Milwaukee County Installs Fencing to Keep Pedestrians Off Iconic Lake Park Footbridge, Talk of Demolition Surfacing

Out of nowhere and with no change in the bridge’s condition, Milwaukee County has suddenly fenced off pedestrian access to this historic and iconic Lake Park bridge indefinitely, and, for the first time, talk of outright demolition is in the air.

This article, published on today (Wednesday Dec. 14, 2016), details the fast-moving developments that have ended more than 100 years of pedestrian access to this historic bridge and threaten its future.

image4Below is an email Q&A interview that took place Monday between Virginia Small, who wrote the Urban Milwaukee story, and County Executive Chris Abele’s spokeswoman, Melissa Baldauff:

Q: What has changed since 2015–or 1905?

A: In reviewing our process to better restrict access to Ravine Road, which has been closed to all traffic since December 2014, we revisited access to the bridge itself and came to the conclusion that we would like to err on the side of caution when it comes to safety. The inability to control large groups was the deciding factor.
Q: What large groups pose a concern? Pokèmon players? How many people would be too many? Can you send that risk assessment report?

A: Pokèmon players are not a concern on the bridge. The concern is very large groups that we can’t control, such as the start of a marathon or a large protest or demonstration. Some photos demonstrating what different load levels look like are in the attached report.

Q: Why wasn’t the bridge deck closed 18 months ago? (It had been partially closed with barriers to prevent vehicles but was then fully reopened.)

A: The bridge was never “fully reopened” – it has been open to pedestrian traffic and bicycles, but there has not been vehicle or equipment use, nor have we permitted special events. Because (a) the County cannot operationally control the volume of pedestrian crowd traffic on the bridge, (b) signs have not been effective in similar circumstances in neighboring communities, and (c) out of an abundance of caution, the bridge will be closed until a replacement or repair alternative is finalized. Furthermore, increased barriers will be put on drive to physically restrict pedestrian, vehicle and bicycle access until the bridge is repaired or removed. These are in addition to the precautions initially taken in 2015 when the report was first received, which included concrete barriers to prevent vehicles across bridge and not allowing the permitting of events across the bridge.

Q: What are the administration’s/parks department’s views about how $2M in private contributions will materialize? What is the administration’s position on a reported $1M anonymous donation–but only if he road is permanently closed?

A: The county executive is always looking for successful public-private partnerships anywhere they make sense. We’ve had a number of great collaborations in the Parks department, including our traveling beer gardens, the South Shore Terrace, and our futsal courts. We’ve heard that several individuals and groups may have an interest in contributing to the repair of the bridge, but haven’t received any specific offers or donations.

Q; Who might lead such a campaign? The new parks development officer? Is a case statement available or in the works?

A: Memorandum of Understanding is being drafted to be circulated to friends groups who may have an interest in raising the additional funds.

Q: Are there any local governmental precedents for an expectation of private donations for public-park infrastructure (as opposed to discretionary enhancements being supported by parks friends)?

A: The County’s footprint has expanded dramatically in the past century, particularly in our Parks. We’ve added more than 150 new acres of parkland just in the past five years, we’re adding new services and amenities such as our accessible ice sleds, and we also have hundreds of millions of dollars in capital projects already in the pipeline. It is simply not possible to maintain and upgrade all of our assets without additional revenue. One way we are addressing that is through the vehicle registration fee. Another is through private donations and partnerships with our friends groups.

Q: Has anyone in the administration (including parks department) communicated in person with neighbors about the expectation to raise $2 million for a bridge solution? If so, have any groups signed on to help solicit donations?

A: Not at this time.

Q: Has the administration caged off the bridge and road to put pressure on neighbors to come up with such funding?

A: No, and frankly that question is offensive. This administration — and the county executive in his personal capacity as well – is committed to preserving our natural spaces. We are closing the bridge out of an abundance of caution to ensure the safety of the public and Parks workers.

Q: Sup. Wasserman and others have also mentioned potential demolition. Is that a pending possibility?

A: Discussions were held with the community regarding alternatives for the bridge, with the “Replace-in-kind” option being the preferred alternative. The 2017 adopted budget includes $500,000 for “repair or replacement.” At this point, the administration is prepared to move forward with this alternative once the $2,000,000 is raised by the friends groups. If the Board prefers a different alternative, it would have to amend the budget.

Q: I heard that the board included an amendment that they supported changes in state wheel-tax regulations that would allow indexed fees. Can you provide an update on any prospects for an expanded, indexed wheel tax? Might the executive try to gain support for that among state legislators?

A: The county executive suggested exactly that when he first shared this proposal with the Board. He has always stated that he supports ways to make the vehicle registration fee less regressive. The budget called for the creation of a task force to explore different options. We look forward to their recommendations. In the meantime, the county executive has had conversations with legislators on both sides of the aisle about amending state law to give Milwaukee County the flexibility to determine the best way to implement the vehicle registration fee.

