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Biking numbers in Madison: Not so great

Once a year in September, the US Census Bureau publishes the latest annual data from the American Community Survey (ACS). Included is information about how people commute to work. Transportation planners and advocates often rely on this data. Not so much because it is the absolutely best data, but because we don’t have a whole lot of other data about biking. This post takes a deep dive into the commuting data for Madison over the past couple years.

Let’s start with bike commuting: What’s the proportion of people biking to work1 in the City of Madison, and how has it changed over time?

We can see what looks like a slow downward trend, from around 5% in 2011 to 2016, to around 4% in the last few years. Note the dashed lines, though: These are the margins of error. Because the American Community Survey only send its survey to a sample of people (unlike the currently ongoing 2020 Census, which counts everyone), there is some of uncertainty in its numbers. What that means is that in 2019 the true number of people commuting could be as low as 2.7% or as high as 5.1%. And based on the data, it’s possible that in 2012 – the year with the apparent upward spike – fewer people were commuting than in 2019. Again, this is among the best data we have available, but keep this uncertainty in mind when reading the rest of this post. And even in light of this uncertainty it is pretty safe to say: Bike commuting in Madison hasn’t grown over the past nine years.

Is Madison an exception? Let’s add some other cities for comparison. We’ll choose cities that are maybe comparable in population, climate, or their Places for Bikes City Rating: Minneapolis, Portland, Pittsburgh, Fort Collins, Brooklyn, Ann Arbor, Chicago, Milwaukee.

It looks like Madison isn’t that unique: Other cities, many of which have a high-for-the-US bike commute mode share, also have flat or slightly downward trends.

With bike commuting stagnating, how are other modes of transportation doing? Let’s compare the other modes of commuting in Madison.

One take-away from this chart is that things haven’t changed much in Madison. About two thirds of people keep driving to work; about 10 % each walk or take the bus; and about 5% each work from home or bike. The year-to-year variation most likely is within the margin of error.

So far, so bad. One thing we need to keep in mind: The proportion of people commuting to work by car, bus, bike, etc. is one thing. But Madison is a growing city, and for things like congestion or CO2 emissions, we have to look at absolute numbers:

Compared to 2011, there are 26575 more working Madisonians in 2019. So if, say, the car commute share stayed the same over that period, there’d be more cars on the road. We can look at these absolute numbers:

Because of the large difference between driving and biking, it’s a little hard to see in the chart, but compared to 2011, in 2019 there were 13294 (12%) more car commuters but only 51 “more” bike commuters in Madison.

Trips to work account for less than 20% of all trips. So is it possible that overall biking is still growing in Madison? Maybe people drive to work, but bike more to the grocery store or for recreation? We do have one source that can help answer this question: The Eco-Counters on the Southwest Path and the Capital City Trail. Their data don’t reach back all the way to 2011, but we do have several year’s worth of counts:

What to make of all this? Madison has a reputation for being bike friendly. The League of American Bicyclists has designate us a Platinum Bike-Friendly Community, and in the latest Places for Bikes City Rating we came in second. New bike infrastructure keeps being built. Our mayor joined a ride celebrating Madison Bike Week last year. The head of Madison’s Department of Transportation and the City Traffic Engineer are bike commuters. And still: All this doesn’t translate into a shift away from cars and toward biking.

National trends like low gas prices certainly play a role. But probably as important is the fact that locally we still have policies and procedures in place that making driving the easy, cheap, and convenient choice. Each bike infrastructure improvement is outmatched by yet another parking garage, another lane on the Beltline, a new subdivision or corporate campus at the edge of town, or a signal retiming to keep cars moving.

It will take sustained collective action, day after day, year after year, to move the needle. Madison Bikes is one piece of that collective action, but we can’t do it without you. Write to your Alder, provide testimony at public meetings, organize your neighborhood, join our board of directorssupport us financially.


  1. Maybe more precisely one would have to say “use biking as their main mode of transportation to work”. The actual question in the ACS is: “How did this person usually get to work LAST WEEK? If this person used more than one method of transportation during the trip, mark (x) the box of the one used for most of the distance.” Note the qualification about “used for most of the distance.” Someone who bikes from their home on the far west side to the nearest bus stop and then takes the bus downtown? They would be counted as a bus commuter. Also note the word “usually.” Someone who rides their bike two days a week and takes the bus on the other days? Again, a public transit commuter, according to the survey.
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Weekly Update

TPPB/TC Joint Meeting, and More

Have you ever tried putting your bike on a bus? It’s a great skill to have just in case! Photo credit: Harald Kleims

This Week

Portions of East Washington Ave. will have speed limits reduced to 25 mph. This is a part of the Vision Zero initiative. With a growing number of businesses and residences, East Wash is become a dangerous road – a highway through the heart of downtown. We’re excited to see this road transform into a transportation artery that is safe for cyclists, pedestrians, drivers, and bus riders (and eventually BRT riders!).

