This summer when Alex and Carol Ng's sons began biking to school, they were nervous.
The two sons, Jacob and Simon, aren't too worried but face many obstacles on their ride from the McKinley area to Wauwatosa West High School.
North Avenue gets narrow over the Menomonee River and, due to the amount of traffic and the lack of a dedicated bicycle lane, the two stay on North Avenue sidewalks until they hit Mayfair mall. There, they circle behind the mall before crossing Mayfair and dealing with parents unloading and loading their children at Whitman Middle School.
Simon, who is a freshman at West, said the drop-off point for students at Whitman gets particularly tense. The sidewalk cuts into the road to allow parents to drop their children off without being in the way of other traffic.
"I'm always worried that someone is going to open a door and I'm going to get hit," he added.
The area from McKinley to Whitman will be the subject of a traffic and pedestrian study by consultants Toole Design Group, which put together a 140-page plan calling for the addition of 92 miles of bikeways to the city in a larger and separate plan. A steering committee of residents and city officials will help with the creation of the report.
The plan, which will be funded by a grant under the state Department of Transportation, will focus directly on students heading to class, as opposed to the all-encompassing plan. Alderman Jeff Roznowski, who is on the steering committee, said the planning process should begin within 30 days.
Cycling through options
There are many alternatives the Ngs would like to see, but the family acknowledges not all are feasible and many require the cooperation of many parties.
Alex Ng, who is on the steering committee, said he wishes Center Street would have been completed long ago. If the street didn't stop at North Menomonee River Parkway, his sons and other children in the McKinley area neighborhood would be able to follow it all the way to West High and Whitman Middle.
For the street to connect now, the city would have to build another bridge over the Menomonee River and cut through the golf course at Blue Mound Golf & Country Club.
Jacob and Simon said if a bicycle lane was installed on North Avenue, they wouldn't ride on the sidewalks.
Safety through education
Alex Ng suggested that if more students were to bicycle and walk to school, there would be less congestion around Whitman. His sons added that if they had more friends who biked the same route, they'd feel safer.
Alex Ng was a little less worried about his sons' safety after hearing they ride on the sidewalks because "they are doing whatever it takes to make them a little more comfortable going to school."
Before his sons began their cycling routes last summer, Alex Ng took care to teach them the rules of the road. They wear helmets and have lights on their bicycles.
He encourages the two to ride in the road because it is technically illegal to ride on the sidewalk, but said he understands why they choose the walkway — there is a lot of traffic on North.
Jacob, who recently got his driver's license and is 16, said that he preferred to bicycle because traffic is less frustrating on a bicycle, he doesn't have to worry about parking and driving takes about as much time as bicycling. Simon said he loves the freedom bicycling gives him.
The two plan to bike to West until the snow flies.
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