Madison Bike Week is from June 1 through June 8, 2024!
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Weekly Update

This is the last newsletter…

… before Madison Bike Week 2024 starts! Yesterday, our VP Christo and I took our respective bike trailers and distributed 40 yard signs advertising Madison Bike Week around the city. And maybe you’ve seen one of our Bike Week ads on a Metro bus. Anyways, I’ll return to Bike Week below, as there a few other things going before we get rolling on Saturday.

Good and not so good bike infrastructure news

Let’s start with the good news: Olin-Turville Court will soon no longer be bumpy. Currently the pavement on this busy bike connector has a pavement rating of 3 out of 10. For that reason, the city will repave the road this fall. Other than repaving, there won’t be major changes to the road’s layout. Except that the city will add a bike ramp on the southern end of the road! There’s a very clear desire path here, and soon it will be paved. Hooray!

Existing desire path (Image: Google StreetView)

You may be wondering what happens to biking and walking access during the construction. More good news: The city plans to repurpose one of the lanes on John Nolen Drive and create a temporary jersey-barrier-protected two-way multi-use path. Phew, that’s a lot of hyphens.

Now to the less good news: Two large bike infrastructure projects are experiencing delays. The Tancho Drive Path on the Northeast Side won’t be constructed this year as planned. Apparently the city discovered some grade and alignment issues with the already approved plans. Also running behind is the Autum Ridge Path and overpass. Because of manufacturing delays, the overpass itself will only go in January 2025.

West Area Plan meetings on Sauk Creek Greenway and housing/land use

The city is holding a final(?) set of public meetings to discuss the latest round of revisions to the West Area Plan. In case you missed it, in early May, the city released a new draft plan that had several changes from the previous draft, including the removal of a N/S bike connection through the Sauk Creek Greenway. Many of those changes were controversial, and so there is another set of virtual and in-person meetings to gather more feedback. Next week the virtual meetings are taking place. The first one is on land use, zoning, and housing on Tuesday, May 28 (registration link), followed by a meeting on transportation and the Sauk Creek Greenway on Thursday, May 30 (registration link). If you need a refresher on what’s happening with the Sauk Creek Greenway, read Craig’s in-depth post on the topic. The in-person meetings will take place during Bike Week.

In addition to meetings you can also provide written feedback on the plan here.

Transportation Commission: East Madison Bikeways and Stoughton Road

On the Transportation Commission’s agenda on Wednesday are a few bike-relevant items. City staff will be presenting an update on the “East Madison Bikeways Enhancement Projects.” You may remember that as part of the East-West BRT project, 24/7 bike lanes were removed along some stretches of E Washington Ave. This was because BRT needed a dedicated bus lane and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) refused to let the city reduce the number of general travel lanes. To make up for this, the city promised improvements to parallel routes to E Wash, such as the Mifflin and Main St bike boulevards or Hoard St. Here’s an overview map of the improvements:

Also at the Transportation Commission is a city letter to WisDOT about their planning for Stoughton Road. The city analyzed WisDOT’s proposals for their impact on safety, whether they are compatible with walking and biking, and their impact on development and future Amtrak service. Some of WisDOT’s proposals would preclude all-ages and all-abilities bike facilities and cause the loss of significant tax revenue to the city by taking properties off of the tax roll. Here is the presentation and the city’s proposed letter.

You can submit comments to the Transportation Commission by email to transportationcommission@cityofmadison.com or register to the meeting here.

Madison Bike Week

Okay, finally we’re getting to Madison Bike Week. I’m one of the people who gets an email notification whenever a new Bike Week event is being submitted. And let’s just say: I got a lot of emails! We have over 70 events on the calendar, and while the event submission deadline is technically over, I’m sure we’ll get some more submissions this week.

With this many events, trying to point out highlights or providing an overview is almost impossible. Instead, I encourage you to check out the full calendar of events and start planning. A little tip: The default view of the calendar on our website is sorted by day and location, rather than by day and time. So it’s easy to miss some morning events. You can click on “simple” instead to get a chronological view. You can also use the Sched app to plan our your event schedule.

I do want to highlight a few events that we are hosting or co-hosting ourselves:

  • Make sure to join us for the Ride with the Mayor on Monday morning at 8am. There will be west side and northeast side feeder rides.
  • Join our board member Pratik on Tuesday on a ride to Capital Brewery in Middleton to pick up a beer donation for our Bike Week Party
  • Also on Tuesday, we’re once again co-hosting an afternoon bike station with root beer floats (including vegan ones) with Fire Station on the west side
  • More beer fetching is going on on Thursday. Join me on a ride to the Hop Garden in Paoli to pick up a keg of beer.
  • And of course on Friday it’s Bike Week Party time! As per usual: Brittingham Park. Free food and beverages. Tabling by other orgs. Tunes by DJ KA-BOOM!BOX
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E-Mail Weekly Update

Bike Week, Infrastructure Rally, N-S-BRT

Bike Week Approaching

Bike Week proclaimed on Madison busses

Less than two weeks until Madison Bike Week!. Lots of events have already been posted on the event schedule including a vintage bike ride, infrastructure tours, lots of commuter stops, and of course the mayor’s press conference and the awesome Friday party. Start planning today!

Bike Week Merch Now Available

Check out the new Bike Week short-sleeve T-shirt and sleeveless top. Madison Bikes short-sleeved and now long-sleeved T-shirts are also available. Click on the following link to order: https://madison-top-company.printavo.com/merch/madison-bikes.

Transportation Committee Actions

The locally approved alternative (LPA) for N-S BRT was approved by the Transportation Commission at the May 15 meeting. This plan includes over 50% dedicated bus lanes. Overall, there will be less bus conflicts with bicycles, but bicycle infrastructure for much of the route will be substandard because of challenges inherent in engineering the narrow corridor and the status of S. Park Street as part of the National Highway System. Next, the LPA will go to the Common Council for final approval.

For the north section, the addition of BRT will not change bike infrastructure significantly. Bicycle accommodations along Northport Dr. will still not meet All Ages and Abilities guidelines and there are not bicycle facilities on Packers Drive. Madison is developing a grant application to develop plans for better connections between the Northside and other parts of the City. Significant work remains.

West Washington Ave. to Fish Hatchery Rd: This section of S. Park St is not being reconstructed, making it impossible to conform to All Ages and Abilities standards. In an attempt to improve the situation, bicycle facilities on alternate routes will be strengthened. However, these routes provide a less direct north-south route and these routes would not be helpful for those who need to access businesses on S. Park St.

Parking for motor vehicles will be retained on S.Park in 3 areas between W. Washington to Cedar. The longest area, between Vilas and Erin, will be 3 blocks and is not likely to significantly impact bus traffic.

Bike parking will be added on side streets off S. Park just south of W.Washington because of the lack of bicycle parking in the area.

S. Park from Fish Hatchery Rd. to Badger Rd. reconstruction:  There will be a center running bus line with an 8-10 foot shared use path on the west side of S. Park St, with a standard 5-foot sidewalk on the east side.  The path will replace the current shared bike/bus lane. The terrace will be wide enough to accommodate shade trees. Because the path only services one side of the street, crossings, including new traffic signals, reduced speeds, and continental cross walks will be added.

For all of the details you can listen to a recording of the meeting and/or check out this document from the city.

Upcoming Planning Meetings

Just a notification that these are coming up. More details next week.

West Area Plan – May 30: Virtual meeting on transportation

Northeast Plan draftsVirtual meetings on May 28 @ 6:00 pm ( register) and May 29 @ 12:00 pm ( register) or attend the In-person open house events on May 29 @ Reindahl Park, 5:00-8:00 pm and May 30 @ Sycamore Park, 5:00-8:00 pm 

E. Mifflin St. Bike Boulevard Virtual Public Input Meeting – Mon, June 3 at 6:30pm Register for the Zoom meeting 

West Towne Path Zor Shrine Phase Public Meeting – public information meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m., May 28, 2024, via Zoom. https://www.cityofmadison.com/engineering/projects/west-towne-path-phase-2a

Bike Rally for Infrastructure

This event at 6pm on Thursday May 23, hosted by assembly candidate Thad Schumacher, will start with a 3- mile slow roll from the Vilas Park tennis courts to Neff Cycles traveling through the Arboretum. All ages welcome! Check out the route here: https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/edit…

Route detail of the ride to the bike rally

The ride ends at Neff Cycles at 6:30 pm, where there will be a rally advocating for continued development of Madison’s bike/ped infrastructure.

