I walked ten miles to school in the snow…

There has been a great discussion about plowing bike paths on the Dane County Bikies listserv over the past week.  The topic was raised as people emailed out trail conditions reports.  This is necessary because, even though Madison has a pretty good policy about plowing bike trails, riders still can’t be sure the trail they take will be cleared of snow and ice after a storm.

I remember the one time I pedaled home behind a Milwaukee DPW truck clearing the snow on the Hank Aaron State Trail. I felt almost royal.

What if that were true for roads?  What if you had to listen to the news to find out which roads would be plowed before you left for work?  What if people were driving down a road and suddenly it was no longer cleared of snow and even ended in a big impassable pile?  That would be pretty inconvenient, wouldn’t it? Well, that is what it is like for winter cyclists, and we still ride.

What would people do if this happened to them when they drove a car?

Here in Milwaukee, there is no policy to clear bike trails and, as a result, most of the trails don’t get plowed, or if they do, it is not until days after a storm.  For most year-round cyclists, this means abandoning our pleasant trails away from traffic and hitting the roads.  In the winter this requires a fairly assertive person, since you often have to ride out in front of the cars in the wheel track.  Even after the roads have been plowed, there is often plow drift at the curb that builds up over winter and effectively narrows the road. This can eventually mean bike lanes disappear entirely.

It seems odd to me that in a city, like Milwaukee, that has almost 1,500 miles of roads 50 ft wide on average that are cleared by plows within 24 hours of a storm, we can’t devote the resources to plow the 116 miles of 10 ft wide trails we have.  Milwaukee’s plowing operations are paid for with a snow and ice removal fee that every property owner pays, whether you drive a car or not, so cyclists pay and should get their trails cleared of snow.

This is really a good example of our priorities as a society today.  We spend millions of dollars to make it as easy as possible for people to get to work in the most inefficient way possible, and we think it crazy, wasteful or unimportant to spend a relatively small amount of money to help people who want to get to work in a healthy efficient manner.

What happened to the days when people bragged about being tough and self-reliant? When did we become a society of people who demand to be coddled?  When did waste become the American way? When did people stop walking ten miles to school in the snow?



About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

9 thoughts on “I walked ten miles to school in the snow…

  1. Exactly!

    As a daily cross-town bike commuter, the Hank Aaron is a common route for me. Well…until the snow fell. Until then, the HAST was abuzz with traffic — not just bikes, but walkers; not just the section east of 35th, but all the way out to 121st. It was December and walkers were stopping me to ask how far the trail went. We should be encouraging usage of the trails by plowing, not hibernating in the winter.

    These days, I find myself on the road. Were I a wimpier person, I’d probably put the bike on a hook until the snow melted. But, instead, I’m on the road, often, to the consternation of drivers, taking the lane; occassionally being passed too close and too fast. But, my bike is my mode of commute and that is the only option I have.

    I don’t see what I do as unusual and I don’t know why it is perceived as such. I agree….we walked to school as kids in the cold, in the snow; my father walked to work. OK, so it was somewhere between 1-2 miles, not 10, but I just don’t get while people my age (50-somethings) who did the same even form the question, “how can you stay warm?”

    Bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure is an investement in the future; not maintaining those routes throughout the years is wasting the investment….but, wait, I’m preaching to the choir.

  2. I was suprised to see how well the raised bike lane of Bay St. has been plowed. It’s been the most enjoyable part of my ride(I just wish it went a little further). I’ve been really disappointed with S. 2nd St. It seems that during the past couple of snow events that we’ve had the bike lane on S. 2nd st. hasn’t been plowed at all, making for fairly dangerous conditions. If the idea is that this is the main artery for south-bound cyclists, I would expect the city to take better care of it.

  3. Recently I was at an event at the Marquette Law School, in their new building with three decks of underground parking. Of course all attendees were allowed free parking in this underground garage, because apparently if this was not offered no one would come. The organizer of the event told me that the law students and faculty were upset because “their” parking spaces were taken up, and they had to park one block away and walk.

    So this is what has become of our society.

  4. Well put!

    I wanted to go to east side from downtown and avoided the oak laeaf trail knowing that it most likely was not plowed/and or icy. I took Wells to prospect and then had to take the right lane because the bike lane was ice the entire way to Whole Foods. I’m sure there were many upset drivers who didn’t understand that the bike trail was sheer ice for about two miles. Very inconvenient!

    I often follow the bus routes and Holton bridge is often only plowed (and I know the municipal bridge never gets plowed) but with the bridge down to one lane it’s often unsafe for me to get to work- and it’s only 2.9 miles. I took a side road a couple days ago and had my first fall of the season because of the amount of ice on the road. Even the side roads and some areas of town don’t get plowed well.

    If cities like Minneapolis can make trails accessible all year; why can’t we?

    • Rob,

      Milwaukee does not have a policy to clear snow from most trails or bike lanes, so there really isn’t anyone to call other than elected officials to try to get a policy adopted.

  5. It should also be noted many of the off road stretches of the Oak Leaf, as well as parkway drive sections are under county not city jurisdiction.

    The few times over the years they have plowed the oak Leaf near Good Hope where I live, it really wasn’t done good enough to ride and screwed up my skiing. Those out of the way, low use areas I’d just as soon they don’t plow them.

    • Those jurisdictional issues are important. In fact, all of the Oak Leaf Trail, no matter where if it is in the City proper or not is maintained and plowed (or not plowed) by the County.

  6. I tell you what them drivers would do! They’d drive right smack into that snow pile because they’d be driving 20mph over the speed limit, texting on their phones, putting on their makeup, and inserting a Disney DVD in the backseat entertainment center to appease the children!

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