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Guest post In Depth

Advocacy in action: Report from a Vision Zero workshop

This post was written by Mary Pustejovsky. Mary is passionate about safer streets in Madison. She has lived in Madison since 2020, and has lived in San Jose, Providence, Boston, Chicago, and most recently, Austin, Texas. She’s excited to put down roots and make Madison the best biking city in America. She has two cargo bikes (a Tern GSD and an Urban Arrow), bikes everywhere with 3 kids, and nothing makes her happier than getting more families on bikes.

What is it like to attend a neighborhood meeting about traffic safety? What are some strategies you can use to advocate for biking and safer streets?

I recently attended a Vision Zero workshop session hosted by Alder Tischler (District 11) at Sequoya Library. This was not an officially city-sponsored event, as there had been a previous session with city staff. This meeting was to get people together to discuss specific ideas for calming traffic in our community. The meeting specifically focused on Westmoreland, Hill Farms, and Midvale Heights neighborhoods.

Overall, many people are concerned about safety in our community, and have noticed a lot of speeding and crashes. However, different people have different ideas about how best to address these issues. At my table, there was one man (I will call him stop sign guy, SSG) who kept bringing up the fact that cyclists run stop signs. While that may be true, I pointed out that many drivers run red lights and speed constantly as well. I was glad to have a fellow cyclist at my table who bikes everywhere with his family. 

Intersection of Segoe, Laub, and Berwyn: A lot of pavement and long crossings for people walking.

We were tasked with coming up with ideas and then presenting our top 3 ideas. SSG brings up that there are a lot of crashes at Mineral Point and Segoe. He suggests widening the intersection to have a dedicated turn lane. We write it down, but I am skeptical: Wider intersections, especially two blocks from an elementary school and a middle school, are not safer for people walking and biking. I suggest that the intersection at Laub/Segoe is unnecessary. Two streets intersecting with Segoe here is unnecessary, and removing one of them would make space for a rain garden to help with stormwater runoff. People seem interested. Other ideas that got a lot of support were raised, or tabletop crossings for the SW Commuter Path at Odana as well as Glenway. Raised crossings mean that the path is kept at grade and people driving on the street need to dip up and down to cross it, rather than making path users drop down to the level of the road. These crossings already have a median, with one lane in each direction, and the raised crossing would reinforce the message that drivers should be cautious. People at my table seemed supportive of this as well. 

Raised crossing on the Cap City Trail at Russell Street

We then discussed the amount of people speeding on Midvale, especially near Cherokee Middle School. SSG seems to believe “there is nothing we can do” or “we need more education and enforcement.” Unfortunately he must have missed the Vision Zero presentation where officers from the Madison Police Department pointed out that they don’t have the staff to sit and write tickets all day. Engineering changes to the street are more effective, and they slow drivers at all times, not just when there is a cop with a radar gun. There were other suggestions too: Flashing beacons as well as speed feedback signs on Midvale to alert drivers to how fast they are going. I’m not convinced of their efficacy, but we put it down as another idea. Our final summary of ideas to the larger group included rain gardens, tabletop crossings for the SW Path, and protected bike lanes on Midvale.

Other groups had good suggestions about where to put roundabouts etc. This information was collected by my alder to share with city staff.

Overall, I recommend attending these types of meetings with a buddy if possible, as it can give you more confidence in supporting treatments that make a difference. There are always naysayers like SSG, but they are in the minority. Most people want safer streets. People want to bike but don’t feel safe doing so. Show up, and don’t worry about arguing with the negative folks. Just keep the focus on the positive changes needed. Acknowledge their opinion but redirect the conversation back to problem solving, instead of ranting or complaining. You are unlikely to change their mind, and that’s fine. Keep your focus on specific changes that you’d like to see to make the street safer. 

So reach out to your alder or to city staff (traffic@cityofmadison.com). State a particular problem, and suggest a solution! So instead of “wow it’s hard to cross the street” you could say “I’ve noticed it is hard to cross XYZ street. I think it might be a good candidate for a pedestrian refuge island or curb bump outs, which would slow turning vehicles and provide more visibility for people walking.” 

Speak up, it really does make a difference.

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E-Mail In Depth Internal news

Bye bye 2021

It’s the very last day of the Madison Bike Year 2021. Last year’s post was titled “A Madison Bikes year like no other.” Looking back that was certainly true, and looking back at 2021, many of the themes — COVID being the big one persisted. Let’s look back at some of the events of the year.

