Bicycles: A Solution to Some of Milwaukee’s Problems

by Ben Hitchcock-Cross

Milwaukee’s slavish devotion to the automobile causes more problems than it solves. Everyone implicitly understands that an automobile is a nearly a necessity for living around Milwaukee. This supposed necessity is killing us both ecologically and sociologically; a solution might be bicycles. While the City has tried to increase the use of bicycles in Milwaukee, who would argue that attempt is serious? A serious approach will greatly benefit the City. It is often asserted that driving is a choice. In Milwaukee driving is a choice like eating is. The City’s infrastructure is designed exclusively for the suburban motorist. For the denizens of the city there is little choice but to drive vast distances for the necessities of life. For every benefit, there is a cost. The price at the pump is just the beginning: there is the cost of the millions of pounds of poisons, the tedious hours spent in traffic, parking, drunk driving, the astounding cost of insurance, taxes for over-burdened roads, auto industry subsidies, to say nothing of the occupation of Iraq. Given that many are unable or unwilling to bear such costs may we deny those an equal access to the city? The increases in young UWM students have put tremendous pressures on parking, not only on the East Side, but in Riverwest as well, not to mention all the cars zipping down Locust Avenue. What plan addresses bicycles as a solution? Reactionary ticketing (a regressive tax), additional parking lots, and resident only parking ignore the ultimate fact: too many cars in too small an area is destined to fail. The benefits of bicycles are numerous: improved health and well being, safety, low costs, less pollution, increased socialization, easy parking — and who knows of anyone dying from a drunken bicycling accident? Milwaukee is unsafe and unfriendly to bicycles and pedestrians. While there are some bicycle-only lanes, and UWM has begun a limited bicycle program, it is simply not enough. Changes in the City’s bicycle infrastructure are important, but must be exactly mirrored with a change in perception. Would you bike to a nightclub? Would you drive home drunk? Many people don’t bike to bars for a simple reason: there is a perception that if you ride a bike, then you must not be able to afford a car. Every time I bike to a club, some nature criminal cracks wise. In Europe, men and women go to clubs well dressed on bicycles. No one feels ashamed to invite someone to their house on a bike. The youth of Milwaukee should remove the stigma from bikes. This will only happen when Milwaukee recognizes bicycles not as recreation but as transportation, and not for a few, but for everyone, everywhere. A definition for the threshold for a bike-friendly East Side and Riverwest is when youth, the vanguard of progress, aspire to ride a chic, shiny Schwinn out and about. I offer the following constructive solutions to changing perspective on bicycles, many of them the norm in Europe: 1. That construction of arterial roads should include real bike lanes that are separated from the cars by a raised median for safety and to prevent the lanes from becoming an extra lane for right turns. 2. The City purchase bicycles and lease, rent, or sell them at a subsidized rate with preference given to exclusive bikers. 3. The City should maintain bicycles for the exclusive use of tourists. 4. Increase the number of places to lock your bike. 5. Local bars should have promotional nights for bike users. Please call our mayor (414/286-2200) and your alderperson (414/286- 2221) about a real “bicycle-friendly” Milwaukee.