I hope everyone had a restful Labor Day weekend. Our newsletter took the day off as well, and here we are, on a Tuesday. The long weekend also meant that not much is happening in terms of city meetings. But! Madison Bike Week is just around the corner. Technically, Bike Week starts on Sunday, but there will be three “prologue” events on Saturday:
Fitchburg’s Jamestown Neighborhood is hosting a bike rodeo — if you can volunteer, please sign yourself up
The Badgers are having a home game, and as per usual, the Bike Fed provides valet parking right next to the bike path
And finally, Delta Beer Lab and Hop Haus Fitchburg are hosting the second edition of the Madison Brewery Bike Race. “There is no marked course – just get from one brewery to the other and back as fast (or slow) as you can. Race for time or ride for fun.” Pre-registration is required.
One way in which you can help make Bike Week a success is by signing up for a volunteer shift at the Madison Bikes Bike Week Party on Sep 17, from 5-8pm. We need help with setting up/breaking down, handing out drink tickets and pouring drinks, and a few other things. You can sign up here: https://forms.gle/Yj7aczSCTxyftKbk6 Thank you!
Oh, and if you’re subscribed to our newsletter but not actually in Madison: Of course it’s also the Wisconsin Bike Fed’s Bike Week all across the state. Find out more here.
Marybeth covered the deaths that have recently happened on East Washington Ave last week. We’ve been working with other organizations on a protest action calling for an end to the traffic violence. If all goes as planned it will take place next Saturday (July 2731), starting at 10 am. We’ll send out a separate email once we have more detail. Stay tuned, save the date. The only acceptable number of traffic deaths and severe injuries is 0.
Madison bike ecosystem in the news
Madison has an amazing ecosystem of biking. Madison Bikes is part of it, but there are many other people and organizations out there that do really important work. Some of them recently got some media coverage. The Know your Madisonian series has a portrait of Alan Crossley, a “retired wildlife biologist who finds purpose in giving bikes new life.” Alan has long been part of Wheels of Winners, and more recently he joined the board of BikEquity. BikEquity, founded by Francisco Sayu, and Madison Adaptive Cycling, which launched only a few weeks ago, were covered in a segment by NBC15, covering their work to make cycling more inclusive in Madison.
Gorham Street, now with bike lane
Until very recently, Gorham Street, one of the few corridors through the isthmus, was a busy, bumpy street, with a narrow combined parking/bike lane on some part and no bike infrastructure at all farther east. Repaving the street was just completed, and now there are bike lanes all the way from Baldwin (where the Tenney Park multi-use path ends) to Butler! The bike lanes required the removal of some on-street parking spots — something that we need to be willing to do in more places to make space for safe bike infrastructure. Well done.
Wednesday’s Transportation Commission meeting has an update from bike share system Madison Bcycle on the agenda. The slides are already available, and it looks like we’ll be getting some new stations!
Another item on the agenda is a discussion about how racial equity and social justice can be incorporated in the Commission’s work.
New bike trail in Cambridge
Cambridge is close to the Glacial Drumlin Trail, but getting from the trail into town currently requires riding on a state highway. That is going to change: A new multi-use trail will soon connect Cambridge to State Farm Rd, bypassing the highway. The trail will be named after long-time bike advocate and adventurer Phil Van Valkenberg. A trail dedication ceremony will take place at Cambridge Winery on Sunday, starting at 2:30 pm.
Cannonball and Military Ridge reopening in October
We just received word that the Cannonball and Military Ridge Trails near the “Velo Underround” bike roundabout are scheduled to reopen October 1. This is well ahead of schedule: Construction was originally slated to continue until December. Until the trail reopens, please use the detours.
The Nine Springs Valley Interceptor Improvements – McKee Road to Dunn’s Marsh project anticipates reopening the Military Ridge and Cannonball trails by October 1, 2021. Remaining work left includes manhole lining, testing, fine grading, and various restoration work (signage, plantings, paving etc). This date is subject to change depending on progress and weather.
Tonight at the Transportation Policy and Planning Board there will be a progress report on how the bike network expanded in 2020 and how it will grow in the future. In 2020, Madison got 3.6 new miles of bike lanes and paths; in 2021 we will get 7.7 miles, including the Garver Path, buffered bike lanes on W Wash, and a protected bike lane on Broom St. See the whole list here. Other topics on the agenda: A planned freeway expansion of the Beltline and several items regarding bus rapid transit.
