Panel reluctantly grants exception to bike lane requirement

C.T. Kruger
The northeast corner of Bluemound and Mayfair Roads where widening would be required to include a bike lane in the Highway 100 construction in conjunction of the Zoo Interchange project.
Published on: 10/2/2012

With the Oak Leaf Trail snaking through the city, the administration pursuing a long-range plan for bicycle trails, and aldermen promoting rent-a-bike stations, Wauwatosa is getting into cycling in a big way.

So when representatives of the state Department of Transportation met with the city's Traffic & Safety Committee recently seeking a waiver on a required bike lane at the intersection of Bluemound and Mayfair roads, they got a little push-back before getting what they wanted.

"It is disappointing that we've gotten to the stage where we're basically throwing in the towel and saying 'It can't be done,' " said Alderman Bobby Pantuso.

Joshua Leveque, a project manager for the DOT, illustrated the problem with a map. As part of the Zoo Interchange project, Bluemound Road's approach to its juncture with Mayfair will be rebuilt, including lengthening the railroad tunnel that dives under the intersection. Bluemound will expand to nine lanes wide, including turning lanes. Leveque said the DOT had determined that there is not enough room for a dedicated bike lane from Mayfair to 110th Street, about three blocks west.

Tim Anheuser, a project manager for Forward 45, a coalition of engineering firms advising the DOT, said it was a "constrained environment," and when they studied the installation of a bike lane, they determined it would eat up about the half the parking for some of the businesses on either side of Bluemound. "We heard loud and clear" that the businesses depend on that parking, he said.

Wafa Elqaq of the DOT called the corner the "busiest intersection in the state," and said, "some people would not want their kids to drive there," let alone bike.

Pantuso acknowledged that "this stretch of road is only for the most hardcore person on a bike … somebody that's very aware of what's around them, a very defensive biker. It's not going to be the amateur biker or the kid biker."

But more was at stake, aldermen said.

"I think the community wants to be known as a bike-friendly city, and have a complete street bike plan. .… When you start making exceptions in areas … and you don't have anything here, then is the next one Center Street and Mayfair?" Alderman Jeffrey Roznowski asked.

If you create a lot of gaps, suddenly you're not bike friendly, Roznowski said.

Alderman Dennis McBride suggested an alternative route that would send bikers around the intersection on Potter Road and 109th Street, which would require only marking the road. He also asked if there was enough funding for a small bike/pedestrian bridge over the railroad tunnel along Mayfair, north of the intersection, to allow crossing away from the intersection.

"The road is awash in cash, isn't it?" he joked.

It was Alderman Gregory Walz-Chojnacki who suggested a hybrid lane, marked to be shared by bikes and cars, which would require only striping or symbols and would provide at least a little notice to drivers to expect to see bikes.

In the end, the committee granted the bike lane waiver, "subject to dialogue on striping and alternative biking design in that intersection," in Roznowski's words.