Editor’s note: This guest post is crossposted from Kierstin Kloeckner’s blog. Kierstin is a cyclist and bike advocate who lives and works in Middleton. Last week she she organized the Middleton Bike Infrastructure Ride to highlight the significant gaps in cycling infrastructure in Middleton, especially when it comes to accommodating people commuting and kids getting to and from school. And some concrete results have already started to materialize.
Once in awhile, an experience is presented to us when something really bad can be turned into something possibly good. It’s usually a split second decision that will tip it in one direction or another. This past week, I was given a chance to prove, not to anyone else but myself, that this can sometimes happen.
I was biking home from work on a sunny Monday afternoon around 2pm. Traffic on Century Avenue, the road I take at least twice a day, was a bit heavier than usual, but nowhere near rush hour intensity. This road I am forced to take, because there is no good alternative, is a narrow four lane which runs through a mostly residential area. There are no bike lanes or paths, even though many of the bike commuters and parents in the area have for a long time been begging the city to build one or the other. The speed limit is 35 mph–too fast in my mind for a residential area with parks, a plethora of children, and poorly maintained sidewalks. People, however, rarely travel 35mph. Most go 45-50 mph, and the police won’t ticket anyone unless they are above the 45 mph mark. This road is a corridor leading to more suburbs or an alternative route to the East side of the city. Drivers always seem either in a hurry or extremely distracted, since weekly I have “close calls” even though I am a very courteous, predictable, and skilled cyclist.
That particular Monday, I became the victim of a road bully. A driver who chooses to use their vehicle not as transportation but as a weapon. I was forced off the road, went over my bars, and landed on my shoulder and neck. I was hurt, thankfully not badly, and yet not one person stopped, including of course the person who ran me off the road. I got up, did the head-to-toe check, checked my bike, and proceeded to walk the rest of the way since I was so shaken up and my bike needed some TLC. I went into urgent care to get checked out, fearing a fracture and impinged nerve, called the cops to make a report, and began to think. I thought about what this incident meant to me. I knew that it could happen again, maybe the next day, or the day after, and if not to me, to anyone else in the neighborhood. I knew the next time it could mean death.
Because poor bike/pedestrian infrastructure was not a new issue for my area of Middleton, I had little hope that changes would be made if I just made yet another report reported to the city. I knew I had to raise my voice a bit and get others to do the same in a constructive way. That night, I planned an infrastructure ride for the following Monday. I invited people through Facebook, Nextdoor, and word of mouth. I wanted to get other’s view on the problems in the area and I wanted them to report the things they felt needed to be changed. I didn’t want to stand alone anymore on these issues and decided the only way I could do it was to get folks out on bikes to experience riding this and other unsafe roads in the area.
The route I chose was just 3.5 miles long, but from past experiences, I knew overwhelming folks with too many problems wouldn’t solve anything. Instead, my hope was to point out key projects and issues, and if it worked, I would plan another ride, for a different area, come spring. Eighteen people showed, including several parents and three children. Almost everyone had the same reaction to the lack of safe infrastructure and lack of city support. I no longer felt alone or without a voice. Although eighteen isn’t many people, it was a start, and since I also got an overwhelming amount of feedback via social media from those who couldn’t make the ride, I began to think, “Yeah, maybe things can and will change.”
Working in a grassroots way isn’t by any means a new thing. Madison Bikes was just formed this year due to an overwhelming need to have a stronger local bike advocacy, in addition to a state wide one. In a matter of months, their membership has grown to over 500, and together they will work to make cycling as well as walking safer in Madison and the surrounding communities. I have always believed that change starts with one drop of water, and groups like this are proof that big changes can be made by small starts. My hope, by planning this ride and educating myself and others in Middleton about how we can make it safer for children to bike to school and adults to work or for errands, that slowly changes will occur. I’m also hoping a group similar to Madison Bikes, will form in Middleton and work with not only Madison, but other suburbs in the county. It takes a village, or two, or three…
Update: Good news! Kierstin’s initiative has already led to change: “Good news on the Middleton front. In just one week since the infrastructure ride, changes are already occurring. I, along with several others, made a list of changes that need to be made (short and long term) and sent it to Mark Opitz. Already, several things on the list have been addressed. Thanks go out to those of you who rode with my group and those who supported my efforts. I’ll keep things rolling and plan on doing another ride next spring.”