Loop the Lake 2021
Our friends from the Clean Lakes Alliance are hosting their annual Loop the Lake fundraiser. You can either bike around Lake Monona at any time between June 12 and 20, or join the main event on June 19, starting at Olbrich Park. More info here.
Let’s Talk Streets
Several city initiatives around transportation, safety, and how our streets work are underway at the moment: Vision Zero (focused on eliminating traffic deaths and injuries), Complete Green Streets “for everyone, no matter who they are or how they travel,” and others. Public engagement is really important to these initiatives, and in order to not burn out the public with several separate engagement processes for each initiative, the engagement process is going to be unified. It starts off this week, and you can choose between virtual meetings either at 5pm on Tuesday or noon on Wednesday. Sign up here: https://www.cityofmadison.com/transportation/initiatives/lets-talk-streets
We want to know what you think about the streets you use to work, live and play in the City of Madison. What do you value about our city streets, what worries you, and what type of street user are you? How can the City design streets around people? The purpose of Let’s Talk Streets is to learn from each other about how we design streets for the future in Madison. It’s a conversation with YOU that seeks to gather public input to influence several different street-related initiatives while ensuring you know what we mean when we “talk streets” and we learn from you what is important about how you talk streets.
There have been reports of two bike crashes in the past week. One involved a collision of two people biking on the SW Path overpass of the Beltline. According to reports, the collision happened in one of the turns, possibly with one of the people riding outside of their lane. Visibility is limited there because of the tall fence and a tree, and several people reported having had close calls there. We reached out to the city to see if any safety improvements can be made.
Another notorious location for bike crashes is the crossing of the Cap City Trail at Syene Rd. In 2016, a person driving on Syene Rd struck Cheri Maples on her bike, eventually leading to her death. Several other injury crashes have happened in the years since. The area is currently under reconstruction, and minor improvements of the crossing appear to be included.
On our Facebook group, someone asked how the Cannonball Path got its name. It didn’t take long for our board member Grant to post the correct answer:
For many years there were two passenger trains and two or more freight trains traveling the line each way daily. The “Cannonball” freight train, pulling a passenger coach, left early in the morning from Lancaster and returned from Madison late in the day.
This didn’t stop other from spinning yarns about alternative explanations: Maybe there is a brotherhood that “sets up a cannon at an undisclosed location along that path and absolutely smokes a random cyclist passing by. If they survive, they are permitted to join the brotherhood.” Or was it named after “John J. Cannonball,” an early bike advocate who in 1920 tried to prove that high-wheeler bikes were superior by racing from Dodgeville to Madison, ending in the collision with a cow…? No, it’s really named after a historic train run.
The Transportation Policy and Planning Board is meeting tonight. On the agenda are a proposal for the City to build a new parking garage at Villager Mall to support the Urban League’s new Black Business Hub, a presentation on Metro’s future fare collection system (spoiler: staff doesn’t recommend going fare free), and a presentation by City Engineering on the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), which lays out mayor road and path projects for the next 5 years. One new addition to the TIP is the plan for a new bike path connecting Old Sauk Rd across the Beltline to the employment and commercial centers in the Deming Way area.
Buffered Bike Lanes on Whitney Way
At their meeting last week, the Transportation Commission approved a slew of Vision Zero projects, including a new buffered bike lane on Whitney Way. Currently people on bikes have to share the curb lane with parked cars, and this new design will create a new low-stress bike connection on this important north-south corridor.
Mountain Biking for High Schoolers
Do you live on the west side of Madison or in Verona and have kids in 6th-12th grade? Are they riding mountain bikes, or are curious about riding? The Madison West Area MTB Teams are holding a virtual meeting on Tuesday, May 4 at 7pm. A Zoom link is available on the Facebook event page.
Come and discover the lifelong joy of mountain biking! Our co-ed teams serve 6th-12th grade students, beginner to advanced, casual riders to racers, in the west Madison and Verona area. Join us for an introductory meeting for parents and potential athletes and learn more about the fun, confidence and community that mountain biking can provide. We work with girls and boys riding at all levels. Some of our athletes ride only at practices and maybe an adventure outing or two. Others find that they love racing with their team. We welcome all interest and ability levels!
Repaving County Highway B north of Oregon (very commonly used on rustic road loops through Oregon, connecting from Cap City Trail)
Repaving County Highway A SW of Oregon between D and MM (pretty useful road connecting some alternate quieter N/S roads)
Repaving and widening County Highway G, adding 3ft paved shoulders, between Mt. Vernon and US 151
Repaving KP between Kross [sic] Plains @ US 14 to WI 19, slightly widened to include 1ft paved shoulder
Both F and J S/SW of Black Earth are going to be closed to through traffic due to bridge replacements. This will be annoying, particularly as they will be concurrent closures. Detours are long and everything is hilly out there.
