Is Walker to Blame for Milwaukee Falling off its Bike Game?

The last time Megan visited Milwaukee for any serious amount of time was during the month of July, 2008. She lived with some good friends of ours for a month while she transitioned from Madison to Boston, and used a bicycle to explore the town everyday. In 2008, Milwaukee was making significant, meaningful changes to its non-automotive infrastructure, with trails and bike lanes across town. Megan was smitten (continued below).

Milwaukee Facebook album

Milwaukee City Guide Page

 Colectivo Coffee in the Third Ward.

Colectivo Coffee in the Third Ward.

6 quick places to see / eat / drink

  • Bradford Beach - refurbished Art Deco beach house with live music, volleyball, cabanas and beautiful views.
  • Milwaukee Art Museum - iconic Calatrava design that pays tribute to Milwaukee's sailing history.
  • Hubbard Park Beer Garden - traditional beer garden right off the Oak Leaf trail. They boast parking for 120 bicycles!
  • Milwaukee Public Market & Third Ward - The market is a great place to shop, drink and eat and the Third Ward is the city's arts and fashion district with a riverwalk and reclaimed warehouse space.
  • Colectivo Coffee - multiple locations but all are bike friendly (offered us a pump behind the counter to fill our tire) with great atmospheres and most importantly, great coffee.
  • Anodyne Coffee - in Megan's previous life, she was a small market owner in Madison and Anodyne was where she sourced her beans!

Fast forward to June 2015, when we took 3 days to explore Milwaukee by bike as a family and see what exciting new developments had taken place in the ensuing 7 years. What we found was a city that had been all but dipped in amber, a virtually copy of its older self, with no exciting new bike infrastructure to be found. To be sure, "2008 Milwaukee" was already a pretty cool place to bike around, but whatever head start they had over similarly sized cities has completely evaporated. In that same time, Boston has gone from "utterly unbikeable" to "pretty decent, actually, and with big plans for the future that already have approved funding." The change in Boston, Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle, Chicago, New York City, Indianapolis, and others during that same time frame has been comparatively meteoric. Everyone else seems to have caught fire, and Milwaukee is coasting.

 We wanted to see more neat biking infrastructure like this bridge over the Milwaukee River.

We wanted to see more neat biking infrastructure like this bridge over the Milwaukee River.

So what gives? Again, Milwaukee has a strong bike culture and decent-to-amazing infrastructure. And it has those unfailingly nice mid-western people. And it has GOOD beer. And it has just as much access to Lake Michigan as does Chicago. And it has the fabulous local chain Colectivo Coffee, who make sure you never need go too far without a comfortable chair, top-shelf baked goods, and righteously good coffee that is sourced the ethical way. Unfortunately, Milwaukee also has a governor who has cut spending on every kind of transportation except highways, and who famously halted an already federally funded railway project to move the Chicago-Minneapolis rail line so that it would have stops in Milwaukee and Madison along the way, needlessly ensuring that Visitors to Milwaukee will continue to need to drive there in a car or bus. Forgive us the leap of logic, but we are suspicious that perhaps just such a governor and just such a lack of movement on progressive, equitable transportation issues might just....possibly... be related.

At any rate, Milwaukee is too good to be kept down for long. We have faith that such a gorgeous, friendly town will find a way to become trend-setting again. Bradford Beach is a magical place on a hot summer afternoon, and that art museum is a stunning, inspirational piece of public architecture. We think Milwaukee is one election away from greatness, and we can't wait to get it back.