Winter Biking

In a normal year, we would have done something to celebrate Winter Bike Day in person. But with winter bike counts down and an ongoing pandemic we decided to it call off for 2021. Promoting biking year-round is nonetheless an important part of our mission. We decided to produce a video for this purpose and released it January:

Madison Bikes Winter TV, Episode 2: Staying Warm 

What better way to welcome spring than to wash your salty winter bike, or to get your summer bike out of storage and make sure it is working well. In April we partnered with BikEquity, Wheels for Winners, Down With Bikes, and DreamBikes and hosted a Spring Wash and Safety Check event near Brittingham Park. 

Spring Bike Wash

Finally, in November we teamed up with Madison Park and Metro and hosted an outdoor winter biking get together at Tenney Park. On a cold and windy fall day, current and would-be winter riders joined over hot coffee (thank you, Cafe Domestique!), exchanged knowledge, and practiced putting their bikes on a Metro bus.

Tenney Shelter with several people and bicycles in front of it. In the foreground a cargo bicycle and a Madison Bikes flag. In the background a Metro transit bus.

Cyclists of Madison turns 1

April was also the month to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the launch of Cyclists of Madison. Each day we post one photo of someone riding a bike in Madison, from an ever growing pool of photos. Even though I have taken the pictures myself and therefore in theory know them, it still brings me joy to check Twitter and see which one has been posted today. A big shout-out to Ben Sandee without whose programming skills this idea would never have turned into something real.

News from the Madison bike ecosystem

Madison Bikes is only one of many organizations that make up our city’s bike ecosystem.

One addition in 2021: Madison Adaptive Cycling. Their mission is to “provide an outdoor cycling experience for differently-abled individuals of all ages.” They hosted a first few events and are set to have an official launch in 2022.

Not a new organization, Freewheel had a big moment in 2021: The Madison Bike Center at the Judge Doyle Square development downtown finally opened its doors to the public. They suffered many delays from forces beyond their control — a malfunctioning sprinkler turning the parking garage into an ice cave, supply chain issues, and so on. But they have been open for a few months now. Go check them out!

BikEquity’s mobile bike library

BikEquity, started in 2020, really took off this year. BikEquity’s mission is “to provides resources, mentorship, and education so that everyone can enjoy cycling for recreation, fitness, and transportation, regardless of income, age, race, or ability.” They put that mission into practice by organizing “bike clubs” for kids and community ride, they provide bikes for those who otherwise don’t have access to them with their bike library, and they host numerous bike repair events in the community.

Bye Heather, hi Marybeth!

Summer brought a bittersweet transition: Our VP, Heather Pape, left Madison for Salt Lake City. It was sad to see her go, but we’re also very happy for her: Her new job is with a transit agency where she can use her many talents to improve public transportation for everyone. Our new VP? The awesome Marybeth McGinnis.

Ride the Drive: A new format, with new issues

Madison Parks has been organizing Ride the Drive for many years. This year they changed the format and it did not turn out well. The idea seemed fine: Instead of a single event downtown, why not have smaller events spread out through the city, centered around our city parks? In practice, it didn’t work out well.

BikEquity at Ride the Drive in Marlborough Park

The way the event is organized requires a huge amount of volunteers. Finding those turned out to be difficult, and it was more difficult in some parts of the city than in others. So on very short notice, one of the four events, around Marlborough Park was significantly cut back: No opening up of public streets to people biking and rolling, and only a few hours of events. Community organizations like BikEquity, who were scheduled to offer programming at the event only learned about this at the last minute, and many residents of the area were not aware either. This left a very bitter aftertaste to the event. As part of the Just Bikes Coalition we have had discussions with Parks to address these issues in future editions of Ride the Drive. How do we ensure that community organizations are fully included in the event? How can we allocate resources so that the event has equitable outcomes, no matter where in town it takes place? Can it be done with less reliance on volunteers?

Loading up the trailers

On a more positive note: Fellow board member Pete and I had great fun using our Madison Bikes trailer to help BikEquity transport a large number of bikes to and from the event!

