The saga of Lake Park’s Ravine Road is a complicated one. Located near Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro, the road—long used to connect Lincoln Memorial Drive to the upper East Side—was blocked off in 2014 when the historic footbridge above it was closed for “emergency repairs.” In early 2019, following questions of possible replacement or destruction, it was announced that rehabilitation work would be done on Ravine Road Bridge thanks to a “combination of County funds and a federal grant of up to $2 million.” That work is expected to begin in 2021.
But what about Ravine Road itself? “The road underneath has become kind of a separate issue,” said Milwaukee County Supervisor Sheldon A. Wasserman in 2019. “Many neighbors want to see it closed.” But those neighbors may not be pleased if advocacy group Lake Park Friends has its way. LPF’s board of directors recently adopted a resolution that “supports reopening Ravine Road to vehicular traffic, restoring its original pattern and alignment.” The resolution also supports occasional closures, speed reduction methods, and “possible bike or pedestrian use” to “address concerns of neighbors regarding traffic flow and safety.”
Lake Park Friends provides more background on its resolution:
Ravine Road cannot be opened until the Ravine Road Bridge project is completed—which is two years away. However, the Milwaukee County Parks Department is developing plans and cost estimates for a variety of options regarding the road.
Because Lake Park is a nationally significant historic park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, LPF was concerned that decisions affecting the park could be made solely based on cost. Because the County did not have funds to consult with historic preservation consultants on the matter, LPF hired consultants.
The three historic preservation experts independently concluded that the pattern and use of the road is integral to Olmsted’s design—even in the 21st century. Based on this, they all concluded that, from a historic preservation perspective, the road should be kept open.
It should be noted that, because of its historic designation, any changes to the road—as with any changes to the park—require approval of state and local historic preservation regulatory agencies.
A Change.org petition, meanwhile, warns that “Milwaukee County is considering a number of [non-car-related] alternatives” for Ravine Road, “including turning the road into a bike and/or pedestrian pathway.” It continues:
Please sign this petition and join Lake Park Friends in urging Milwaukee County to retain beautiful Ravine Road for its traditional use as a pleasure drive for all Milwaukeeans to use and enjoy.
The “pleasure drive” thing comes up a lot in the full Lake Park Friends resolution:
Ravine Road was designed as a drive and has been used by automobiles since its inception in 1905. Olmsted designed park drives for “pleasure driving” and Ravine Road is consistent with the following Olmsted’s design principles: “Areas having different uses and character were to be separated from each other, and separate byways were to be developed for different kinds of traffic” and “The roads of [a] park have been designed less with a purpose of bringing visitors to points of view at which they will enjoy set scenes or landscapes, than to provide for a constant mild enjoyment of simply pleasing rural scenery while in easy movement, and thus by curves and grades avoiding unnecessary violence to nature.”
Again, Ravine Road won’t be reopened until work on Ravine Road Bridge is complete. Until then, expect plenty of arguing about cars, car culture, traffic, accessibility, walkability, probably some NIMBY stuff, maybe some more Pokemon stuff, and how reopening the road one way or the other will sadly destroy a great location for a zombie apocalypse movie.