Badger Rusk Shared-Use Path

A proposed design for a street reconstruction project which would improve bike/ped access across the beltline was presented at an informational meeting on May 14. The project would replace the existing sidewalk along the north side of W. Badger Rd and west side of Rusk Ave. with a 10-ft grade separated, lighted, shared-use path by narrowing the street. Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons would be installed to improve the crossing at the pedestrian overpass. The project should be reviewed at the Transportation Commission in July and it is hoped that construction can be completed in October of 2025. https://www.cityofmadison.com/engineering/projects/badger-rusk-shared-use-path

Capital Brewery Bike Club – E-Bike Riders Group, Inaugural Ride

Thirty bikes showed up for a very successful first event. Weekly rides will continue on May 22nd (Wednesday) at 5:30 PM and continue on that schedule throughout the summer. Rides start and end at Capital Brewery in Middleton. Non-members welcome.  Check out all the details at www.capitalbikeclub.org

Riders await the start of the first Capital Brewery E-bike event

That’s this week in a nutshell. Watch the calendar for upcoming events, including Madison Bike Week 2024 events in June.

As always, you can find an overview of all bike events on our Community Bike Calendar. Email us at info@madisonbikes.org to add your events. And if you value our newsletter and other work, consider donating to Madison Bikes. For construction updates, check out the city’s Bike Madison page.

Categories
Newsletter Weekly Update

Ride With Us Through the Arb!

Welcome to this week’s newsletter! Madison Bikes has a goal of hosting a community meeting or event each month in 2024. Which one has been your favorite so far? I loved the Spring Bike Wash last month where we teamed up with Freewheel to get people’s bikes cleaned, check them over for safety, and handed out some Greenbush doughnuts, all for free. It was wonderful to see so many people show up to enjoy the service and sunshine.

We’ve got some exciting bike-related things to share with you this week, including another awesome community event. Here’s what you need to know:

Badger Rusk Shared-Use Path Information Meeting

More separated bike infrastructure is on its way! Monday, May 13th, at 6:00 PM, the city will be hosting a public information meeting on a new shared-use path that is proposed to go along the North side of W Badger Rd and the West side of N Rusk Ave. The path would build upon and help connect the existing bike/ped bridge over the beltline to other destinations that path users may want to go. Along with a 10-ft wide shared path, the project includes improvements to lighting and street crossings. The design is scheduled for Summer-Winter 2024 with construction in June-Oct 2025. Register for the meeting on the project’s page from the city website to learn more.

The approximate location of the proposed path

Capital Brewery E-Bike Ride

Capital Brewery Bike Club is hosting their first Wednesday night E-Bike riders group ride. The ride, starting at 5:30 PM will be 11 miles, starting and ending at Capital Brewery at 7734 Terrace Ave in Middleton.

Quarry Park Bike Trails Work Day

Saturday, May 18th from 8 to noon, Capital Off Road Pathfinders is hosting a Spring work day to clean up and prep the MTB trails at Quarry Park for the season. Volunteers will help clear brush along the trails, tune up the jumps and pump track, and buff in some tech lines. Work days like these are critical to getting the trails ready for the season and keep them in good shape.

Community Event: Bike and Learn Through the Arboretum

Also on Saturday, May 18th at 1pm, Madison Bikes will be hosting a ride through the Arboretum where you can learn all about the ecosystems that live there. Eric Grycan, Ecological Restoration Specialist and friend of Madison Bikes will guide us through the route and tell us about about the Lost City Forest, Skunk Cabbage Bridge, and Curtis Prairie. You can find all this info and let us know if you’re coming on our Facebook event.

The planned route through the arboretum for Saturday’s event

Get your event registered for Madison Bike Week

In case you didn’t hear, Madison Bike Week is right around the corner on June 1-8! We are so excited to see all the events rolling in. This year we will have rides, parties, educational sessions, discounts, free stuff, dogs on bikes, and so much more. Check out our current event schedule, save the dates/times, and get ready to party on the paths. Remember that new events are still being added so check back often so you don’t miss any! If you or someone you know is interested in hosting an event, you can register it on our website, or check out our event-hosting FAQ for more info.

That’s it for this newsletter. We have a lot to be excited about in the coming weeks and we can’t wait to see you out riding.

As always, you can find an overview of all bike events on our Community Bike Calendar. Email us at info@madisonbikes.org to add your events. And if you value our newsletter and other work, consider donating to Madison Bikes. For construction updates, check out the city’s Bike Madison page.