Deadly Streets, Vision Zero, and a protest

2021 was a deadly year for too many people on our streets. A string of deadly crashes on East Washington Ave prompted us to form a coalition with other groups and hold a Safe Streets protest in July. Last year, the City committed itself to Vision Zero, that is, eliminating all traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2030. That is an ambitious goal, and without pressure from citizens and activists we will not reach it. The July protest was only one part of our work on this, and there is definitely more to come in 2022.

Dayna Long from DSA Madison addressing the crowd at the Safe Streets protest

Madison Bike Week, and a grant for Padres e Hijos En Accion

After a mostly virtual 2020 Bike Week, this year’s edition was a bit more normal. One innovation this year: As part of our commitment to racial and social justice, for the first time we offered a grant program for groups an individuals who wanted to host a Bike Week activity but needed financial resources to do so. Padres e Hijos en Accion, a community organization centered on Latino kids with disabilities and their families, received a grant for an event that brought together biking and community gardening at Quann Park. We will definitely run the grant program again next year and hope to support even more grantees.

Mayor Satya helping us kick off Madison Bike Week 2021

Madison Bike Week is possible only through the hard work of our board members and volunteers, the support of our community and from the City, and of course our Bike Week sponsors. Thank you so much, Trek and Madicon BCycle, the MGE Foundation, Wheel & Sprocket, Black Saddle Bike Shop, and Schwinn.

New infrastructure, planned or built

Buffered bike lanes on Odana!

Advocating for safe and comfortable bike infrastructure has always been a core element of our organization’s work. 2021 saw a lot of great projects being built or approved. And those projects included some that probably would not have been possible a few years ago: On Whitney Way, a lane of on-street parking was converted into a buffered bike lane, despite the vocal opposition of some residents. A similar design was approved for Old Middleton Road, to be built in 2022. Milwaukee Street between Fair Oaks and Woodmans finally got a bike lane. Odana was converted from 2 travel lanes to one travel lane, a center turn lane and a bike lane.

Buffered bike lanes (and a lower speed limit) on Whitney Way

Other projects ended up less ambitious: W Washington Ave was rebuilt not with protected bike lanes but a mix of unprotected lanes and a shared bus/bike lane, plus a semi-protected intersection at Bassett St. And the plans for the East-West BRT route include at best modest improvements for people biking aside from the Whitney Way lanes mentioned above.

We also saw several new path projects: The Garver Path was mostly completed, as was the final phase of the Demetral Park Path. And a lot of people were relieved when the long-term construction on the Cannonball and Military Ridge trails was completed a few weeks ahead of schedule. A different kind of trail project was the opening of the pump track in Aldo Leopold Park. Captial Offroad Pathfinders (CORP) and Madison Parks did an awesome job there.

Bus/bike lane on W Washington Ave

The most exciting project coming next year: The Cannonball Path will finally be extended past Fish Hatchery Road and connected to the Wingra Creek Path.

2022: We’re ready

The COVID pandemic has been and continues to be hard for so many people, and it has been hard for us as an organization as well. Not being able to meet in person with our fellow board members and the larger community. People dealing with additional stress and grief in their private and professional lives. City meetings that were more accessible because they were hosted online — but then also the feeling of having to attend ever more of them. It all adds up. And so I am very grateful to all the people on our board who kept up with it all and made our little all-volunteer organization what it is. In November we did a strategic planning session to help us figure out where we’re going and how we can work toward our vision in the most effective manner. Who knows what the new year will bring, but whatever it is, I do know that I’m part of an amazing group of people. We’ll continue to work toward our vision: A city where anyone can ride a bicycle conveniently and comfortably to any place in the city and neighboring communities year round. Please join us in that effort. Happy New Year.

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E-Mail In Depth

Bikes and Bus Rapid Transit: What is planned?

Bus rapid transit is coming to Madison. If all goes well, the first route will open in 2024, connecting Junction Road on the West Side with East Towne Mall. What makes BRT different from the local bus? The distance between stops is longer, the buses will have dedicated lanes for some of the route, and you can board the bus through all doors. This will make BRT faster than the local bus. The buses will also run at least every 15 minutes from 5am to midnight on weekdays. Finally, BRT stations will have features like real-time departure information and high platforms to make boarding easy and accessible. Travel time between the two ends of the line will be about one hour — much faster than today.