Wednesday is a busy night. First, the Transportation Commission and Transportation Policy and Planning Board will meet at 5 pm in a joint meeting. The agenda has quite a lot going on for those interested in policy and how the city can make biking more comfortable for all, including agenda points from the Traffic Calming Subcommittee and a discussion on equity. Nothing very specific to biking this week, but a useful way to see transportation more holistically.

Next, the Joint Campus Area Committee will meet on Wednesday at 4:45pm. For folks who live near campus, this meeting might be of interest, as the Village of Shorewood Hills’ sustainability plan has several plans to improve biking in the area.

Don’t Forget…

We promote a lot of road and mixed-use path cycling around here…but what about those of you excited for off-road travels? Check out the Madison Bicycle Adventure Trail Community Engagement Meetings, happening on Oct 13, Oct 15 and Oct 28 from 6-7:30pm. The meetings will be online with required registration. If you cannot attend, you can still email feedback. More Info.

Cycle September is still happening, too!

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E-Mail

Join the Board of Madison Bikes

Want to become more involved in local bicycle advocacy? Consider joining the Madison Bikes board of directors.

Madison Bikes is looking for people who are dedicated, passionate, strong communicators, good compromisers, organized, and able to commit time and energy to promote biking as a priority in the city of Madison. There are no paid staff and everything we do—from fundraising to advocacy to communications to events—is done by our 15-member volunteer board and volunteer committee members.

We are currently accepting applications for at least one seat on our Board of Directors, with elections taking place in December. And we’re hosting a virtual open house where you can learn about us (see below for details).

Our organization is committed to the goal of building a culturally diverse and pluralistic board committed to equity and anti-racism in our work. We strongly encourage applications from people of color, women, and other groups who are underrepresented in bike advocacy.

The Madison Bikes board is an all-volunteer working board. At a minimum, we expect board members to:

  • Attend our monthly board meetings (6-8 pm every third Monday of the month, virtual for the foreseeable future), and when possible our community/work meetings (6-7:30 pm on the fourth Monday of the month)
  • Have a passion for our organization’s vision: Making Madison a city where anyone can ride a bicycle conveniently and comfortably to any place in the city and neighboring communities year-round.

Other examples of things our board members do:

  • Write for our blog
  • Plan, organize, and promote events like Madison Bike Week, Winter Bike Week, or the Winter Bike Fashion Show (online or in-person events when those return)
  • Attend city-held meetings (public input meetings, City Council meetings, local and regional transportation committee meetings)
  • Mobilize the community to advocate for bike projects
  • Meet and liaise with community partners (neighborhood associations, non-profits, other bike advocacy groups)
  • Contribute to fundraising and organizational development efforts

If you are interested in joining our board, please complete this application form by October 16. If you would like to nominate someone other than yourself, please forward this post/email to them and ask them to apply.

A great opportunity to chat with current board members will be at our Virtual Board Open House on October 6th at 6 pm. Or you can email questions to harald@madisonbikes.org.

Meeting ID meet.google.com/izm-uttm-xgg
Phone Number ‪+1 316-512-8967‬
PIN: ‪185 331 103#‬

Our executive committee will review all applications and follow up with all applicants with the next steps.

Categories
Weekly Update

Bike Week over, budget and ‘cross season on

A bicycle leaning on a glass facade, with Madison Bike Week posters attached to glass
My bike at the Pacific Cycle/Schwinn HQ, one of the food drive drop-off sites

Madison Bike Week 2020 is a wrap! It sure was different this year, but what isn’t… I want to say thank to our sponsors and community partners that contributed to the fact that we even had a Bike Week this year. If you took any great Madison Bike Week photos, please send them our way: info@madisonbikes.org

While Madison Bike Week is over, Cycle September continues. So you can still participate in the Bike Benefits Blitz, collect points in our Love to Ride group, donate used bike to Free Bikes 4 Kidz, or contribute to the Pedal for Good food drive and the Park Clean-up.

One new thing we did this year: Promoting Bike Week on a Madison Metro bus. If you spot bus #148, take a photo and send it our way!

The City meeting calendar is pretty empty this week. This is a good opportunity to remind you that budget season is in full swing: Mayor Rhodes-Conway presented her executive capital budget at the beginning of the month and hearings at the Finance Committee have started. From a biking and walking perspective, there are several good projects in the budget, such as the Garver Path, a new underpass of the railroad near Knoche’s on Old Middleton, the extension of the Cannoball Path, and improvements to the Troy Dr underpass. The mayor is also doubling down on her commitment to Vision Zero by “[a]llocating $3.0 million for the Vision Zero program to redesign the City’s most dangerous intersections in a way that will reduce traffic and pedestrian crashes.”