Q: Was the bridge designed to handle the weight of horse drawn carriages?

A: There is no mention of horse drawn carriages in the 1905 plans.

Q: What would be the total weight the bridge could handle?

A: Using the 30 lb/sf controlling capacity of the deck, the bridge can handle an evenly distributed pedestrian loading of 42,000 lbs.

Q: Did any of the following recommended measures (in the July 2015 Graef report) take place? If so, what bearing might that have on opening the road and/or bridge? If not, why not?

A: Sandbags have been placed at the southeast abutment to help direct water away from the washout/erosion area. Survey bench marks were also established and monitored to determine if elements of the bridge were moving. The bridge was opened to pedestrians when it was determined the bridge was not moving. Although no further funding was identified for additional work, visual monitoring of the cracks and erosion continue.


Public Encouraged to Attend July 19 Meeting on Future of Lake Park’s Historic Ravine Road Footbridge

Historic Water Tower Neighborhood encourages members and other residents to attend an important public information meeting from 5 to 7 p.m., Tuesday, July 19 on the future of Lake Park’s historic but deteriorating Ravine Road footbridge.

Lake Park Bridge postcard

The meeting will take place at Lake Park’s Marcia Coles Community Room beneath Lake Park Bistro. Residents will get an update from the county at the meeting and be able to share their opinions on what should be done.

Recently, new information has been made available to support saving the bridge:

  • Last month, Olson & Nesvold Engineers, of Bloomington, Minnesota, a firm with expertise in restoring historic bridges, submitted a report to the county saying that “there is a reasonable rehabilitation option with a service life of 40-50 years.” This differs from a prior study saying that restoration could only extend the bridge’s life by 15 to 25 years.
  • In June, the State Historic Preservation Office wrote that the county “must demonstrate that (the) bridge cannot be feasibly repaired” before considering other options. “A new construction design is not appropriate and will result in an adverse effect to the historic parkway property.” Lake Park, designed by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, is on the National Register of Historic Places. The bridge was designed by Milwaukee architect Alfred C. Clas, who also designed the nearby Lake Park Pavilion and Grand Staircase leading to Lincoln Memorial Drive.
  • Supporters have identified federal grants available to pay for most of the cost of repairs, greatly reducing cost to county property taxpayers. In contrast, the cost of replacing the bridge would need to be fully borne by county property taxpayers — the grants cannot be used for replacement or demolition.

Due to deterioration of the iconic 1905-1906 Lake Park footbridge, Milwaukee County officials are exploring options ranging from repairing the reinforced concrete arch structure, replacing it with an historic-looking bridge, replacing it with something more modern — or simply removing it entirely. The bridge and Ravine Road were closed in December 2014 after deterioration was detected. While pedestrian access to the bridge has since been restored, Ravine Road below remains closed for now due to the potential of falling concrete from the bridge.

UPDATE SEPT. 4, 2016
Two recent articles in Urban Milwaukee by Virginia Small supply new details:
County Faces Issues When Replacing Bridges
– Lake Park Bridge Faces Thorny Issues

Note: Other past HWTN stories on the Ravine Road Footbridge with links to related reports and documents are posted below.

Public Information Meeting About Lake Park’s Ravine Road Bridge Tuesday May 17

Milwaukee County Parks, GRAEF, and UW-Milwaukee are hosting a public information meeting to present a current study for addressing the repair or replacement of the Ravine Road Bridge in Lake Park on Tuesday, May 17, 2016.

Bridge copyDoors will open for the meeting at 5:30 p.m., and the presentation takes place from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The meeting will take place at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
School of Architecture and Urban Planning, Room 110, 2131 E. Hartford Ave.

The presentation will include description of the bridge’s history, condition, options, current activities and plans moving forward.  All are welcome to attend and comment.

HWTN representatives are on the county’s work group established to review and provide input into three alternative replacement designs and cost estimates. See this story on HWTN’s website about the county’s plans for reviewing design options and this article about HWTN’s position, the county engineering study on the bridge’s condition and a discussion of the bridge’s history.


Milwaukee County Parks Seeking Historic Designs For Replacement of Iconic Pedestrian Bridge Over Ravine Road in Lake Park

Milwaukee County Parks has issued a request for proposals (RFP) seeking a firm to design an historically appropriate bridge to replace the crumbling 1905-’06 concrete pedestrian bridge over Ravine Road in Lake Park.

LakeParkBridgeHorse1-e1444930990468According to a story in BizTimes, “the RFP is asking a consultant to prepare three alternative bridge replacement schematic designs and cost estimates for each. A work group, which will include members of Lake Park Friends, the historic preservation community and Milwaukee County staff, will be established to review each design.”

