Monday, November 19, 2007

Brady Street Bike Lanes?

A friend who bikes a lot to get around recently put to me this proposition: Brady Street desperately needs bike lanes.

Brady Street, looking east

How're they going to get them? I immediately asked. Simple, came the answer: get get rid of the street parking.

The merchants will never, ever go for it, I said, and with good reason: businesses thrive on that kind of easy, short-term, highly visible parking. Parking doesn't have to be physically close, but it has to be percieved as close, easily accessible and easily found.

But then I thought about it further. Brady does get a lot of bike traffic already; it's at the core of Milwaukee's most bikeable neighborhood. How much would that increase by if it weren't so narrow and intimidating? Would it perhaps be so bad to sacrifice parking on one side of the street? Would the loss be compensated by an increase in bike and other foot-based traffic?

FYI, I count about 30 parking spaces on the north side of Brady, east of Humbolt; and roughly the same number west of Humbolt. Would 60 short-term parking spots be an acceptable loss?

Brady Street, looking east from Humboldt

It's hard for me to be completely objective. When I ride Brady Street, I'm usually going nearly the same pace as traffic -- sometimes faster. When you're keeping up with the cars, it's easy to justify taking a lane, and the moving cars don't seem so intimidating when you're going nearly the same speed. It's more important to take the lane, too. At those speeds, getting hit by the opening door of a parked car ("doored") could be fatal. So I've never worried much about a lack of bike lanes.

Lots of other people ride more slowly, however, and to them the cars are whizzing past at breakneck speed. Either that, or they're stuck behind the bicyclist, poking along at 10 miles an hour, wishing there was some chance to pass. Bike lanes would reduce or eliminate this problem.

Having lanes on one side of the street would also reduce by half a biker's chance of getting doored.

Brady Street, looking west

On the minus side, the perception of a wider street would inevitably lead to faster-moving traffic. One reason I can keep up with traffic on Brady is that the cars are only going 25 mph or so, sometimes less. That's about the fastest speed that feels safe in Brady Street's narrow confines. Widen the street and the safest perceived speed will rise, and actual speeds with it. This would in turn degrade the slow-moving, pedestrian-scaled ambiance that makes Brady Street so appealing to begin with, the physical scale that makes it seem like it'd be a good place to ride a bike -- a far more damaging loss than the elimination of a few dozen parking spots.

I had a professor once who made the point that pedestrian malls are only a good idea when a place is so crowded that there's no more room for vehicles. He noted that if any street in Milwaukee might be headed that way, it's Brady -- but it had a long way to go before it hit that point. I'd say it still has a long way to go before cutting out a lane of traffic would have more positive than negative results.

Brady Street, looking west

On a related side note -- those traffic-calming sidewalk bump-outs aren't doing Milwaukee cyclists any favors. I live in dread fear of hitting one of those things dead-on and going flying over the handlebars.


Jennifer said...

From those photos, it looks like there's just barely enough room to keep the parking and stripe for a bike lane (but those traffic-calming things might have to go, and I'm sure that whoever worked to put them there wouldn't be happy about it). Maybe it's just a trick of perspective, though.

What about "shared lane" markings? They really don't do anything, but they're useful as crutches for less experienced cyclists. That could draw more of them to Brady St., if that's the idea.

Jeramey said...

I'm scared everytime I bike down Brady that some idiot is going to clock me from behind, so often I try and block a lane of traffic off while keeping pace with it, but that doesn't always work so well.

I think a lot of people would get behind the bike path idea if it went somewhere (the path, not as much the idea). Maybe that's something worth exploring as a community?

Anonymous said...

Brady is a mess, even as someone who drives. I hate driving down that road because there are always people trying to parallel park, bikers trying to avoid getting hit, and pedestrians that walk wherever whenever. Oh, and add in buses, which are annoying to be behind, especially on a narrowish street.

I don't have any brilliant solution to propose, other than to say, bikers who know what they're doing (aka not swerving or going ridiculously slow), don't bother me as a driver. It's not like you can ever go very fast on that road in a car anyway, there are too many other things going on- and then add in stoplights every other block, and they've pretty well made the street slow. I agree with you, I think bikers need to take the lane more often on that street. If you're trying to stay to the side, then cars think "oh maybe I can pass them" when really, they shouldn't. Not on a road like that. And it's safer for the biker to be away from the car doors and pedestrians jumping out from between cars.

I avoid Brady altogether-- unless I'm specifically going to somewhere on Brady, I'll take other combinations of side streets.

Daniel G. said...

It's amazing how much Brady has changed since I've lived here. What was once like most other commercial thoroughfares in Milwaukee (no pedestrians) is now a place positively bustling with people, at least sometimes.

I contrast that with KK in Bay View. Despite being a very narrow street at times, the bike lanes are there and they are used. But at what expense? An even narrower sidewalk. Walkable or bike-able? It's a hard call. Perhaps everyone who wants to drive has to get a Smart car.

de los santos said...

A bike lane is typically 3 feet wide. A parking lane is at least 6, so you could get rid of only one side of parking and still have a bike lane in both directions.

The truth is you're right, the merchants would cry bloody murder, even though it's likely the bike lanes would actually benefit them.

We need good business in that neighborhood so the right move is to approach the merchants carefully about this.

It's possible there's more room in that street than we think and we could stripe smallish bike lanes in there while preserving the same set-up. You know, it's the stripes that matter - they are a psychological deterrent really. So just take a few feet off the lanes and stripe 'em in.

THe cars would have less striped room, but they'd just slow down a bit and be fine!

Anonymous said...

I think they should just pull a state street and get rid of cars on brady completely. haha j/k if only that could work. See I actually feel safer riding on the road on brady, than riding the bike lane on water.

essemcee said...

Whatev... it is an issue, but unless something serious is done, like removing parking from one side of the street, it won't matter. It's an issue of social attitude, this is not Madison, MKE is not a ped/bike friendly city. The Brady St. area/some of the Eastside do have the some of the positive attitudes floating through it's dirty air, but mostly drivers are saying, "get the fuck out of the way!"

Anonymous said...

It's funny that people think Madison is more bike friendly than MKE, it's not!!
I feel completely fine biking down Brady, mind you.. I'm keeping up with the cars. And in Milwaukee proper you can get almost anywhere by bike.

In Madison people drive like bats out of hell, and instead of dealing with 25mph drivers, you've got 35-40 in the downtown area.

I much prefer MKE to madtown any day.