The saga of Lake Park’s Ravine Road is a long and complicated one. Located near Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro, the road was historically used as a motorway connecting Lincoln Memorial Drive to the upper East Side. It was blocked off in 2014 when the historic footbridge above it was closed for “emergency repairs.” Those repairs were finally completed in late 2022. The road, however, remains closed to traffic—and, technically, to pedestrians and bike riders, too. At least those pedestrians and bike riders who aren’t willing to shimmy around the fences.
So what to do with the scenic but long-closed road? In 2019, Lake Park advocacy group Lake Park Friends passed a resolution supporting “reopening Ravine Road to vehicular traffic, restoring its original pattern and alignment,” with occasional closures for pedestrian and bike use, as well as speed reduction measures. But a new survey conducted by the office of Milwaukee County Supervisor Sheldon Wasserman shows public support for turning Ravine Road into a year-round pedestrian and bike path.
“My office received close to 400 responses this time around—and I have read every one,” Wasserman says in a February newsletter. Here’s what those responses—from folks living in Wasserman’s 3rd District—indicate:
What should happen with the road running through Lake Park and under the Ravine Bridge?
Re-opened strictly as pedestrian/bike path — 60.5%
Hybrid option where the road is open to vehicles and pedestrians/bikes — 19.4%
Re-opened to vehicles as it was previously — 16.1%
No Opinion — 4.0%
One option that has been presented is taking a seasonal approach to the Lake Park Ravine Road.
Would you support the road being open to all traffic in the spring and fall, and open to just pedestrians/bicyclists in the summer and winter?
Oppose seasonal plan — 55.9%
Support seasonal plan — 24.7%
No Opinion — 19.4%
Wasserman notes that “a final decision has not yet been reached on the future of Ravine Road.”
While closing the road to vehicular traffic year-round seems like a no-brainer to some (including the folks behind two separate Change.org petitions), Lake Park Friends’ 2019 resolution brings up some interesting historical context. Specifically:
Ravine Road was designed as a drive and has been used by automobiles since its inception in 1905. [Park designer Frederick Law] 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.”
LPF’s resolution goes on to say that “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,” and 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.”
Anyway, here’s a picture of what the road looked like when we shimmied around the fences back in 2017. Lovely!
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• Buckle up and take a leisurely stroll across the newly restored Ravine Road Bridge in Lake Park
• Begun, the Ravine Road Petition War has
• Should Ravine Road be reopened to vehicular traffic? Lake Park Friends thinks so