Resources and FAQ about biking in Madison

We have collected resources and frequently asked questions about many aspects of riding your bike in Madison. Jump to the section you're interested in:

I have a question that isn't answered here.

Email us or post to our Facebook Group. We will expand this FAQ over time.

Bike Path and Street Issues


There’s a pothole/snow pile/missing sign/malfunctioning streetlight/glass... on the bike path. What do I do?

Take a picture (if possible) and submit a report via the city’s Report-a-Problem form: This is usually a very effective way to have things fixed. If the issue is on the UW campus, email their bike/ped coordinator.

Some things that may help get an issue fixed:

  • take a picture that shows the problem (or include a little sketch that helps understand the exact location or problem)
  • include sufficient detail in your problem description
  • be nice
  • follow up if the problem persists (also see below) 

A traffic light is malfunctioning. What do I do?

If you think this poses an immediate danger, between 8am and 4pm call Traffic Engineering at (608) 266-4767. At other times, call 911. For less urgent problems (e.g. a loop detector that doesn’t detect you on a bike), use Report-a-Problem. You can use the Street Signs or the Bikeway Concerns categories. The latter lets you upload a picture, which sometimes makes for a more effective report.

I’ve reported a problem, but the answer I have received is unsatisfactory. What else can I do?

You can contact your district’s alder or use the public comment period at a meeting of the Pedestrian/Bicycle/Motor Vehicle Commission to escalate the issue. Your neighborhood association may also be a good resource. Try posting on Nextdoor and see if you can get your neighbors interested in the issue. Finally, you could email us at Madison Bikes to get advice or post about the issue on our Facebook Group.

Sidewalk riding

Can I ride my bike on the sidewalk?

For the most part, it is legal to ride on the sidewalk in and around Madison. More details are below. If you decide to ride on the sidewalk, be nice to people walking, and be aware that people in cars may not expect you at intersections or driveways.


Riding your bike on the sidewalk is generally allowed in Madison. The exception is where buildings extend all the way to sidewalk, as is the case in many parts of downtown or in commercial districts such as Williamson Street or Monroe Street. The City has a brochure giving you the details. Another exception are the inside sidewalks on the Capitol Square. No biking allowed there, because the state government says so. If you ever need the exact city ordinance:


(1) No person shall ride a bicycle on the sidewalk where a building abuts the sidewalk. Bicycle riding  on sidewalks is  permitted, except as prohibited in this subsection and otherwise regulated in this  chapter.


Riding your bike on the sidewalk is generally allowed in Monona. The exception is Monona Drive between Winnequah and the city limits with Madison:


City Ordinance

(E) Operation on Sidewalks.

(1)Bicycles shall not be operated on Monona Drive sidewalks from the northern limits of the City to Winnequah Road and on the Yahara Cove Boardwalk at River Place.

(2)Whenever any person is riding a bicycle upon a sidewalk, such person shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian and shall give audible signal before overtaking and passing such pedestrian.

Bike Parking

A place I am biking to doesn't have bike parking. What can I do?

Reach out to the business and tell them about the City's program to have bike parking installed. 

For more details and email templates you can use, read this blog post.

Do businesses/residential buildings have to provide bike parking?

Madison has a zoning code ordinance that details how much bike parking needs to be included with new construction and what kind of bike parking meets the requirements. This ordinance does not apply to already constructed buildings, but businesses or property owners may respond to a friendly ask for bike parking anyway. See above, "A place I am biking to doesn't have bike parking."

Abandoned bikes are taking up too much space. What do I do?

You can report abandoned bikes on public property via the city’s Report-a-Problem form.

If it is a private rack, contact the property owner or management company.

If the bike is parked on the UW campus, email their bike/ped coordinator

The bike rack I want to park at is covered in ice and snow! Don’t these get cleared?

It’s complicated. More to come later.

Madison Bikes

How can I get involved with Madison Bikes?

We’re 100% run by volunteers and can always use more help. Consider becoming a member. Have a look at our committees and fill out the volunteer form. You can also email our volunteer coordinator. And of course we also gladly accept your donations.

I live in Middleton/Sun Prairie/Monona/... . Is Madison Bikes advocating for me too?

Our primary focus is on Madison. However, our vision acknowledges that connections to neighboring communities are very important and many bike issues don’t stop at city boundaries. Several communities have their own bike advocacy organizations, and we cooperate with them.

For places further away from Madison and for questions at the state level, there is the Wisconsin Bike Fed.

Do you advocate for mountain biking in Madison?

Our primary focus is riding for transportation. If you’re interested in MTBing, Capital Offroad Pathfinders is doing great work in and around Madison!

Winter Biking

What’s your advice for riding my bike in the winter?

A good starting point is our report from the 2016 Winter Bike Fashion Show. Also check out Jacob's post on his approach to winter riding. And in early winter, we host the Madison Winter Bike Fashion Show, which is a great opportunity to learn and ask questions.