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Bike News Newsletter Weekly Update

Here comes Bike Week

The Madison Bike Week calendar is filling up with great events stretching from June 1 to June 8. It’s time to double-check your own calendar to make sure a few of them are there — and maybe triple-check whether you’ve got something to add to the events.

A few to consider:

COOKIES. Do you already miss Girl Scout Cookies season? Here’s your chance for another thin mint, and for free (courtesy Girl Scout Troop 8267) on the Cap City Path at Jackson Street from 1 to 3 p.m. on June 1.

Explore another silent sport. Join Badger Rowing at their Porter Boathouse, 680 Babcock Drive, for a bagel-and-coffee refuel stop on the Lakeshore Path from 3 to 5 p.m. on June 4. Take a tour of the boathouse and try out some dry-land training under the supervision of people who use their arms — Can you imagine? — to get around.

Party at the Pump Track. Kick off the first day of summer vacation with Wisconsin Bike Fed and DreamBikes at the Aldo Leopold Park Pump Track, 2906 Traceway Drive, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on June 7. If you and yours have never tried — sounds like “shredded” is the appropriate terminology — a pump track, this is a great chance for beginners to get a few pointers or experienced riders to learn some new moves.

If you’d like to host an event like these, picture yourself on the calendar and check out the Madison Beer Week FAQ for registration info.

Southwest Bike Path closure

If you’re a regular on the Southwest Bike Path, you’ll have to skip a section near the UW–Madison campus this week. Construction crews will be removing a tower crane at 750 Regent St. That requires closing the bike path from East Campus Mall to West Washington Avenue. A posted detour will steer bicyclists around the closure via West Dayton Street.

It’s a pretty quiet week, otherwise. Other than a few showers in the forecast, a great time to get out for a ride!

As always, you can find an overview of all bike events on our Community Bike Calendar. Email us at info@madisonbikes.org to add your events. And if you value our newsletter and other work, consider donating to Madison Bikes. For construction updates, check out the city’s Bike Madison page.

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Action Alert In Depth

The Tragedies of Sauk Creek Greenway

(disclaimer: this is a personal blog and not an official position of Madison Bikes)

Alder Nikki Conklin recently announced the scuttling of a long-planned North/South path through the Sauk Creek Greenway on Madison’s far west side. This is an unfortunate capitulation. The tragedy isn’t so much the loss of the path, but the way in which it was lost and how it unfairly perpetuates a “Bikes vs Trees” narrative.

If you just want action, jump to Next Steps at the bottom of this painfully-long blog.

I’ve also added a footnote1 with updates and follow-ups since this blog was originally posted.

Background

The 26-acre Sauk Creek Greenway snakes from Tree Lane to Old Sauk Rd. There has long been a stormwater project to deal with years of neglect and surges of stormwater from west side development, particularly the parking lots near Menards. The issue became critical after the 2018 floods which resulted in the drowning death of a person in the nearby Chapel Hill-Greentree greenway, an area with many similarities to Sauk Creek. That incident resulted in the $5.9M McKenna Boulevard Flood Mitigation Project.

The Sauk Creek stormwater project’s goals are to stabilize the creek and build a gravel service road similar to the ones in Owen Conservation Park and Pheasant Branch north of Century Ave. The project would also thin the trees according to a soon-to-be-released corridor plan. It’s expected that the City will want to remove all damaged and unhealthy trees, and also many of the less desirable trees that are crowding the more desirable trees. Opinions vary on what is a “desirable” tree, but there’s no doubt the current greenspace is a product of neglect and mesophication, and there isn’t a single healthy oak tree under 80 years old. Unlike Owen, Olin, Hoyt, Picnic Point, and other urban greenspaces, this greenway has never had a volunteer group clearing invasives, burning duff, stemming erosion, maintaining trails, etc.

Throughout the project, neighbors have rightfully expressed concerns about what tree removal will look like, especially after a different tree-thinning exercise a few blocks away seemed excessive:

As far as I can tell, the City departments involved seem to have been responsive, going so far as to inventory the entire 26-acre wood and its 5500 trees, post a list of every public meeting and department involved, publish a community engagement guide, and issue multiple statements to dispel misunderstandings that had arisen. However, throughout the process one can’t help but sense that neighbors seemed more interested in how the project will affect their own properties than the City’s.

