2023 is almost over. It was a busy year for myself and for Madison Bikes. What did we do? What did we achieve? What went on in the city that is related to biking? The following is my personal, and certainly incomplete, account of that. Be warned: It’s long (and Mailchimp may cut some of it off!)
Madison Bike Week: Bigger than ever
Writing about the 2023 edition of Madison Bike Week is a little overwhelming: It was the biggest Madison Bike Week ever and no single paragraph can do it any justice. There were bike stations, nerdy signal infrastructure rides, non-nerdy social rides, an amazing party in Brittingham Park, a cargo bikes and an e-bikes test event, bikepacking, and so on and so on. It’s always a big lift to keep all this organized, and then it’s amazing to see how it all comes together.
A number of exciting infrastructure projects were completed or partially completed in 2023. Atwood Avenue was completely rebuilt, with fewer and narrower car lanes, new multiuse paths, continuous sidewalks, and a lot more. A little farther east, on the Lake Loop, the Dempsey and Davies project started and was partially finished: Instead of a bumpy road without any sidewalk, there is now a multi-use path on Davies St. The rest of the project will be completed in 2024.
Downtown saw the completion of the West Wilson and Broom St project. The Wilson Street corridor had been an advocacy focus for us since at least 2018, and it was wonderful to see the project come to fruition, with a two-way cycletrack on West Wilson almost all the way to Monona Terrace. The full benefit for the low-stress bike network downtown will be realized when the East Wilson portion of the corridor, from Monona Terrace to Franklin, is rebuilt next year.
On the west side, the University Bay Drive overpass was finished. On Hammersley Road we saw the completion of phase 1 of another multi-use path, from Brookwood Rd to Gilbert Rd. Phase 2 from Gilbert to the Beltline Frontage road, where the path will connect to the Southwest Path, is coming in 2024. And finally, another segment of the West Beltline Path, from Junction Road to Commerce Drive opened this year.
Aside from these large projects, there were also a lot of smaller, less visible but no less important improvements – more rapid flashing beacons, green crossing markings, improved signal phasing, and so on. An infrastructure improvement of a different kind was the expansion of BCycle into Fitchburg. The all-electric bike share system grew by several stations and bikes, and this resulted in record ridership this year. Next year, more stations in Madison should be coming online.
Bringing federal funding to Madison
If you’re following the local news, you’ll have noticed that the City of Madison was very successful in bringing in federal infrastructure dollars this year. This includes funding for the Autumn Ridge Path and overpass; for the John Nolen Causeway reconstruction; and most recently $6.2 million to implement the city’s Vision Zero action plan. These are all projects that couldn’t happen without federal dollars. Our role in all this? Probably small, but we provided support letters with the grant applications, emphasizing how the projects contribute to traffic safety, connectivity, and equity.
Madison Bikes is a non-partisan, educational non-profit. We don’t endorse candidates in elections. Rather, we educate about the positions of candidates so that voters can make an educated decision on who to vote for. Therefore for the Common Council and mayoral election in the spring, we sent out candidate questionnaires again. Because transportation, land use, and housing are inextricably linked, we partnered with housing advocates Madison is for People and Madison Area Bus Advocates. All three mayoral candidates and 19 Common Council candidates responded to our questions.
Madison Bikes social rides
It’s a little weird for a bike organization to not organize any bike rides, isn’t it? Well, when we started Madison Bikes we felt that a) there already were plenty of wonderful group rides ain Madison and b) organizing rides wasn’t our core skill set. But this year, after several years of COVID-related lack of in-person interaction, we decided to give it a try. In September and October we slow-rolled around Lake Monona with a group of 30-50 people. The conversations and connections made during and after the ride were wonderful, and we may pick these rides up again once the weather gets warmer.
We’re a small organization and there are a lot of people and organizations out there with great ideas but a lack of funds to turn those ideas into reality. That’s especially true for folks and communities that traditionally have been excluded from or underrepresented in biking spaces. As a small step to fix this, we set up our small grants program a few years ago: A simple application, quick turnaround, locally focused. We’ve had the program in place since 2021, but in 2023 it started taking off. We supported several events during Madison Bike Week: A bike station by the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County; a shop tour and volunteer event at Bikes for Kids Dane County (formerly known as Free Bikes 4 Kidz Madison); a women-trans-femme-nonbinary ride and social during Madison Bike Week, organized as a collaborative effort between Madison Women’s Cycling Club, Radical Adventure Riders, and Bombay Bicycle Club.
