By the time many of you will get to read this, it will already be 2020. On behalf of our board, I wish you a Happy New Year! And what better start into a new year than to reflect on what has happened in 2019. Here are my personal reflections on everything Madison, bikes, and Madison Bikes.
One may think that January is a quiet month for biking in Madison. But in 2019, it started out with a big Madison Bikes event: We had a visitor from Berlin (Germany), Dirk von Schneidemesser. Dirk grew up in Madison but moved to Europe and was one of the key people involved in Berlin’s bike referendum. In our event at HotelRED, “From Madison to Berlin and Back: Civic Activism for a More Livable City,” Dirk described how the non-profit Changing Cities was able to mobilize for a referendum that would have binding rules for safe and comfortable bike infrastructure, collecting over 100,000 signatures in less than a month! You can read a recap of the event here. I can only speak for myself, but I was really inspired by the Berlin story and have kept thinking about whether and how similar advances would be possible in Madison.
January also marked a significant change for the leadership of Madison Bikes. Grant Foster, the very person who instigated Madison Bikes and had been the organization’s president from the beginning, decided to step down and instead focus on running for the District 15 seat on the Common Council instead. I can’t say enough about how important Grant was for Madison Bikes, and I’m glad that he continues to be on our board! The new leadership of Madison Bikes: Yours truly, with Heather Pape as vice president.
Local elections were on many people’s minds in February, and Madison Bikes took part in education and informing voters about the mayoral race. (As a 501(c)(3) organization we are not endorsing or advocating for candidates.) In January we co-sponsored a candidate forum, and in February we sent out a questionnaire with bike- and transportation-related questions to all candidates for mayor. It was heartening to see that all but two candidates took the time to respond to our questions. In the February primary, Paul Soglin and Satya Rhodes-Conway received the most votes and made the ballot for the general election in April.
Our other main focus for the month was Winter Bike Week. From February 1 to 8, every day we and our partners hosted events to celebrate and promote year-round biking. Unfortunately (but perhaps unsurprisingly), the weather tried its best to sabotage our efforts. Yes, there is no bad weather, just bad clothing -- until you have a week that has everything from freezing rain to days with wind chill temperatures of -25F. Still, we were out there, and some of you were out there too. Kudos to everyone who braved the conditions. This year we’re going to try something a little different to promote winter biking, starting with our Holiday Fantasy in Lights Family Ride on January 4.
Madison Bikes is only piece of the bike ecosystem of Madison. Two other orgs had an eventful March: Free Bikes 4 Kidz Madison finished their third season and gave away 1400 free bikes. Our board and volunteers contributed to this in a tiny, tiny way by having a volunteer session to help clean and fix bikes. This year’s FB4K season has just started, and we plan on having another volunteer season in the coming weeks.
Freewheel Bicycle Collective had a big March as well: They were selected as the operator for the future Judge Doyle Square Bicycle Center. The center, which will likely open later in 2020, will feature secure bike parking, showers, repair space, and a new, more central location for Freewheel to host its classes.
And this very blog you’re reading also had an exciting moment in March: Our new board member Steph published her first “Biking with Steph” column!
And while all these things were happening in the open, behind the scenes maybe the most important thing for Madison Bikes in 2019 happened: After hosting Madison Bike Week for many years, the Bike Fed asked us whether we wanted to take over the event. Knowing how much went into organizing a week-long event and given that we had less than three months to pull it all off, it wasn’t an easy decision. But because Madison Bike Week is such an important part of biking in Madison, we said “yes”! More on Madison Bike Week below.
Did everything change in April? Probably not. But from the perspective of a bike advocate, certainly a lot of things did change in Madison on April 2, 2019. Madison elected a new mayor, and 9 out of the 20 seats on the Common Council were filled by new Alders -- one of them being our board member Grant, representing District 15. I was cautiously optimistic back then that new leadership would be a good thing for active transportation in Madison, and I continue to be optimistic. Of course, we still have a long way to go to move away from car-focused planning, and we still need advocates to push, push, and push. But I think April was a start into the right direction.
Maybe one example from April that exemplifies how things are moving the right way but aren’t quite there yet is the Wilson Street corridor study. Wilson Street, which is a crucial downtown gap in our low-stress bike network, was a major advocacy focus for us in 2018. While we didn’t succeed in getting the city to commit to adding protected bike facilities on West Wilson, the Common Council tasked the Department of Transportation to conduct a corridor study. That corridor study looked at connections to the Capitol Square from a larger perspective, and in April 2019 the Department of Transportation published their interim recommendations. The recommendations included many improvements for people on bikes. But they also still included many compromises because of a hesitation to remove car parking or tolerate a couple more seconds of delay for people driving through the area. Nothing has been finalized yet and construction won’t start before 2020 or later. So it remains to be seen how far we as a city have come in prioritizing people walking and biking.
In my recollection, all we did in May was rushing to get ready for Madison Bike Week. But of course that’s not quite true. A group of high school students from Oshkosh came on a field trip to Madison. It wasn't an ordinary field trip, though: The students were on bikes, and the theme was bike-friendly communities. Our board members Pete and Jim, Steve Arnold from Bike Fitchburg, and a number of other Madison volunteers took the students around town and showed off our city's bike infrastructure.
Bikes and buses make for a great combination
May was also the month when planning for Madison’s future Bus Rapid Transit system really picked up. This clearly had been one of the big election topic, and with a mayor strongly committed to improving transit in Madison, the city put many resources into making BRT a reality. An integrated transportation system beyond cars is important for everyone, and bus rapid transit can work well in combination with biking and walking. This topic will be with us for years to come, and for 2020 Madison Bikes is going to make a push to drive a conversation about how BRT can best work together with biking.