I can personally vouch for the dire state of pavement on many of these repaving roads so overall I’m pretty happy to see the work being done!”
Thanks, Ben! Click on the map link above to get an overview of where the projects are located.
What a beautiful weekend we had. The bike paths were busier than ever, as evidences by the City’s bike counters: On the Cap City Trail, Saturday saw the highest ever daily March count, with 2262 people riding past the counter. The SW Path saw a count of 1209, which isn’t quite an all-time March record (March 16, 2015: 1480 riders) but still very respectable.
Advocacy 101 tonight
Tonight from 6-7pm is the Madison Bikes Advocacy 101 community meeting. We often get asked what one can do to advocate for biking in Madison, and so this 1-hour Zoom meeting will provide some answers to that question. Our board member and former Alder Robbie Webber is going to do a brief presentation and then there will be plenty of time for questions and discussion. is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting. For active participation, join the Zoom call, or you can watch the meeting on Facebook Live.
Common Council Candidate Questionnaire
Elections for the Madison Common Council are on April 16 April 6 (early voting has started already). Where do candidates stand on issues related to biking and transportation? We sent them a questionnaire to find out and now the answers are in! Don’t know which district you’re in? Enter your address here. Note that not all candidates responded to our questions, and Madison Bikes does not endorse or oppose any candidate. Independent from our questionnaire, you may also be interested in the one from 350 Madison.
District 20 (Christian Albouras, Erica Lee Janisch)
Cap City Yield Signs
If you’ve been riding the Capital City Trail between Blair and Dickinson lately, you may have noticed new yield signs on the path. This stretch of the path has always been a bit of a hodgepodge when it came to who had the right-of-way at the crossings, but over the years the City had installed more and more stop signs on the cross streets. Those are gone now, and you can thank the “Office of the Commissioners of Railroads.” This obscure-yet-powerful office has wide authority under state and federal law to regulate anything related to railroad crossings, and they didn’t like the stop signs — presumably out of a concern that cars on the cross streets would back up all the way into the railroad crossing, creating a safety issue. So watch out for the new configuration and be prepared for people in cars and on bikes to be confused by the changes.
Save the Date: Spring Bike Wash and Safety Checks
It’s still a bit out, but mark the date: On April 24, we’re partnering with BikEquity, Down With Bikes, Dream Bikes, and Wheels for Winners for a spring bike wash and safety checks events. We’ll have cleaning supplies to wash that dirt and salt off your winter bikes, and experienced volunteers to do basic safety checks on your bike to get you started into spring. The event will take place on Clark Court, right next to Brittingham Park. Stay tuned for more details and let us know if you’re going on the Facebook event page.
The cold is unrelenting. Are you still out and about on your bike? I myself am off the bike for health reasons, but on my walks through the neighborhood I still encounter people riding. Last night on the way back from the grocery store, a young woman rode past me, happily singing to herself. So yes, even in this weather biking can be not only a means of transportation but also a source of joy!
Biking and diversity on WORT
Tune in tonight for a conversation on biking on WORT’s acccess hour. Our former board member Baltazar De Anda-Santana (now leading the Latino Academy of Workforce Development) and Kristie Goforth, executive director of Free Bikes 4 Kidz Madison, will talk about diversity (or the lack thereof?) in Madison’s bike scene. You can listen on 89.9 FM or online.
West Washington Ave
West Washington Ave between Bedford and Broom will be resurfaced. Right now the street has car parking on both sides and an overly wide travel lane in each direction — wide enough to regularly confuse people about whether there are two or four lanes. The City now proposes to add bus lanes and bike infrastructure to the corridor while keeping car parking in place. The plans are still in an early stage, but at a public meeting last week this design was presented:
Related to the West Washington Ave project, Metro is holding a public hearing on proposed changes to bus service. Among them is a plan to move some routes (the 8, 12, 15, 70 and 72) off State St and onto West Washington Ave. Other proposed changes are to suspend the 10 and 27 and compensate for that by increasing service on the 2 and improving service on the 38. You can find all the relevant info here. The public hearing is this Wednesday, starting at 6pm.
Free Bikes 4 Kidz
Free Bikes 4 Kidz Madison has opened their bike give-away season for the year. Here’s their pitch:
Calling Nonprofit Partners & Schools to Receive Bikes!