Screenshot from the executive capital budget with the heading "Major land use and transportation projects by year"

The Common Council will have special sessions on the budget in November, and we’ll keep you posted about opportunities to provide input.

Madison Parks is trying something new this year for cyclocross: In addition to the year-round cyclocross course in Northeast Park, the department, in collaboration with Capital Offroad Pathfinders, is setting up rotating temporary courses in parks in different parts of the city. This week’s course: Hill Creek Park on the far west side. Find more info and future locations on the Parks website.

Categories
Weekly Update

Bike Week Continues!

BikrLiz inspects the Madison Bike Week signage at Vilas Park. Have you seen them around in any new locations?

After last week’s rain, we’re thankful to have a beautiful week of warm fall weather on tap to help us celebrate Madison Bike Week. Kudos to those who braved the rain on Friday night to participate in the “Pick me up at the Border” ride. With the improved forecast, several new events have been added so check out the constantly updated calendar!

This Week

This week is all about biking in Madison, so here’s a sample itinerary for the week. This is only a small taste of the events this week so be sure to check the full calendar for the complete list.

While we have your attention, we’ve been collecting nominations for “Best of” cycling in Madison and now everything’s locked in. Today we start the final round of voting in six categories including “most improved street”, “best restaurant bike parking” and “best hill to bike down”. Vote here (no Facebook required)! The polls will be open until Friday evening and we’ll post the results on Saturday.

Speaking of collecting… if you’ve got an old bike collecting dust that you’d like to donate, this is the week to do it! Get yourself a discount on gear, free fun stuff, or a free beverage when donating at one of five locations around the city.

On Monday starting at 6pm, there is a virtual chat for Women, Trans and Femme individuals. “Throughout the U.S., women bike less than men for transportation, recreation, and sport. Why? Even in Madison, which has a better record than many cities, the disparities are very noticeable. What keeps you from biking? What keeps your friends, family, or colleagues from biking? There has been a lot of academic research and discussion on this topic, but we want to hear from you.” The event will be moderated by Robbie and Heather from the Madison Bikes board.

On Tuesday at 6pm, maybe check out the Bicycle Flat Fix virtual class, sponsored by UW-Madison Transportation Services. Registration required and space is limited.

On Wednesday at noon, learn more about the business uses of cargo bikes by participating in the bike week zoom sponsored by DMI and City of Madison. Also, check out a recent article discussing (with pictures!) the new electric cargo bike being tested by the city around town.

On Friday morning, maybe stop by the bike station along John Nolen drive, sponsored by Edward Jones Financial Services. Grab a pre-packaged snack pack and say hey! They’ll be out there Tuesday and Wednesday as well, if your schedule allows.

Next Sunday, September 20 between 2pm and 4pm, head over to Warner Park for the Pop Up Wheel Spots event sponsored by Capitol Off Road Pathfinders (CORP). Show your support for new off-road trail plans in Madison Parks.

Have a fun and safe week!

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E-Mail

Happy Madison Bike Week 2020!

Madison Bike Week has begun. For the next eight days, we’ll celebrate biking, in a safe and fun way. Liz and Harald walk through the events on Madison Bike Week TV:

And check out the full schedule on the Madison Bike Week event page — we’ll keep updating things during the week. Which Madison Bike Week activities are you going to do this year?

Happy Madison Bike Week 2020!

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E-Mail

Announcing Madison Bike Week 2020!

Every year, Madison Bike Week is the premier biking event in town. Bike stations, food, Ride the Drive, and the end-of-week party – all are a part of the event we look forward to every year.

Of course, like everything else in 2020, this year is different. However, we’re still so excited to make a safe Madison Bike Week happen!

From September 12-20, enjoy fun events such as virtual events, deals & special offers for bike riders, physically-distanced rides, and more! Already planned are: 

  • A discussion for women, trans and femme folks about issues we face as cyclists
  • A UW-sponsored scavenger hunt
  • A food drive
  • Madison Bikes participation in Cycle September — we even have our own group in Love to Ride, if you’d like to join.

Lots more events are planned, and you can RSVP to the Facebook event and follow our website for updates.

Bike Week celebrates riding to work, to the grocery store, to a park, to the library—or biking just to feel the warm wind blowing through your hair. Celebrating cycling is more important than ever, and we’re so excited to make Madison Bike Week possible.  

If you would like to have an event listed on our calendar, offer a deal/discount, or otherwise participate as an organization, please register your event here

This event is generously supported by our sponsors: