From Bill Sell

OffRamp: Why the Hoan

Published in the Bay View Compass, October 2005

“Why The Hoan?”

We live on the shore of one of the largest fresh water lakes in the world and sometimes I feel we are hell-bent to hide its naked beauty. Building on the lakefront has become an ego sport. If a visitor from space inspected the condominiums of St. Francis, the former Harnischfeger fortress, Jones Island, and whacked-out proposals to park old boats in our best space for kite-flying, she would probably conclude that looking at water is considered pornography.

Let’s make love to our lake publicly. Let us find ways for more people to see the lake because love comes through the eyes. And love will ultimately save the lake. I’ve been on the Hoan on a bike (more than once) and in a moment of rapture I shouted my everlasting love for that Bay View blue water of my childhood memory.

Tell me why this ecstatic view of our city is forbidden unless we are safety-belted in a container at 50 miles per hour?

Is the Hoan really fraught with peril for humans who dare?

During the 90th Anniversary Harley Fest, motorcyclists dared to break the law. They parked along the shoulder of the Hoan to snap pictures of marvelous views of Milwaukee. Wisely, our sheriff seems to have not noticed these reckless adventurers.

The Harley party over, you could again get a traffic ticket for biking there, taking a picture or feeling the breeze there, or just staring at the lake.

However, biking on the Hoan today is a safe and achievable goal.

The State of Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) spent nearly three hundred thousand dollars and six years studying the Hoan as a commuter route between downtown and Bay View. This study affirmed the route’s practicality and safety.

Wind on the bridge, a small percentage stronger than ground level wind, will probably deter bicyclists only about one out of ten commuter trips. Yes, I know, a driver tells me how his car shakes in the wind on the Hoan, but he fails to notice that the car itself adds a vector of 50 mph to mother nature. We bicyclists know the wind, up close and personal.

WisDOT’s “concerns” about Hoan bicycling arose from the one and only design WisDOT studied. They preferred to dedicate the right shoulder of the northbound lanes as a two-way bicycle path—subtracting one lane and leaving two for motorized vehicles.

This plan, therefore, prompted several studies of projected congestion. I was at these meetings, one of which included viewing expensive CORSIM software simulations of future traffic, “worst case” congestion—twenty years from now—adding a woeful five seconds to the 7 A.M. commute. I saw traffic running smoothly with large gaps between vehicles—no “start-stop” congestion.

The 40 mph Lake Parkway cannot feed the 50 mph northbound Hoan lanes fast enough to congest the Hoan.

However, there is another way to allocate space for bicycles on the Hoan—painting bike lanes on the shoulder. Simple and low cost, it leaves all lanes open while the shoulder is available for motorists who need to stop. Popular usage could also get us a walking path when the Hoan is rebuilt.

We are seeing these lanes painted all over Milwaukee. A striped Hoan would be safer than most state highways. This is so because on the Hoan the speed is lower and the shoulders are wider than state roads where bicycles share the lane with motorized vehicles.

The desire to bicycle is an intelligent, conservative response to gas prices. As recreation or transportation, bicycling is year-round, yet it requires a pittance from taxes compared to the cost of making beaches safe and golf courses available on pleasant days.

The San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge bike and foot path gets filled with tourists pouring out of buses to walk on it because it is a breathtaking lovers’ walk — city and ocean, side by side, as lovers supporting each other.

I’ve biked the Hoan. It is a safe, refreshing “high” that will make Milwaukee famous.

You can reach Bill Sell’s eMailbox .

To read from the WisDOT safety report on Hoan bicycling, see WisDOT Safety on the Hoan

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