laughed to himself at my presumption. But at 6th Street, I believe he saw how a champion works: find the money (someone else's) and then negotiate the credit (even if you are entitled to it) but get the job done. He would do well to study Norquist rather than Ament.
We used to blame the stodgy Germans (hey, that's my family!) for the slowness of Milwaukee to change. In the 21st century however the Germans have seen their power shift to a Norquist, Jones, Pratt, Sanchez, Moore, Hernandez, Walker, Cupertino, and O'Donnell. Milwaukee is becoming more genuinely American; we are now many ethnic groups. And we can do better - as we did on 6th Street. The Mayor has an eye for what a city should look like. He has been right about the 6th street viaduct, and about pedestrians, traffic flow, and downtown vitality. He is right about the Hoan bike path.
I have biked the Hoan twice, once with the Mayor, another time courtesy County Executive Bill O'Donnell. The view is exhilarating - nothing like the view from a metal container whizzing by at 50 mph. One gets a sense of empowerment viewing the city from the "top." I will not forget.
This Bay View to Downtown Project, while failing the city for now, gave us a design which will one day be implemented - a safe, spectacular, world class recreational trail that will let you push grandma to the top of the city in a wheelchair (well, yes, if she wants to go).
I am sometimes asked (as if I would know) Will bicycles ever be allowed on the Hoan? My answer: this is America. Americans found their way through a wilderness; it takes little imagination to make way on a underused bridge. I wrote this report because I am optimistic: After five years of study, we now have an official State-sponsored plan that will protect foot traffic and not cause traffic congestion. New volunteers have already come forward; we have added 10% more petitioners in the 30 days since August 8th.
Someday the Hoan Recreational Path will beckon a leader with a desire to put a new name on the map.
Bill Sell is a Bay View homeowner, Third Ward businessman, member of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Citizens Advisory Committee on the Downtown to Bay View Bicycle Path, member Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin, First Street bicycle commuter.
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