Enter the “Friends”

In mid-2022, the “Friends of Sauk Creek” formed. Unlike most “Friends” organizations that help improve our parks and open space, this group’s single goal was to “stop plans to remove 5,500 trees during a reconstruction of Sauk Creek,” i.e., to ensure nothing changes. [Update: their new web site has expanded their mission to include “stop bike paths in the nearby woods.” Their old web site with much of their history is still in google’s cache]. The leaders are nice, intelligent people and they’re passionate about their neighborhoods. But for reasons I can’t explain, their manner of engaging with the City quickly turned belligerent and hostile, and they’ve shown little interest in compromise or finding common ground.2

The group aggressively took the planners to task, demanding details and impacts long before any engineering had been done to provide precise answers. They looked for inconsistencies with what was said by different people in different City departments, jumping on them as signs of malfeasance or secrecy. They apparently filed Freedom of Information Act requests. To this outsider, their treatment of our City officials seemed unfair and unwarranted. Despite all that, a petition they crafted in late 2022 calling for public involvement in tree-clearing decisions was calm, measured and entirely appropriate. It got 373 signatures. I would have happily signed it.

Their true colors were revealed in May 2023 when they rallied to kill a planned youth single-track MTB trail in Walnut Grove Park that would have provided youth recreation similar to the Aldo Leopold Park shred-to-school trails. The trail didn’t endanger a single mature, healthy tree and was environmentally compatible with the park’s existing uses (which include a dog park!). With no environmental reason for their opposition, it’s impossible not to conclude that the “Friends” group is more concerned about the users of the greenway than the health of the greenway. To them, the greenway should remain their own private backyard in perpetuity and anything that brings more people into the area is a threat.

During a meeting in July 2023, City planners indicated that the stormwater project may be coordinated with a long-planned North/South path through the greenway. This would mean paving and grading the access road to ADA and NACTO path standards, adding one or more bridges, and connecting the path to the City’s growing All Ages & Abilities bike network. The idea of a path goes back at least to the 2000 bike plan (pg 84) where it was listed as a “third priority” because “suitable on-road routes exist.” The “Friends” group twists that to say that the City had declared the path “wasn’t a priority.” In reality, “third priority” means exactly that and, after 24 years, many of the other “third priority” projects have been completed, including Wingra Creek underpass, Stricker Pond path, a path in Blackhawk Park, the new Starkweather bridge, etc. The path again appeared in the 2015 bike plan on the future map (figure 4-7, pg 39). It also was on the West Area Plan that kicked off in early 2023.

At some point, East/West path connections through the greenway were also added to the West Area Plan. I’m not sure the history of that, but do know that students headed to Memorial High School, Jefferson Middle School, and the Lussier Community Center have expressed a desire for an E/W connection without having to go all the way down to Tree Lane. For some, an E/W connection will eliminate up to a mile of extra travel and avoid having to take busy four-lane Old Sauk Rd. It will also provide a connection to WisDOT’s planned bike/ped beltline bridge just to the west. Even after Alder Conklin capitulated on the N/S path this week, the E/W path remains in the plan and will surely be a continued fight.

Enter the Boogeyman

Once the “Friends” heard about a paved path, they were livid and shifted their attention towards this new boogeyman — the bike path! After all, what better symbol of hatred than a smug, entitled biker?

credit: AI

Their web site soon shouted “City planner describes creek area as biking hub; it could destroy thousands of trees, birds, wildlife.” Taking a lesson from the “see what sticks” playbook, they brainstormed a random assortment of false and exaggerated talking points, listed below (with my rebuttals):

