What’s the Deal With Bike Plating on the Water Street Bridge?

We got some answers

Q: Why was the Water Street bridge closed for portions of six weeks last fall?

A:To attach bike plates, which allow cyclists to ride open-grate lift bridges smoothly and safely. Those bridges are dangerous for bikes, as riders have less traction, and the Department of Public Works has received anecdotal reports of bicyclists crashing or nearly doing so.

The 5-foot-wide plates are designed to provide “a stable, smooth and slip-resistant surface,” according to James Hannig, Milwaukee pedestrian and bicycle coordinator.

DPW staff have seen bicyclists take the regular, elevated sidewalk to avoid bridge grating, creating a new danger for pedestrians. Plating also blocks another hazard: wind that can blow upward through bridges and throw riders.

But installing it is far more complicated than it might seem. The weight of the metal plating means the city has to close the bridge and recalibrate the underlying lift mechanisms to avoid excess wear over time.

Each bridge costs about $150,000 to retrofit, with much of the cost covered by a federal program. The city began installing plating in the early 2000s and since then has made steady progress toward its goal of outfitting all of its open-grate bridges.



Matt has written for Milwaukee Magazine since 2006, when he was a lowly intern. Since then, he’s held the posts of assistant news editor and, most recently, senior editor. He’s lived in South Carolina, Tennessee, Connecticut, Iowa, and Indiana but mostly in Wisconsin. He wants to do more fishing but has a hard time finding worms. For the magazine, Matt has written about city government, schools, religion, coffee roasters and Congress.