BRT map
Future BRT network. The Red and Blue Lines will the first to open

How is BRT going to work together with biking? We invited city staff to present what is planned and to answer questions. Mike Cechvala, Transit Planner at Metro, Tom Lynch, Madison’s Director of Transportation, and Renee Callaway, Bike and Pedestrian Administrator, joined us for a virtual meeting.

You can watch the whole discussion on YouTube or read some of the key points here. You can download the full slide deck below.

Bikes on board

Currently buses have front racks that transport up to two bikes (folding bikes are permitted on board if there is space). To keep the buses on schedule, this won’t be the case for BRT vehicles. Instead, you will be able to roll your bike on board. The catch: Even though the buses are sixty feet long, there will likely be only space for two bikes. Metro is still investigating options for different kinds of bike racks, but it doesn’t look promising. One constraint: BRT buses will have doors on both sides, which eliminates some possible bike storage options. Wheelchair users will have dedicated space near the front of the bus, and it seemed unlikely that that space would work for bikes when there are no wheelchair users on the bus. Cargo bikes and trailers won’t fit.

Bike parking at BRT stations

An alternative to taking your bike on the bus is to park it at a BRT station. Metro does have plans for bike parking at the stations, but the audience seemed underwhelmed by them. Except for the new terminal stations, space directly at stations in limited. Generally, Metro envisions having four to six ring-and-post style racks per station. Several people in the audience pointed out that this number is too low. If bike parking is not accommodated, more people will try to bring their bikes on the bus. Another aspect of bike parking: Will it be secure? Metro is not interested in providing access-controlled bike parking because of the cost and administrative effort. The stations will have CCTV cameras, providing some level of security for bikes parked right at the station.

BCycle and BRT

Another option to combine bikes and transit? BCycle! If there is a BCycle station near BRT as well as near your destination, shared bikes can be a great solution to the “last mile problem,” that is, how to get from a bus stop to your destination and back. Some BCycle stations are already near future BRT stops, and Metro is looking at adding additional stations. However, BCycle is privately owned and runs without public funding. Therefore it is not certain that these new stations will materialize. Another possible improvement: Metro is upgrading their ticketing system, and they are looking at a possible integration with BCycle. So your Metro smart card or app may also allow you to access your BCycle subscription and unlock bikes.

Dealing with conflicts between buses and bikes

On streets with or without painted bike lanes, there can be conflicts between buses and bikes, especially at stops. Buses need to pull over to the curb and back into the travel lane again, having to cross a bike lane twice. Because the average speed of bikes and buses is similar, this can happen over and over again when you bike along a bus route. BRT will address these conflicts in two ways:

Floating bus stops

When the bus is traveling in the right-most lane, most stops will have a “floating bus stop” configuration. Bus riders will wait on a platform between the bike lane and the travel lane. Unrelated to BRT, the city is currently building a floating bus stop on Bassett Street. So soon you’ll be able to check out a real-life example of this design.

Rendering of a floating bus stop. Bikes pass between the bus platform and the curb

A widened sidewalk on Mineral Point Road

On some stretches, bus lanes and stations will not be on the right but in the center lane, for example on Mineral Point Road. This completely removes any conflict points with buses. There are downsides to center-running bus lanes, however.

On Mineral Point Road what is currently a shared bus/bike lane will be replaced by a widened sidewalk on the north side of the street. People on bikes can bike on the sidewalk in both directions and will share it with people walking. Mike Cechvala compared this design to the sidepath along University Avenue toward Middleton (one difference: University Ave does have painted bike lanes).

Rendering of the widened sidewalk on Mineral Point Road at Island

There was mixed feedback on this: Why a bike facility only on one side? (Answer: Because the city would have to acquire property and/or remove mature trees.) What about the conflicts with people driving cars at intersections and driveways? (Answer: Intersections will have signals and exclusive left-turn phases; driveways may be consolidated, and the path will be put on the side with fewer driveways.) On the other hand, our board member Kyle pointed out that the new design will still be an improvement over what is there now: “I think the cycle track along Mineral Point is a big improvement. I can bike on the cycle track with my kids. I acknowledge you still have to watch for turning cars.”

