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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Blazing New Trails for Milwaukee Bicyclists

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In his role as Milwaukee’s first bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, Dave Schlabowske has guided the city to a Bronze-Level Bicycle-Friendly Community designation from the League of American Bicyclists. He is currently working to finalize a new plan for the city that could add up to 125 miles of new bike lanes. Most of us have already benefited from his efforts, or soon will, as the weather warms and we get out of our cars and onto our bikes.

What does it mean for Milwaukee to have earned a Bronze-Level Bicycle-Friendly Community designation?

This is a national program in which cities are ranked for bicycle friendliness. The ranking is partly based on the percentage of people who bike to work, and our percentage is currently a little over 1%. The good news is it has gone up about 370% in the last 5 years, so it is going up fast—faster than national averages, which is good from a bicycle-friendly community standpoint. We're continually working to improve. If we can get our commuter share up to 1.5% to 2%, triple our bike lane miles, and have bike racks available on every bus as we do now, I think we have a reasonable expectation of getting silver next time we apply for ranking.

Why bike to work? Isn’t it faster to drive?

One of the big advantages to bicycling is that you can get closer to your destination. We used to have a commuter race where we would race bikes against a car. Of course bikes don't go as fast as a car. However, when you have to park two blocks away and then walk to your office, as a lot of people in downtown Milwaukee do, then it becomes faster to bike to work because you get to pull right up in front of where you work.

What advice would you offer to someone who is just starting out commuting to work on his or her bike?

All you need is a bike. You don’t need Lycra. You don’t need a shower at work. You don’t need anything but a bicycle! Try it out on a day when you don’t actually have to go to work so you can check out your route and see how long it takes you. Then, if you try it, like it and decide to do it on a frequent basis, I think it really helps to have a bike that is left just for that purpose. Have a basic bike that has a light, fenders, a pump, a lock and a rack. Save your fancy bike for the weekend.

Where is your favorite place to ride in Milwaukee?

I really enjoy the Hank Aaron State Trail. I like it as a commuting route because I may see people fishing for salmon, or get to wave to Picasso the miniature horse that is often walking on the trail. I may see coyotes or herons. I like that.

“Bike to Work Week” takes place June 6-11 in Milwaukee. Visit the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin’s website at www.bfw.org for more information and event listings.

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