Representatives of Historic Water Tower Neighborhood and Lake Park Friends recently met with County Parks Director John Dargle, his staff and Ald. Nik Kovac about future of the iconic bridge. Lake Park Friends and HWTN representatives will serve on the work group reviewing three designs for the bridge replacement.

According to the county’s RFP, the selected firm will develop three alternate designs:

“One alternative will replace the bridge in-kind to replicate the original design and appearance of the bridge. The other two alternatives will be new bridge designs that are substantial replications compatible with the historic nature of the Fredrick Law Olmsted designed Lake Park. The consultant shall work closely with the work group in developing these two alternatives.”

The consultant will also be required to hold two public meetings on the designs and work with the City of Milwaukee Historic Preservation Commission and State Historical Society to coordinate reviews and obtain required permits.

HWTN unanimously passed a resolution in October to oppose removal of the 1905-’06 historic concrete bridge with anything but an appropriately historic replacement. In the board’s resolution, it noted that one of the park’s signature pedestrian bridges is:

  • “Of significant historic importance, having been designed by the prominent Milwaukee architecture firm of Ferry & Clas, which also designed Milwaukee’s Central Library, the Pabst Mansion and the Lake Park Pavilion.”
  • “An integral part of Lake Park, designed by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed New York City’s famed Central Park.”

Consultant proposals to do the design work are due Feb. 5. The selected consultant is expected to begin work on April 1, with a design slated to be chosen by June 30.

HWTN opposes demolition of Historic Lake Park concrete arch footbridge over Ravine Road or replacement with modern steel bridge

Milwaukee County has recently determined that the historic, iconic and beautiful (1905-’06) Lake Park Concrete Arch Footbridge over Ravine Road is in poor shape, and Parks Department officials are considering a range of alternatives:

  • Repairing the current bridge
  • Replacing the bridge with one with the same historic design and features
  • Replacing the bridge with a modern, steel-girder bridge
  • Demolishing the bridge without replacement

LakeParkBridgeHorseHistoric Water Tower Neighborhood is opposed to replacing the historic Lake Park Arch Footbridge over Ravine Road in Lake Park with a prefabricated steel truss bridge or any other architectural style different from the current bridge. HWTN also opposes simply demolishing the bridge.

Here is the resolution passed by the HWTN Executive Committee in October:


Whereas, The historic Lake Park Arch Footbridge over Ravine Road is considered an iconic and beautiful feature of Lake Park, one of Milwaukee County’s most popular parks;

Whereas, The bridge is of significant historic importance, having been designed by the prominent Milwaukee architecture firm of Ferry & Clas, which also designed Milwaukee’s Central Library, the Pabst Mansion and the Lake Park Pavilion;

Whereas, The bridge is an integral part of Lake Park, designed by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed New York City’s famed Central Park;

Whereas, The Lake Park Arch Footbridge over Ravine Road provides needed circulation through the park, connecting the north and south portions of Lake Park near the bluff and crosses Ravine Road, enabling north-south passage through the park without returning to Lake Drive;

Whereas, The bridge is used extensively by walkers, bikers, joggers, birders and others from around Milwaukee County;

Whereas, The City of Milwaukee Historic Preservation Guidelines for the North Point North neighborhood state that, for Lake Park, “every attempt should be made to maintain the historic vehicular and pedestrian circulation system in the park including drives, paths, stairways and bridges. New parking areas, roadways, paths or bridges should be designed so as to be compatible with the historic character of the park”;

Therefore, Be It Resolved, That the Historic Water Tower Neighborhood opposes replacing the historic Lake Park Arch Footbridge over Ravine Road in Lake Park with a prefabricated steel truss bridge or any other architectural style different from the current bridge. We also oppose simply demolishing the bridge. HWTN encourages the county to consider and act promptly on the other two alternatives outlined in the July 2015 inspection report on the bridge — either repairing the current bridge or replacing it with a new reinforced concrete arch bridge that matches the dimensions and aesthetic and architectural features of the current bridge.

Learn more about the issue by reading the county’s engineering study of the bridge, which discusses the bridge’s current condition and outlines several options and costs for each; and by reading this history of the bridge.

The styles of modern bridges being considered to replace the Historic Lake Park Arch Footbridge over Ravine Road

The styles of modern bridges being considered to replace the Historic Lake Park Arch Footbridge over Ravine Road







Milwaukee County Parks is holding a public meeting on the issue this Thursday, October 15 from 5:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. in O’Donnell Park’s Miller Brewing Room at 910 E. Michigan Street. There will be free parking. Public input is welcome, so consider going and telling county officials your thoughts on this matter.

These are the county officials who will be making the decision on the bridge, and their contact information, for those interested in voicing their opinions on the issue via phone or email:

The BizTimes recently published this interesting article on the issue, and ran a good story, too.