Milwaukee Rolls Up A Notch In Ratings Of Bicycle-Friendly Cities

Jun 3, 2019

It's Wisconsin Bike Week, which means there are events across the state promoting bicycling. In Milwaukee, the city reports progress toward earning a top biking designation. But activists say there is much more to accomplish.

Three years ago, Mayor Tom Barrett announced plans for Milwaukee to become a Platinum Bicycle Friendly Community (BFC). Platinum is the top rating that the League of American Bicyclists uses to rank communities on factors like bicycling safety, education and engineering of bike lanes and roadways.

Madison is at Platinum level. No Wisconsin city is at the second level, Gold. But Milwaukee recently moved up to the third-highest level, Silver, joining Shorewood, Appleton, Fitchburg and LaCrosse. 

Members of the group Black Girls Do Bike pose with Mayor Barrett and Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton after riding with the politicians Monday morning.
Credit Chuck Quirmbach

"We're goin' up, we're goin' up, we're goin' up!” Barrett exclaimed, to applause, at a Monday news conference announcing the Silver award.

Milwaukee Public Works Commissioner Jeff Polenske says the upgrade to Silver is largely due to a policy approved last fall called Complete Streets. Polenske says the policy aims to make it safe, enjoyable, and convenient to walk, bike, or take transit — no matter one’s age or ability. 

"We certainly have installed some starting protective bike lanes, better bike facilities. But just the fact that we now have a solid, Complete Streets policy that we're going to move forward with, it really helps us provide that guidance moving forward," Polenske told WUWM.

Last year, Milwaukee installed the city's first protected bike lanes that physically separate bicycles from other moving vehicles. They're on the North Avenue and Locust Street bridges over the Milwaukee River, and on E. Kilbourn Avenue. More protective bike lanes will be installed on Jefferson Street downtown and on part of Hawley Road on the west side this year. Also, planning is underway for bike boulevards — a low speed street that favors bicycles — in Riverwest and the near south side. The city has also purchased 4,000 bike racks and has started installing them.   

Caressa Givens speaking at Monday's news conference. She's with the Wisconsin Bike Federation, and Milwaukee Safe and Healthy Streets.
Credit Chuck Quirmbach

Caressa Givens is of the Wisconsin Bike Federation, and Milwaukee Safe and Healthy Streets. She says she appreciates the changes. But she warned Barrett and alderpersons at the news conference that the heat will be on to develop connected bike and walk networks.

"I'm serious, y'all. I'm going to get up in your office, with my friends, with the community, here, and we're going to be in your office and we want to do this," Givens said.

While the greater space given to bicyclists may annoy some drivers, Givens says there are signs that fewer cars are speeding on those streets.

Givens, Wisconsin Bike Fed and Milwaukee Safe & Healthy Streets have announced a peaceful demonstration beginning at 5:30 Tuesday afternoon, asking Mayor Barrett and the Common Council for safer bicycling facilities in Milwaukee.

A press release says the demonstration will occur on the southeast side of the Holton Street bridge. Demonstrators will be forming a human chain, and stand shoulder to shoulder along the existing painted bike lane, to physically protect cyclists as they pass through. 

Support is provided by Dr. Lawrence and Mrs. Hannah Goodman for Innovation reporting.

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