Yesterday I left Chicago on a multimodal trip that would take me to Milwaukee. It's actually possible to make the whole trip on local transit without a bike, but only a few trains on the Metra North Line actually extend the entire way to Kenosha, Wisconsin, the southern terminus of the regional bus to Milwaukee. The train I took ended in Waukegan, Illinois, about 17 miles south of Kenosha. While there is a bike path from Waukegan (actually almost all the way from Evanston & Chicago) into the edge of Kenosha, it seemed to be treated as recreation instead of transportation, just as in many other places. Without a serious mountain bike I can handle packed snow but not the ice underneath.
I would often travel a few miles and try to find a better route, riding some distance before winding up in a residential subdivision with no way out -- things I tend to forget even exist -- and back on a four-lane suburban arterial highway. Finally I went west to find a two-lane rural road with moderate traffic and at least a half-decent shoulder to ride on. Sadly there was no sign welcoming me to Wisconsin, but some highway route signs and finally a Kenosha Transit bus stop sign informed me I had entered the city of Kenosha. The ride from there was less than pleasant as all of the streets were paved with deteriorated concrete. I don't know why a northern city with freeze-thaw cycles would choose concrete over asphalt.
Shortly after 6pm, after logging over 30 miles on what should have been a 15-mile trip, I reached the Kenosha Transit Station. The beautiful building was closed which was closed but there was still one more scheduled local bus departure at 7. This is a pulse point, where all buses arrive and depart together to facilitate easy, reliable connections; buses will wait a few minutes if another bus is late. There is also a historic streetcar line which stops in front of the transit center and does a short on-street loop for tourists during limited hours. Maybe I'll come back in a few days.
I removed my gear, folded my bike and boarded the Wisconsin Coach bus to Milwaukee, for only $4.50 with a tour of Racine included. Although it was a coach bus, it made local stops in the cities and along the highway in between. A detour to the University of Wisconsin at Parkside (between Kenosha & Racine) yielded no passengers. In under two hours we arrived at the very sterile, airport-style Milwaukee Intermodal Station, which serves Amtrak trains heading northwest west from Chicago as well as express buses from Chicago, Minnesota, Michigan and other cities in Wisconsin. Most local transit systems in Wisconsin are very small but the intercity bus network connects the cities well and is likely subsidized by the state. (The map really helps with trip planning.)
I am staying in Milwaukee for about a week as I learn about the city and it's transportation and culture. I look forward to interviewing the great people of Bike Fed Wisconsin very soon.