Help us spread the news! We are excited to announce that we are ready for nonprofit partners to apply to receive bikes! This is our first call to nonprofits or school partners in Dane County who are ready to pickup bikes in FEBRUARY. Due to unconventional times, we are doing things a bit differently this year. So, if you’re with a nonprofit or school that has the capacity to distribute bikes in FEBRUARY, please fill out our Apply for Bikes form on our website. If you have questions, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s get rolling! *Please note that FB4K does not give bikes to individuals. We give bikes to nonprofits or schools who are already working with area youth. If you’d like a bicycle, please reach out to a nonprofit that you receive services from. APPLY FOR BIKES
Winter Cycling Congress
Speaking of winter biking: This Thursday and Friday, the international Winter Cycling Congress is taking place — of course all virtually. Madison Bikes is sponsoring Noelle Reading from Freewheel/Madison Bicycle Center to attend, and she’ll write up her experiences for our blog! Stay tuned.
Once again, it is time for a review of another year for Madison Bikes. And what a year it has been, for our organization but more so for all of you, all of us. It’s hard to summarize all the things that have gone on, but I will try anyway.
And before I forget: If you want to support Madison Bikes financially, donate here.
Also a thanks to my weekly update coauthors, Robbie, Ben, Marybeth, Kyle, and Jim. A lot of work goes into these emails, and we can only do it because we have an awesome team.
A good start
The year started out splendidly: To promote year-round riding for people of all ages, we invited the community to join us for a short bike ride through the Holiday Fantasy in Lights course at Olin Park. About 75 people, including many kids, heeded the call on the first Saturday of 2020.
While we had gotten lucky with the weather for the Holiday ride, things looked a little different on Winter Bike Day. In previous years we had tried hosting a full week of events to celebrate winter riding, but conditions were often tough in February in Madison. This year we focused all our energy on a single day — and of course it turned out to be one of the coldest ones of the year! Well, we were out out there anyway, serving coffee and pastries around a fire pit on the Cap City Trail.
With two events already under our belts, we were getting ready for the next one: An early spring ride to the murals of Madison. Then COVID happened and would shape the whole rest of the year.
Pandemic this, pandemic that
The early days of the pandemic saw us and our community jump into action. During the first lockdown, bike shops were considered essential businesses, but many of them had reduced or changed hours. Our board member Heather started a simple spreadsheet keeping track of Madison’s shops, and we, with assistance from the Bike Fed, eventually expanded this to an interactive map of the shops around the whole state. Nowadays we still maintain a map of all Dane County shops and outdoor repair stations.
Another thing early in the pandemic: Keeping your distance on the bike path. We didn’t have a great understanding of the risk of outdoor transmission yet, and public health orders mandated a 6-foot distance outdoors as well. A great opportunity for a fun PSA on the SW Path:
One of the few positive aspects of the pandemic: Like in other cities, Madison designated some of its streets as shared streets. In some cases, cars were kept out completely (Vilas Park Dr), in others “local traffic only” signs were used (e.g. N Sherman, Mifflin), and on Atwood Ave we got a temporary protected bike lane! And for those worried about crowded bike paths, we crunched the bike counter data to tell you when the paths were emptiest.
At the end of May, police killed George Floyd in Minneapolis. Suddenly, racism and the Black Lives Matter were in everyone’s minds and out on the street. White people, myself included, faced hard questions about their own actions and the systems of privilege and racism that we are entwined with and that we perpetuate. It’s was a difficult topic then, and the fight against racism is here to stay.
One intersection of racism and our bike advocacy was around Vision Zero. Vision Zero is an approach to traffic safety that recognizes that humans will make errors and that all traffic deaths and serious injuries are preventable. In other cities, part of Vision Zero has been increased traffic enforcement. But it is well known that this enforcement has disparate and sometimes deadly impacts on Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). When Madison was about to adopt its own Vision Zero policy, Madison Bikes submitted a letter (you can download it below) to the Common Council. And the adopted Vision Zero policy does include a clause that acknowledges the harm from both traffic violence and police enforcement and asks for a plan to eliminate that harm.
One project I was really excited about this year is the Cyclists of Madison Twitter bot. Since the early days of Madison Bikes, we wanted to fight stereotypes about who does and doesn’t ride a bike in Madison. I greatly enjoy taking photos of people out riding, and the technical expertise of our volunteer Ben Sandee allowed us to create a Twitter bot that posts one photo a day.
Wilson Street: In the works since 2017
One significant advocacy victory for Madison Bikes in 2020 was the adoption of the Wilson Street Corridor Plan. We had been working on this from the very beginning, back in 2017. And what a long way the project has come since then. Originally, the plan was to keep this important corridor into downtown more or less as it is, except for a widened sidewalk on parts of W Wilson. Through our (and your) tireless advocacy, the final plan looks very different: Ultimately, there will be low-stress bike facilities along the whole corridor, from the SW Path to the intersection at Machinery Row! Should it have taken this long to acknowledge that we need bike facilities for all ages and abilities? No. But Wilson St shows the power of advocacy and persistence.
Madison Bike Week
Madison Bike Week as usual was not an option this year. We had only taken over the organization of Madison Bike Week last year and were all excited about our second round. First, we decided to delay a decision. Then we decided to delay Bike Week. And then we seriously considered canceling Bike Week completely for 2021. In the end, we went ahead and ran a Madison Bike Week as best as possible given the circumstances. I really, really hope that 2021 will get us back to an in-person Madison Bike Week.
There’s still a lot of uncertainty about what 2021 will bring. I’m excited to to welcome three new people to our board of directors! We’ll stay involved with the bus rapid transit project moving forward, and we’re going to do some education for the Common Council elections in April. We have also allocated some funding for a small grant program, supporting BIPOC-led organizations for transportation-related projects. Stay tuned. And thanks for your support.
While the bike paths have gotten noticeably emptier after the beautiful weather we had earlier, the calendar for next week looks surprisingly busy! Let me walk through everything that’s going on.
Speaking of empty paths: We at Madison Bikes firmly believe that biking can be a year-round activity. In past years, we have hosted the Winter Bike Fashion Show, an event where Madisonians who already ride in the cold show off their approach to all-year riding and answer the questions of the winter-bike-curious. An in-person event is not an option this year, and so we’re creating a series of short videos about fall, winter, and spring riding. We published the first episode, on fall riding, last week. Watch it here. And a big thank you to Eleanor Conrad and Eric Grycan who produced much of the video. More episodes still to come.
On Monday night, you have to choose between three options:
The Transportation Policy and Planning Board (TPPB) is having its regular meeting. Some items on their agenda:
Vehicle Miles Traveled update: Way back in 2009, then-Alder Satya Rhodes-Conway introduced a resolution to the Common Council that would have set a goal of reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by 25% by 2020. During the legislative process, the resolution got watered down significantly, and the final version no longer contained that 25% reduction goal. All that remained was a mandate to produce annual reports, “describing trends in traffic and mass transit volumes, including, to the extent possible, aggregate vehicle-miles traveled (VMT).” It seems like even this weak goal of annual reports was abandoned after a few years, but now the TPPB is receiving an update. Did we reach a 25% reduction? Well, we don’t know sure, but looking at things like traffic counts, it looks like VMT have hardly shrunk at all. Driving is alive and well.
On-street parking goals: There’s an on-going effort to change the residential parking permit program, as part of a larger rethinking about we use the public right of way. In certain parts of the city, the RP program provides local residents the option to store their car on the street, whereas “commuters” don’t have that option. The permits costs a mere $3.50 per month — less than what it costs the City in administrative costs…
Bus Rapid Transit: There will be an update on the routing of the initial BRT line, mostly around the question of “center-running” bus lanes on parts of the corridor. One thing important for people on bikes: Whereas side-running bus lanes allow for the option to have a shared bus/bike lane, center-running takes away that option, and unless we reduce the space for motor vehicles, it is challenging to create safe and comfortable bike infrastructure.
Speaking of BRT: There is a public input meeting specifically about the plans for East Washington Ave on Monday night as well, starting at 6 pm. The currently favored alternative would have buses running in the center, and the outside lanes, which currently are parking/bike lanes, would be turned into general travel lanes during rush between Blount and Milwaukee. In other words, when traffic volumes are highest, there would be no bike accommodations whatsoever. Or as the report says, “During peak hours, cyclists would need to travel within the general purpose travel lane, or use a parallel route such as the Capital City trail or the Mifflin Street bike boulevard.” Sign up for the meeting here.
Finally, Monday is also the day for the Vilas Park Master Plan public input meeting. You can find all the details in the blog post that we published yesterday. Sign up here for the meeting here. Somewhat related to the meeting, a reminder that you can sign a petition to keep cars off Vilas Park Drive (this is not part of the master plan).