What can I say? June was Bike Week, and it was great. Some of my personal highlights:
- Working with all the amazing partners we had. Sponsors who contributed financially, bike station hosts, local non-profits that helped us spread the word or tabled at our events, all the volunteers, and of course Renee Callaway at the City!
- Producing Madison Bike Week TV with Liz: All we had was an idea: Wouldn’t it be nice to have short videos about what is happening each day of Madison Bike Week? No script, no rehearsal, no experience, all shot in one afternoon in Liz’s backyard.
- Speaking in front of the Common Council when they officially pronounced Madison Bike Week in a resolution
- The Fetch the Keg ride: For our Friday party, one of the beer sponsors was the Hop Garden in Paoli. How would we get the beer from Paoli to Madison? Of course by bike!
- Riding with the mayor: To kick off Madison Bike Week, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and several members of the Common Council joined us on a big group ride to city hall for a press conference.
Another June highlight was the launch of an all-electric BCycle bike share system. Madison BCycle replaced its entire fleet with e-assist bikes, and the launch was a big success. Some of our board members joined the launch ride around the Capitol, and our former board member Hank wrote a detailed review of the bikes and system.
It took us a little bit to recover from Bike Week. In July we ran a successful fundraising campaign in support of the new Pinney Library. We think books and bikes go together really well, and the new Pinney Library will be in a very bike-friendly location. For that reason the Madison Public Library Foundation ran a “Rack-Raising” campaign. Instead of the traditional model where you “buy” a brick for a new building, your donation was signified by a personalized bike rack. We were able to raise $1000 for the library -- thanks to everyone who donated! We’ll have some news to share about this in the next week or two. Stay tuned.
August started with a great event that Madison Bikes co-sponsored. Just Bikes!, Madison’s bike equity coalition, invited renowned mobility justice scholar and advocate Dr. Adonia Lugo to Madison. After a bike ride through Madison’s south side, Lugo gave a book talk about “Locating ourselves in Mobility Justice: Planning for multiracial and just future streets.” If you want to learn more about her work, I recommend reading her book “Bicycle/Race.”
Two exciting new bike infrastructure projects came online in August: In Shorewood Hills the Blackhawk Path opened. The path closes a gap of the University Ave/Campus Drive corridor, where previously bikes had to detour through Marshall Court. On the isthmus, the first stage of construction of the John Nolen/Williamson/Blair/Wilson (a.k.a. The Hairball) intersection was completed. While the intersection is still constructed in a way that prioritizes motor vehicle throughput over everything else, the project did bring some nice improvements for people on bikes, such as the much widened bike path in front of Machinery Row and a new protected two-way bike lane on Blount.
I talked about change in the city earlier, and this fall we saw two more indicators of this change: Our board member Baltazar de Anda Santana was appointed to the city’s Transportation Policy and Planning Board, and yours truly was appointed to the Transportation Commission.
One of the jobs of a local bike advocate is to be critical of the status quo and to often focus on the negative. So it is nice every once in a while to be reminded of the good things we have in our city. In September a delegation from the Wasatch Front Range region in Utah came to town because from their perspective Madison is a biking success story. We were very happy to organize the event and show our visitors around on a bike tour and connect them with local planners, elected officials, and advocates.
The focus of October was the city budget. To paraphrase a well-known quote: What a city truly values is reflected in its budget. Yes, there are many other important levers that we need to pull on to improve active transportation, and most bike infrastructure is ridiculously cheap when compared to, say, expanding the Beltline. But this year’s budget had many important -- and sometimes controversial -- pieces that will help make transportation in Madison better. We contributed to the discussion by writing explainer blog posts about the wheel tax, encouraging you to write in about Vision Zero and 7-day-a-week clearing of our arterial multi-use paths.
The advocacy efforts of October came to fruition in November. The Common Council passed a budget that from my perspective was overwhelmingly good: Funding for bus rapid transit and a study to reorganize our existing Metro bus network, to improve our most dangerous intersections, and to keep our paths clear of ice and snow seven days a week. The path clearing project had been something that we had been working on for several years, and so it was a great success to see it finally come to fruition! Thanks to everyone who has supported us in this.
Photo: Dan Stout
Speaking of winter, November also saw us host another edition of the Winter Bike Fashion Show, an event to encourage and educate people to try riding in the cold season. We had great models and a record attendance! Lots of pictures in this post.
Another exciting thing in November: A new, parking-protected bike lane opened on Bassett Street. Instead of having parked cars on the curb and a bike lane between the parked cars and the regular travel lane, parked cars and a buffer create a protected bike lane on these two blocks of Bassett. This is the first parking-protected bike lane in Madison, and the city is conducting a year-long test, which hopefully will lead to a wider adoption around the city.
December is a time of reflection. One result of that reflection was that we decided to do a strategic planning exercise next year. Madison Bikes has been around since 2016, and we feel that it’s a good time to check in what we have achieved so far and where we’re going to go in the couple years. How do we prioritize what we work on? Is an all-volunteer model sustainable in the long term? (And if it isn’t: what are the alternatives?) What are some achievable, measurable goals for the next 1, 5, or 10 years for our organization? I’m excited to explore these questions and continue to build on the past four years of great work that we’ve been doing.
December is also the time of our board election. I’m sad to see some of our previous board members leave: A big thanks to Steph, Jake, Kate, and Pepe for your time with us! We will miss you! And I’m excited to welcome our new board members. We’ll introduce them on our blog in January.
Ah, and one last thing: There are many ways to support Madison Bikes, and one of them is by supporting us financially. If you appreciate what we’re doing, please consider making a donation to us. We appreciate any support you can offer, no matter how small. Thanks!