  • “Thousands of trees removed”, “decimate”, “reduced canopy”, etc. (The stormwater project is what will remove trees! A paved path will only require minor additional tree removals for bridges and the E/W path. Engineers will surely try to avoid the healthy, desirable trees.)
  • “Destroy nature”, “harm animals”, etc. (Paths are not a major factor. Studies do show that mountain biking can impact nesting habits of some bird species in wilderness areas. But this is an urban greenway; any animal here is adapted to houses, highways, noise, and the adjacent dog park. Turtles even dig their nests next to paths.)
  • “The path’s impervious surface will leach toxins into our lakes!” (Path asphalt is inert and the path has no gutters or drains for water to reach the lake. All rainwater soaks into the ground a few feet from where it falls. Porous asphalt can also be used, as Fitchburg did along Lacy Rd. Toxins from asphalt largely come from driveway sealants used by homeowners.)
  • “The grade is too steep and the path will be dangerous!” (The grades are nothing that design engineers couldn’t handle; overall it’s much tamer than paths in Yarmouth Crossing and Pheasant Branch Creek.)
  • “Heat-island, climate change!” (The stormwater project is responsible for the extent of tree removal; their thinning will allow the remaining trees to flourish, improving the overall canopy. Plus, if the path can convince even a single person to give up their car or drive less, that can save up to 250 mature trees worth of carbon capture. Biking and walking are climate solutions, not problems!)
  • “The path will be lighted!” (This is not in any plan and is technically challenging. It would only be added if neighbors asked for it.)
  • “The cost will be $6M! or $7M!” (The City doesn’t have a design detailed enough to know what the cost will be. By the time the stormwater project has rehabilitated the gravel access road, the cost to add asphalt and bridges should be very reasonable with most costs covered by a federal grant.)
  • “Bikers are fast and dangerous” (FUD. See below for why this path would not be a major bike thoroughfare.)
  • “The path doesn’t connect anywhere!” (Never mind the chicken-and-egg fallacy of arguing against paths because of lack of other paths, this path would have immediately connected to bike lanes on Old Sauk Rd and Tree Ln, and it would nearly reach Mineral Point Rd’s new widened sidewalk. The E/W path will connect WisDOT’s planned beltline overpass at Sauk Creek Park.)
  • “The path isn’t needed because there are other routes on Westfield and High Point!” (This is absolutely true for most bicyclists one sees on the roads today. However, it’s estimated that ⅓ of bicyclists only bike where there are comfortable off-street paths. This path could be the difference in whether a family bikes or drives to Swagat for dinner or whether their child can reach Alicia Ashman Library on their own.)

This last point drives me crazy and points to a major failure in City messaging. This path would never have been a major bike hub or bike highway on the order of the Capital City trail or Southwest Commuter Path. Instead, it would be a backyard greenway path similar to ones in Greentree-Chapel Hill, Oak Meadow, Mineral Point Park, Garner Park, and dozens of others. Those are all important bike connections, especially for All Ages and Abilities, but they attract far more walkers, joggers, dog walkers, strollers, and kids than bicyclists. Most path users are from the adjacent neighborhoods.

A typical 5pm in McKee Farms Park. Five walkers, one jogger with dog, and one fisherman on a bike (obscured).

Mobilization strategies

The “Friends” group issued a second petition in Fall 2023 filled with their false talking points, though it moderated its words on tree removal. Curiously, they only got 305 signatures, far less than the 2022 petition. This could have been due to shortness of time, but it might also be due to neighbor fatigue. I’ve spoken with several people in the area including a few who are serious conservationists and, frankly, they’re bewildered by how sideways things have gone and they’re afraid to speak up because of the power the “Friends” group seems to wield.

Another pillar of their mobilization strategy was to hound and harass every public servant and every public meeting related to the West Area Plan with emails, public comments, and in-person confrontations. Ald. Conklin’s inbox probably has a thousand messages about it, far more than any human could read, let alone reply to. At the Wisconsin Healthy Communities Summit last week, State Senator Chris Larson advised that one key to successful government advocacy was to “point out the problem without being problematic.” The “Friends” group proves him dead wrong! I recall one technical zoning meeting where an exasperated attendee asked of the barrage of Sauk Creek path comments, “Do these even refer to anything on the agenda?” (they didn’t, but it was a public meeting so there was no stopping it)

It was also agonizing to see how much time and energy the “Friends” group was able to extract from their own members. I’ve read every public comment from a half-dozen meetings. Most are earnest and thoughtful, and many brought up well-researched concerns about project bounds, path routing, grade, erosion, proximity to yards — all issues that would be really helpful during the design phase, had there been one. But so many of the messages also raised the same false and exaggerated talking points. At one meeting, a neighbor with a disability stood in opposition to the path because she couldn’t imagine how an ADA path could navigate the terrain. With the project now scuttled, we’ll never know how engineers would have solved that; but they would have.

A third pillar was the press. By framing this as “David v Goliath,” “neighbors saving trees from uncaring City planners,” or “trees versus bikers”, they got a lot of sympathetic press. Allison Garfield’s excellent Capital Times piece “A Silent Deforestation” gave most coverage to the neighbors, but it was extremely fair in presenting the City’s position. WORT‘s earlier coverage was similarly balanced. Coverage in the Wisconsin State Journal was more lopsided for the “Friends”, and Cap Times editor Paul Fanlund proved himself a sucker for the false messaging, lobbing cheap shots against bicyclists in his opinion piece on zoning changes.

