By Tom Held Special to Published Mar 26, 2014 at 4:31 PM

On a chilly Saturday morning, Wauwatosa Ald. Jason Wilke watched bikers, runners and motorists navigate their way through the Menomonee River Parkway.

"They’re dodging the cars, the cars are dodging the people and everybody is dodging the potholes," Wilke said.

The succinct observation captured the reasons that Wilke and other Wauwatosa officials strongly support plans to add a multi-use path for bikers, runners and walkers during a parkway reconstruction over the next two years.

The paved path, 10 feet wide, would extend from Swan Boulevard to Mayfair Road.

In the short-term, bike lanes will be added on the roadway north of Mayfair Road to a connection with the Milwaukee County Oak Leaf Trail at West Congress Street. The county plans to consider extending the off-street path in the future.

There’s little debate about the need to rebuild the historic, 4.6-mile parkway. The pavement has deteriorated over the past 30 years and large potholes present a threat to motorists and recreational users.

In addition, the storm sewer system has become outdated and requires improvements.

The multi-use path, bio-swales and rain gardens add about $1 million to the project cost, pushing the total cost to nearly $7 million.

It will be money well-spent, according to local officials and residents who responded to a survey seeking their reconstruction priorities.

About 80 percent of the respondents listed bicycle and pedestrian improvements as "very important" in the surveys, and another 70 percent cited slowing traffic as a priority.

In recent years, the parkway has become a popular, north-south commuter route, and the lack of an off-street path pushed runners and bikers into traffic. Some choose to mix with cars on the road. Some take to the grassy area on the west side of the road.

It’s a popular route for people getting exercise, whether on foot or bike, or choosing to forgo their cars for transportation, and serves as part of the Milwaukee County Oak Leaf Trail.

"What I’m finding is an increasing number of people who live in this area are riding bicycles or walking for transportation," said Wauwatosa Mayor Kathleen Ehley. "It’s not just getting out for a bike ride in the fresh air.

"The more connectivity we have, the more it can help alleviate the stress of cars on the roadway. It’s one of the many things that could help reduce the traffic jams and congestion, and with what we’re going to be facing over the next five years in the reconstruction of the Zoo Interchange."

Aldermen who represent the area, including Wilke, envision families using the off-street path to travel to Hoyt Park and the Tosa village.

"There’s no good way for kids, or anybody really, to travel from the north side of town to the south side of town," said Ald. Craig Wilson. "You have to use Mayfair Rd. or the parkway."

Simply adding bike lanes to the existing parkway wouldn’t be adequate for people with strollers, or older residents who love to walk along the river and enjoy the tree-lined route.

"Think of any great city where you would want to live, and I am sure it has a great trail system along a waterway or environmental corridor," Wilke said. "Wauwatosa is working toward improvements that are going to make us the premier city, where people want to live, work and play.

"The completion of this trail segment will get us one step closer to being that city."

The parkway project will fit nicely with the improvements listed in the Bicycle and Pedestrian Facilities Plan the Wauwatosa Common Council has been reviewing. The plan is scheduled for a vote on April 1.

Under the current Menomonee River Parkway plan, construction on the first phase from West Burleigh Street to Congress is scheduled to start in June and be completed in October. The second phase, from Burleigh to Swan Boulevard is scheduled to be done in the summer 2015.

Tom Held Special to

Memories of running cross-country for the Slinger Owls motivated Tom Held to get his body moving again when he turned 30. Almost two decades later, he's still on the move. The 49-year-old bikes, runs and skis, and covers news for similarly active people as a freelance writer and blogger.

He spent 26 years as a daily news reporter, and applies that experience to dig out stories about athletes, races, endurance sports, fitness and self-propelled transportation. His work has appeared in Silent Sports Magazine, Wisconsin Trails and Cross-Country Skier.

Held lives in the Bay View neighborhood, where he counts being Dad to twin daughters part of his daily workout.