Disappearing bike lanes on East Washington Ave

East Washington between Blount and Milwaukee Street: Buses in the center, bikes and parking on the right, except during rush hour

On the isthmus, one sticking point are two miles of East Washington Ave, between and Blount and Milwaukee Street. Currently there are three general travel lanes, plus a combined parking and bike lane. To convert one of the travel lanes to a center-running bus lane while maintaining car capacity, the parking/bike lane will disappear for two hours during peak times on weekdays. The idea is that people on bikes will take alternative routes during that time, and the city presented some possible improvements on parallel routes such as Mifflin, Main Street, and the Cap City Trail. However, Tom Lynch was quick to point out that none of these improvements are part of the BRT project itself. While there is some money for them in the proposed city budget, all of them will have to go through their own separate processes and may or may not actually happen.

Big picture questions

When an audience member asked, “if BRT is going to make transit faster and more reliable, why is MadisonDOT still optimizing for SOV [single occupancy vehicle] throughput in many cases?” Tom Lynch responded: I don’t think we are optimizing SOV throughput. In fact, I would say most of our initiatives right now are aimed at reducing vehicle miles traveled. We are interacting with the Wisconsin DOT so that on East Washington and Whitney Way we are reducing motor vehicle capacity. So I think our paradigm has shifted. Safety is becoming our primary consideration, and also providing multiple choices for alternate modes. […] I believe our focus is different now than it might have been five years ago.”

What’s next?

The planning process for BRT is moving full-steam ahead. This Thursday (October 28), 30% designs for the downtown portion of the BRT route will be presented at a public meeting. Metro staff offered to come back. The possible bike improvements on Mifflin, Main, etc. will each be on their own timeline. We will keep an eye on this and inform you through our weekly newsletter. If you have feedback on any aspect of BRT, biking-related or not, you can email BRT@cityofmadison.com.

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In Depth Weekly Update

2020: A Madison Bikes year like no other

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.

A group of people biking through the Holiday Fantasy in Lights course at Olin Park
Holiday Fantasy in Lights Ride (Photo: Mark Renner)

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.

A group of people standing around a bike trailer with three coffee urns on it. Frozen Lake Monona and a rising sun in the background.
Winter Bike Day 2020 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:

A person lying down in the middle of the bike path, with lines marking the edge of the path and the inner 6 feet of it. Text: "Be safe on the path. Always keep 6 feet away from people, including when passing people"

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.

Temporary bike lane on Atwood Avenue A line of barrels separates the right travel lane from a two-way protected bike lane. Two people are biking in in the bike lane.

Madison ranked #2 biking city

In June, Madison received some good news: People for Bikes had ranked Madison the second most bike-friendly city in the US! We took a closer look at that ranking and concluded that biking in Madison is indeed pretty good compared to other places in the US. But it could be much better still. One important indicator: The number of people biking has stagnated for several years, as we explored in a blog post.

Racism, Black Lives Matter, Vision Zero

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.

Cyclists of Madison

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.

Screenshot Cyclists of Madison

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.

Schematic of the W Wilson St Cycletrack

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.

A Metro Transit bus on State St, heading toward the Capitol. A Madison Bike Week ad is on the side of the bus
Bike Week ad on a Metro Bus

Looking forward

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.

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Guest Post: An Update on the Vilas Park Master Plan

This is a guest post by Jim Lorman. Jim is Professor Emeritus at Edgewood College, and he represents the Greenbush Neighborhood Association on the Vilas Park Master Plan Resident Resource Group. We asked Jim to provide an update on the Vilas Park Master plan ahead of the public input on meeting on Nov 16 (see end of the post for details). Jim also started a petition to continue keeping Vilas Park Drive as a shared street closed to motor vehicles.

Two adults and two children riding bicycles and one female teenage riding a skateboard on Vilas Park Drive

There is a lot for bicycle advocates to like about the final draft of the Vilas Park Master Plan, including a major reconstruction of Vilas Park Drive into a largely multi-use path, and an improved bike and pedestrian entrance on Drake Street. On the down side for motorless motion advocates, expanded parking lots are proposed near the entrance to the zoo and near Vilas Beach.

Community input to the plan has been underway since the first public meeting in June of 2019, and is expected to wrap up with approval of a final plan by the Board of Park Commissioners early next year. There are many issues at play in the draft plan – what I’ve selected here are what I believe to be of most interest to the Madison Bikes community.

The final draft design proposes to replace the main vehicle entrance at Drake and Randall with a separate pedestrian and bicycle gateway (“G” in graphic above, at a mysteriously-proposed new possible location of Annie Stewart Fountain). Car access would be relocated to a new entrance/exit on Drake opposite Campbell (lefthand “G”).