The fourth pillar was to capitalize on the public outcry about proactive zoning, as Fanlund had done. The zoning issue is important and potentially affects the entire city, but it has nothing to do with the local Sauk Creek stormwater project. That didn’t stop a former Common Council candidate from making this FOX news-worthy video that egregiously conflates the two issues.

City Capitulation

The strategy of the “Friends of Sauk Creek” worked. The city is now planning to remove the N/S path from the West Area Plan. This is no big loss for the overall bike network, but it is a tremendous loss for low-stress bicycling since beautiful paths like this are often what get people hooked on biking in the first place. I personally think it’s also a huge loss for the neighborhood, but that’s really for the neighbors to judge.

The biggest tragedy for me as a transportation advocate is that this loss is entirely due to misinformation and bullying. The “Friends of Sauk Creek” apparently feels no shame in their tactics and perhaps this is just a case of local democracy emulating national politics. But that doesn’t make it right. It’s embarrassing to see it succeed in Madison.

Of course, the “Friends” aren’t done. Of course they know the path has little impact on tree removal. They will fight the E/W path that remains in the plan. They will fight the stormwater project later this summer. And, in a couple years, they’ll be fighting the off-street bike paths now planned for High Point and Westfield Rds — paths that will end up costing far more than the greenway path and that will remove parking and disrupt the front yards of the fifty or so home- and condo- owners on those streets.

What’s next?

Madison’s West Area Plan updates and information about all upcoming meetings are posted at https://www.cityofmadison.com/dpced/planning/west-area-plan/3896/. The Sauk Creek path change has two meetings:

  • virtually on Thursday May 30 at 6pm
  • in-person open house at High Point Church on Thursday June 6 from 6-8pm. Fortunately or not, this falls in the middle of Bike Week!

As bicyclists, our goals should be to show overwhelming support for the East/West path and to try to restore the North/South path through the Sauk Creek greenway.

Our success depends almost entirely on helping opposition neighbors to (a) understand that the paths are not responsible for mass tree removal and (b) that paths will be an asset, not a threat, to the neighborhoods, the greenway and the adjacent property owners.

Let’s mobilize with facts and kindness. Let’s help the opposition think about how they might personally benefit from a path. E.g., walking a dog without getting muddy feet or ticks, morning jogs or birding, walking or biking to dinner, sending your child alone to the park or library, and so on. If quality-of-life gains aren’t enough, remind them that a trail will increase property values by 3-5%.

Most importantly, let’s encourage them to go explore the similar greenways to see what paths are really like and how other neighbors use them. Here are four ideal ones to visit:

  • Middleton’s Pheasant Branch Creek path (at Park St, not the larger area north of Century Blvd) is most analogous to Sauk Creek in terms of narrowness, length, and terrain.
  • The Mineral Point Park path from behind Memorial High School to Inner Drive. This is similarly narrow to Sauk Creek but has a concrete stormwater drain.
  • Fitchburg’s paths like Nevan Springs/Buttonbush and Oak Meadow have adjacent houses. Here you can see how homeowners integrate their yards with the paths while maintaining privacy.
  • The Cap City trail west of Fish Hatchery (park at Adesys) is a popular trail so expect a much higher volume of bike traffic. It has steep grades, multiple bridges, and a meandering creek whose banks are reinforced with natural boulders.
  • The gravel maintenance road in Owen Conservation Park from Inner Drive to Forsythia Pl. This is what Sauk Creek’s new maintenance road will look like unpaved. The corridor width is not that different from a paved path.

There is a path to saving the path.

  1. Update: Added Mineral Point Park path to the list of suggests greenways to visit. Errata: Although the “Friends” group does not organize it, some Sauk Creek neighbors do independent garlic mustard removal and other woods maintenance. Follow-up: The “Friends” group has not responded to this blog , but instead doubled-down on their misinformation in a May 19 blog. Follow-up: social media discussions about this blog are at Nextdoor and Reddit (and earlier Reddit) ↩︎
  2. To be transparent, I have no first-hand exposure to the Friends of Sauk Creek prior to Fall 2023, so all descriptions of earlier events are based on the public record. There may be other plausible explanations. I welcome the “Friends” or other involved people to help correct the record and point out any mistakes they read in this blog. ↩︎