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Wauwatosa approves colorful bike lanes, crosswalks for North Avenue

Competitors in the Tosa Gran Prix peddle up a hill on North Avenue in East Tosa last year. Soon the street will be more biker-friendly with green bike lanes and bike boxes.

Competitors in the Tosa Gran Prix peddle up a hill on North Avenue in East Tosa last year. Soon the street will be more biker-friendly with green bike lanes and bike boxes. Photo By Staff photo by Peter Zuzga

May 7, 2014

After years of planning bike lanes for North Avenue, the Wauwatosa Common Council approved a project Tuesday that includes all the elements that were on the table — green paint behind bike symbols on the streets, bike "boxes" (designated lanes perpendicular to traffic) to help bicyclists safely make left turns, red crosswalks and median islands at 73rd, 72nd and 64th Streets.

As part of the comprehensive plan for East Tosa, the $1.6 million project will cover North Avenue from Wauwatosa Avenue to 60th Street.

"We do need all the elements to create the traffic-calming effect we want there, and the identity of the district," Alderman Jason Wilke, chairman of the traffic and safety committee, said. "If we don't go big, we might as well go home. All these elements will create the Tosa that people want."

At least 17 residents sent emails to city officials in support of the plan before the meeting, and many have spoken at public meetings. One resident sent an email expressing concerns about the cost.

"I have received an overwhelming amount of email in support of this, greater than anything else in my two years on council," Alderman James Moldenhauer said.

Although some aldermen wanted to delay the vote two weeks to get more feedback from the budget and finance committee, that motion failed and all aldermen voted to approve the project except John Dubinski, who abstained.

"I'm not against this project," Dubinski said. "What I'm struggling with is some financials."

Alderman Jeffrey Roznowski was the first to bring up financial concerns at the meeting, saying the costs needed further examination in light of a forecasted budget deficit of $1.1 million in the next city budget.

"That gap is going to get bigger if we're approving things that aren't in our base budget, and that's what some of this maintenance could be," Roznowski said.

In addition to the $1.6 million cost to implement the plan, which will be covered by funds already allocated to the East Tosa Plan, Director of Public Works William Porter identified annual maintenance costs that will have to come out of the city's operating budget.

Porter estimates maintenance needs, such as refreshing paint, will cost about $8,400 in 2015, and only go up from there, reaching above $100,000 in four of the next 10 years.

By 2025, Porter estimates the city will have spent $788,524 on maintaining the bike lanes, bike boxes and crosswalks.

"In reality, the increased operating expenses go on into perpetuity," Porter wrote in his report for the council. His recommendation was not to include any of the approved additional elements, sticking to a base project with bike lanes painted in white for an initial cost of $380,000 and minimal maintenance costs.

Mayor Kathleen Ehley said although she was worried about the maintenance costs, she supports the plan.

"I support what the community embraced," she said. "I have concerns for the budget going forward, but for the capital budget the money is there, and it's going to look great."

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