The parking lots in this area (“P”) would be greatly expanded. This has been a source of continuing contention among those who greatly value the green space that would be lost along South Randall, particularly nearby homeowners. The current drive and diagonal parking that exits to the Drake/Grant intersection (upper left corner above) to the west would be converted to a path with more adjacent green space.

For those of us who feel that motor vehicles have become overly dominant in our transportation planning and public spaces, perhaps the most positive aspect of the draft master plan is the proposal to reconstruct much of Vilas Park Drive into a multi-use path (“N” in the graphic below). This design option, which has received overwhelming community support, will restrict motor traffic from using a large segment of the shoreline, allowing motor vehicle access to the beach and the main park shelter only from the east.

The strong support for this design can be seen as one of the few good things to come out of the horrific Covid-19 pandemic. Prior to the motor vehicle restriction associated with the City’s Shared Streets program, 96% of all motor vehicle traffic along Vilas Park Drive was commuter and other pass-through traffic, amounting to more than 200 cars per hour during the afternoon commute. Over half of those vehicles were recorded as exceeding the speed limit of 25 mph, much too fast for a lane shared by walkers, runners, and bikers traveling in two directions.

Five young women riding their bikes on Vilas Park Drive. One of them is pulling a trailer.

The exclusion of pass-through motor vehicles resulted in a major transformation of this Vilas Park lakeshore area to a vibrant multi-generational public space for people with many interests and all abilities. There has been a dramatic increase in its use by pedestrians, bicyclists, and other park users, including small children riding scooters and bikes with training wheels; adults with walkers and canes; people with wheelchairs; and people hammocking, picnicking, and fishing along the Lake Wingra shoreline.

Although the final draft of the Vilas Park Master Plan proposes to permanently restrict motor vehicles from driving through the entirety of Vilas Park Drive, it will be at least 2024 until that design is implemented. Meanwhile, however, the Shared Streets program has been terminated for the year; and the City is considering opening up Vilas Park Drive to commuter and other through traffic this winter. The Board of Parks Commissioners will likely be taking this issue up at its December meeting, after it was referred to them by the Transportation Commission on Oct 28.

In response to this, many of us are advocating for keeping the current restriction on drive-through traffic until the proposed reconstruction can occur. Separate from the public input associated with the Master Plan process itself, we are distributing a petition asking the Parks Department to keep the current motor vehicle restriction on pass-through traffic on Vilas Park Drive during the upcoming winter months and until the Master Plan is eventually implemented.

Key points in support for this are:

  • The pre-pandemic motor vehicle situation along Vilas Park Drive was untenable, endangering the safety of our community and deterring the use of the drive and adjacent park shoreline by park users. A decision to return to that situation now, after the demonstrated success of the current Shared Streets configuration, would be dangerous and irresponsible.
  • It is important to have continuity in the restriction on cut-through motor vehicle traffic. As a result of the current barriers, motor vehicle commuters have found alternative routes; non-motorized park users are able to fully utilize the park and Lake Wingra shoreline area in myriad ways that are comfortable and more enjoyable than ever before.
  • While park usage (including bicycle and pedestrian traffic) does drop significantly in winter weather, many people continue to use the area in a variety of ways, especially on nicer winter days and in early spring. Younger children, older people, and people with disabilities will be the first to stop using the drive and adjacent shoreline if commuter and other pass-through motor vehicles are allowed again.
  • Motor access to the shoreline and the ice skating shelter can occur without allowing pass-through motor vehicle traffic along Vilas Park Drive. There are alternatives and accommodation options available that could be implemented easily and without great expense. For example, relocating the eastern barrier further west would allow more convenient access to the shelter (to the lot by the boat landing or even to the shelter lot itself).
  • While there may be minor challenges in accommodating all of this, these are not serious obstacles that justify allowing cut-through motor vehicles into the park.

With regard to the larger process for finalizing the Master Plan, the Vilas Park Master Plan website, in addition to link to the final draft plan, has useful links to an explanation of the decisions that were made, and answers to questions from an October 15 meeting of the Resident Resource Group and Community Partners Advisory Committee Meeting.

The Parks Division and its consultants will hold a community input meeting via Zoom at 6:00-7:30 pm on Monday, November 16.  Here is the agenda for the meeting, and you can register here. (Pre-registration is required.

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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.