Outside of Madison Bike Week we provided support for a “mapathon”: Local cartographer Stephen Kennedy of LATLONG.SHOP hosted a Madison Bike Mapathon in November focused on adding bike-related data to OpenStreetMap. Nearly 20 community members—most of whom had never contributed to OSM—showed up to learn the editing process. The group added data related to road speed changes, road crossing elements like islands and RRFBs, Bcycle stations, and bike parking infrastructure.
And our biggest small grant that is still ongoing is a video production project by La Comunidad News ONLINE and Madison Vibra: “A Pedaleando Juntos: Inclusive Biking for All in Madison.” The results should be coming in early next year.
In 2024, we will continue and expand the grant program. If you have an idea or know anyone who does, please go to the small grants page on our website.
New people supporting weekly update
In an organization without paid staff, a lot of the work gets done by our amazing board of directors. But of course we can’t do it all, and we have wonderful help from volunteers. Our weekly newsletter is something I’m very proud of, and writing them is a lot of work (I’d estimate that on average it takes me at least an hour to write one newsletter). This year we reached out to our community to recruit new writers. Chris and Daniel responded to that call and are now part of our rotation of newsletter writers. A big thanks to them, and the other members of the team: Ben (another super volunteer), Christo, Kyle (emeritus), Robbie, and Connor.
The Streets Project
In October we hosted a film screening and a panel discussion. The Street Project tells stories about “humanity’s relationship to the streets and the global citizen-led fight to make communities safer. Digging deep into the root causes of traffic violence, the filmmakers engage a diverse array of experts. These expert interviews are interwoven with the stories of real people working to make their communities safer.” To make the connection to what’s happening in our city more explicit, we invited a panel of local experts and activists to discuss the movie and respond to audience questions. The event drew about 120 people and the panel discussion was lively. Stay tuned for some exciting film screening news in 2024!
We actually had two successful Car-free Holiday Fantasy in Lights events this year. One at the very beginning of the year, and another one in November. Hundreds of attendees got the opportunity to experience the lights on foot or bike, without having to worry about cars. Our other traditional winter event is celebrating International Winter Bike Anywhere Day in early February. We teamed up with the City and served warm beverages and snacks in front of Monona Terrace on a very crisp-but-beautiful weekday morning.
Ride for your Life
October saw what was likely the largest bike and walk safety rally that Madison had ever seen: The Ride for your Life, instigated and organized by Alicia Bosscher, who lost her sister to traffic violence, and a team of the Wisconsin Bike Fed, Trek, Madison Bikes and numerous volunteers. Hundreds of people rode their bikes through the city to demand more safety for vulnerable road users. This was a powerful demonstration for how much support for safer biking and walking there is. Which leads me to the next topic.
Madison’s Vision Zero policy and action plan have been in place for a few years now. As a reminder, Vision Zero posits that the only acceptable number of traffic fatalities and serious injuries is zero, and Madison’s action plan has a goal to reach 0 by 2035. The good news: After the devastating loss of the lives of three cyclists last year, nobody in Madison was killed while biking in 2023. Four people on bikes were seriously injured, which is the same number as in 2023. The larger picture, however, looks less rosy: After we had seemingly made progress last year, the overall number of fatalities and serious injuries is up again, and the number of fatalities is the highest since at least 2017.
Biking stats: Not great
Aside from safety, one of my goals for bike advocacy is getting more people to bike more. And so every year I look at several indicators on how that’s going in Madison. What’s the proportion of people biking to work? What do the bike counter numbers tell us? How is BCycle ridership doing? And how does Madison compare to other cities? The very short version for 2022 (2023 numbers won’t be available for another while): It’s not great, but other cities are doing even worse. You can dive into the details in this blog post.
Board comings and goings
Our board of directors is the core of our organization and we are very much a “working board.” Everything we do relies on the volunteer labor of our board members. A few board members had to step down because they moved away or had too many other responsibilities. Thanks to Caitlin, Connor, Kyle, and Sam for all your work! We miss you. We also have an exciting roster of incoming board members who will start their terms in January. Stay tuned for a blog post to introduce them. And finally, a big shout-out to the board members and officers who have been and will continue to be part of our organization: Aaron, Beth, Christo, Craig, Eleanor, Liz, Mark, Pete, and Robbie!
Looking forward to 2024
I’ll end here and want to thank you, dear reader, for your support. Maybe you volunteered for Madison Bikes, attended a public meeting, forwarded our newsletter, emailed your alder, supported us financially, told your neighbor how awesome biking is, shared your knowledge in our Facebook group, or just kept biking. I look forward to 2024. Tailwinds!