On Wednesday, the Transportation Commission is meeting. Some bike-relevant things on the agenda:
Update on the Parking Protected Bike Lane Project on Bassett Street. If you have feedback on Madison’s only(?) parking-protected bike lane, email TransportationCommission@cityofmadison.com or sign up to speak at the meeting. This project was a temporary arrangement to test how it would work, and it’ll be good to get feedback from those who have actually used it.
Gorham Street resurfacing: There will be an update on this project. Gorham Street was identified as a missing link in Madison’s bike network. Several blocks don’t have any bike infrastructure at all, and the rest of it has a narrow combined parking/bike lane. The Transportation Commission asked staff to look into options for improving this, and we’ll see what they were able to come up with.
On Wednesday is aninformational meeting about the “Nine Springs Valley Interceptor.” This is a construction project by the Sewerage District — which will unfortunately close down parts of the Military Ridge and Cannonball paths at the “Velo Underround” for the better part of a year. The closure starts on December 7 and you can find detour maps here.
On Thursday at 7pm, Madison Bikes is co-hosting a meet and greet with the General Manager of Metro Transit, Justin Stuehrenberg. Justin started his job this year, amidst the pandemic, and the Madison Area Bus Advocates invited him to a meet and greet that will allow you to ask questions. Find more information and a registration link here.
On Saturday it’s time for Cranksgiving. This food-drive-meet-alley-cat-race is organized by the Trek Stores this year. I haven’t seen anything about a possible cancellation, but given the current public health situation, please check in with the organizers to see if anything has changed. Sign up here.
Finally, a reminder to take the Shared Streets Survey that the City has put together. Except for the Vilas Park Drive, the Shares Streets program has been ended for the winter, and the survey is a great way to provide feedback on what the program should look like next year.
Madison Bikes face masks and DIY kits now available
You can’t have too many face masks, can you? We printed custom Madison Bikes fabric and are now offering hand-sewn (Thanks, Heather and Nicole!) masks and DIY mask kits. You can order yours here and show your support for Madison Bikes while keep yourself and your community safe and healthy. Supplies of the finished masks are limited.
Cycle September is over, but Walk-tober follows swiftly. The City has put together a bunch of activities to get you walking or wheeling.
October is a great month for walking. The temperature is cooler and the fall colors are changing throughout the month. Walk to work, walk to the store, walk to pick up food, walk before school or just walk for fun. Walk-tober 2020 features new walking route ideas each week to encourage you to get out and enjoy the season. We also have a Walk-tober Challenge to encourage you to keep walking all month and have fun prizes for everyone who completes it.
Bike Benefits started their Bike Benefits Blitz in September but just extended it into October. Participate to get the usual Bike Benefits discounts and some extra prizes. Learn how it works here.
Cargo Bikes and Business
If you missed the lunch talk about cargo bikes and business during Madison Bike Week, you can watch a recording here. City staff and local businesses talk about how they use cargo bikes as a flexible and cost-effective solution to moving things around in the city.
City Traffic Engineering has started providing updates on the various bike infrastructure projects going on right now. We’ll share these through our newsletter. This week the highlighted project is the progress at Gammon Road and the new West Towne Path underpass.
Construction of the next segment of the West Towne Path is underway and features an underpass of Gammon Road and a path connecting to the underpass along Gammon Road to Mineral Point Rd. The underpass is anticipated to be completed by the end of November. When all segments of the West Towne Path are completed it will ultimately provide an east-west connection for non-motorized users from the Junction Road (CTH M) to the West Town Mall area and to the near west side of Madison. Here is a picture of progress on the underpass as of mid-September.
Funding for new bike projects
There has been some good news about funding for various bike and path projects in Madison and Dane County. The City was awarded federal funding for improvements to the W Main St bike boulevard (I haven’t been able to find out what types of improvements are planned and when they’re going to take place). And County Executive Parisi announced funding for a slew of trail projects:
$6.5 million for constructing the Fish Camp to Lake Kegonsa State Park section of the Lower Yahara River Trail
$350k to connect the new boardwalk on the North Mendota Trail to Governor Nelson State Park, and funds to plan for a future trail connection that eventually leads to Mendota County Park.
$150k for the planned bike/ped/snowmobile bridge across the Wisconsin River on the Walking Iron Trail
$500k for the PARC & Ride Grant Program. “PARC & Ride grants support development of regional bicycle trails that are identified in the Dane County Parks & Open Space Plan. Funds are awarded to local units of government and nonprofit organizations. Eligible projects now include bicycle playgrounds – an outdoor space designed to offer a variety of features and fun obstacles that safely build cycling confidence.”
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. Theirdata 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 directors, support us financially.
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.