Milwaukee making an effort to be more bike-friendly by 2020

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the City of Milwaukee have been trying to make cycling easier and safer for Milwaukee residents in an effort to promote a healthier and greener population – news that some Marquette bike lovers are happy to hear.

According to the city’s 2010 Bicycle Master Plan, cyclists can look forward to 38 miles of new bike lanes, 38 miles of shared bike and car lanes, a south-side bike trail and a new bike-sharing program organized by Midwest Bikeshare, Inc in the city by 2020.

More recently, improvements scheduled to be made in Milwaukee by the end of 2012 include an elimination of all front-in angle parking in the downtown area in favor of parallel or back-in spaces and a one bike rack per 250 residents quota. Since 2005, Milwaukee has built more than 2,000 bike racks, 56 miles of bike lanes and a raised bike lane in Bay View.

Tim Cigelske, a communications specialist at Marquette and a cycler himself, said bicycle safety in Milwaukee should be a priority for the city, adding that increased cycling can impact a city’s development.

Cigelski said increased cyclist safety and the creation of safer and more accessible bike trails promotes economic development in cities with large populations.

“A lot of cities have discovered that cycling can help their economy and create a vibrant culture,” he said. “Cycling can combat health problems like obesity, relieve traffic congestion and pollution and promote tourism and urban living.”

Safer and more accessible routes are what stand between Milwaukee and increased cycling, Cigelske said.

“In order to reap those benefits, people need to feel like they have safe and efficient routes and trails to ride,” Cigelske said. “The safer streets and roads are for cyclists, the more cities are going to see their population taking to bikes.”

Cigelske said he recently took friends from Chicago on a 20-mile bike ride through Milwaukee, taking the Oak Leaf Trail from the east side through the Third Ward before ending back at his house.

“That’s a long way of saying there’s really a lot to see in Milwaukee by bike,” he said.

Safer routes and trails could encourage Marquette students and faculty to choose cycling over other modes of transportation.

“(The impact) would take the form of faculty biking to work more, as well as students cycling to more off-campus destinations like Jazz in the Park,” Cigelske said. “In the 12 years I’ve lived in Milwaukee, I’ve seen great improvement in bike lanes and additional trails that continue to boost cycling on and around Marquette’s campus.”

Despite the many improvements, some believe Milwaukee still has a way to go to become a more bike-friendly city.
“There’s not a sufficient amount of bike lanes (or bike racks) available,” said Angel Certeza, a junior in the College of Health Sciences. “I’ve known so many (Marquette) students (who) get their bikes stolen. But at the end of the day, bike safety will depend on the biker.”

The Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin is an advocacy group that promotes safer cycling conditions in Wisconsin.

Most recently, the BFW, along with its communications director, Dave Schlabowske, have been working toward bringing bike-sharing to Milwaukee.

“(Bike-sharing) could go a long way toward energizing the downtown area,” said Jason McDowell, blogger for OnMilwaukee. “Plus it’s just fun.”

With increased support from the Department of Transportation, the city and organizations like the BFW, bike-sharing and safer cycling environments are a possibility.

“Cities realize that cycling is good for the health of (their populations) in a variety of ways,” Cigelske said. “The dense populations of cities are just conducive to a cycling lifestyle, and we’ll continue to see more bikes as people catch on to all their advantages.”