Despite public support for reopening Lake Park‘s long-closed Ravine Road to pedestrians and bicycles only, and despite a cool $500,000 to do something with the road, it looks like…nothing will be done with it. For now.
Milwaukee County Supervisor Sheldon Wasserman, who represents the area surrounding Lake Park, dropped the news in a Friday email newsletter.
“After reviewing the County Executive’s budget, the $500,000 originally requested to begin the Ravine Road project was removed,” Wasserman writes. “That means there is no money to fund any reconstruction of the road or a pedestrian/bicycle pathway at this time. As I mentioned at my town hall meetings, I knew it would be difficult to secure funding for this project since there is a tremendous need in other parks and Lake Park just received millions of dollars to rebuild the Ravine Bridge.”
I still held out hope that the project could be funded, but with so many deferred maintenance needs in our parks system, both the County Executive and Parks Department feel there are much better uses for the money at this time.
This means that the road will remain closed to cars for at least one more year. Once the bridge project is officially completed, the Cyclone fencing blocking pedestrians from accessing the road will be removed, but the concrete barriers will remain for the foreseeable future. I understand that this news may be disheartening to some and encouraging to others. I think we were all looking for a final decision, but Milwaukee County’s financial situation prevents action at this time.
The wooded and winding road near the middle of Lake Park, which connects the park above to Lincoln Memorial Drive below, was closed in in 2014. That was due to the deterioration of the bridge that spans the road, Ravine Road Bridge. A $3.4 million restoration project was launched to restore the historic bridge, and that work was completed in 2022. But the road below has remained closed, blocked off by attractive concrete barriers and chain link fences.
In September, Wasserman revealed that a recent survey indicated “63.6% of constituents prefer the road be limited to bicycle and pedestrian traffic, 34.1% prefer the road be reopened with automobile access, and 2.3% prefer the road be returned to nature.” The numbers were nearly identical to a similar survey Wasserman conducted in February. That survey showed 60.5% of respondents in favor of the year-round bike/pedestrian-only plan.
But not everyone is on board with the bike/pedestrian-only plan. Notable opponents include Lake Park advocacy group Lake Park Friends. In 2019, the group passed a resolution supporting “reopening Ravine Road to vehicular traffic because doing so preserves the historic design and original intent of Lake Park.” The park was created in 1905, designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.
The resolution further stated that the group opposed “closing Ravine Road permanently to vehicular traffic and converting it solely to a pedestrian/bike trail because doing so would forever deny all future users of experiencing the ‘pleasure driving’ through Lake Park as Olmsted intended and because doing so would limit accessibility via this connector road to and from the lakefront, the Park, Newberry Boulevard, and Riverside Park, especially for those with physical disabilities, in contravention of the foundational Olmsted principle that parks should be equally accessible to all citizens.”
Lake Park Friends’ resolution also “encourages the use of speed reduction methods on Ravine Road such as textured pavement rather than other methods such as speed bumps that would interrupt the pleasure of the driving experience, and also supports a scenario in which Ravine Road could be used at different times by different user groups, provided such use does not make inalterable changes to the road or change the original road pattern that would be inconsistent in any way with the road’s primary use for driving.”
Milwaukee historian John Gurda has also voiced his opposition to the bike/pedestrian-only plan.
“A compromise may be necessary,” Gurda wrote in a recent letter, “but I support reopening the road—meaning two way car lanes—on the most generous terms, as an affirmation of Olmsted’s founding vision and a tribute to the wisdom of the civic leaders who set this beautiful piece of land aside more than 125 years ago.”