Does the city clear the bike paths in the winter?

For the most part yes. 

The bike rack I want to park at is covered in ice and snow! Don’t these get cleared?

See Bike Parking


Where do I stay up to date about bike advocacy and other kinds of bike events in Madison?

Every Monday we publish a blog post with past and upcoming events for the week. You can subscribe to them via email, RSS, and we also post them to our Facebook Page and Group.

Where do I find a bike map of Madison? Dane County? Wisconsin?

There are lots of excellent maps of our bike network. For Madison and Dane County you can get free printed maps as well as pdfs. The Department of Transportation also has pdf bike maps for any county in the state. And the Bike Fed sells printed statewide maps.


Dane County

Wisconsin all counties

Wisconsin printed maps for purchase

Do I need to buy a state trail pass to commute on the Cap City Trail?

You need a trail pass to ride "on the nine miles of the trail that go through the Capital Springs E-way south of Madison between Verona Road and Nob Hill near Industrial Drive." However, you can request a subsidized pass if you use the trail primarily for commuting.

I have an old bike/bike parts that I no longer need. Is there an organization that accepts them as donations?

Madison has several of those! Check out Wheels for Winners, Freewheel Bike Collective, Free Bikes 4 Kids, and DreamBikes

Can I take my folding bike on the Metro bus?

Yes, you can. After a question from a Madison Bikes supporter and some back-and-forth emails, we received this response from Metro:

We discussed and have approved bringing your folding bike onboard (so long as it is folded). As with any large item, the key is to make sure to minimize disruption to other passengers ability to move about the bus. Sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error to find the best spot to stow your large item but I’m sure you’ll develop a system.

I have notified our dispatchers and asked them to get the word out to drivers. We have a very large driver group and it may take a while to get the word out to everyone. Because this is a new development for them, you could encounter some drivers that will not allow the bike on. Please let me know if this happens and I can contact the driver. Our policy still stands that we will not allow bikes inside of buses because of their size, but in my mind, a folding bike isn’t a bike when it’s folded…it’s a bunch of bike parts being transported in a nice neat organized fashion.

Can I ride my bike to a drive-through counter?

Yes, you can, at least within the City of Madison. Madison has an ordinance that prohibits businesses from denying service to people on bikes at drive-throughs. Code of Ordinances, 28.151, Vehicle Access Sales and Service Windows, section (g) states: "Bicyclist use of sales and service windows shall not be prohibited."

Where do most crashes involving people on bikes happen?

Biking is overall a pretty safe activity. But crashes do occur, and it's useful to know where in the city they happen. The Cap Times has created a map of all crashes involving a bike and motor vehicle.

What kind of lights do I need on my bicycle?

Wisconsin Statute 347.489(1) states that if you ride your bike in the dark, you must have a white front light (either attached to the bike or to yourself, e.g. as a helmet light) as well as a red reflector or red light in the rear. This is the full text of the statute:

347.489  Lamps and other equipment on bicycles and other vehicles and devices.
(1)  No person may operate a bicycle, motor bicycle, personal delivery device, or electric personal assistive mobility device upon a highway, sidewalk, bicycle lane, or bicycle way during hours of darkness unless the bicycle, motor bicycle, personal delivery device, or electric personal assistive mobility device is equipped with or, with respect to a bicycle or motor bicycle, the operator is wearing, a lamp emitting a white light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet to the front of the bicycle, motor bicycle, personal delivery device, or electric personal assistive mobility device. A bicycle, motor bicycle, personal delivery device, or electric personal assistive mobility device shall also be equipped with a red reflector that has a diameter of at least 2 inches of surface area or, with respect to an electric personal assistive mobility device, that is a strip of reflective tape that has at least 2 square inches of surface area, on the rear so mounted and maintained as to be visible from all distances from 50 to 500 feet to the rear when directly in front of lawful upper beams of headlamps on a motor vehicle. A lamp emitting a steady or flashing red light visible from a distance of 500 feet to the rear may be used in lieu of the red reflector.

This is the legal minimum requirement, but it's probably a good idea to have an actual light and not just a reflector in the rear. Also keep in mind that certain lights can be very irritating to other people on bikes or on foot, especially when they are aimed to high or flashing rapidly.

I've noticed those bike counter displays on the Southwest Path near Monroe Street and on the Cap City near Nortshore Drive. Is there a way to see past counts?

Yes, you can see all the numbers from the two counters online.

Southwest Path:

Cap City:

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  • Robbie Webber
    commented 2017-12-13 12:09:27 -0600
    With regard to the zoning ordinance that requires bicycle parking: It has been in effect since 1988, so a lot of “older” buildings are required to have bike parking. Also, if there has been a change in use for the building — including much older buildings — then the new owner must provide bicycle parking. For instance, a building from 1920 that has been converted from warehouses to apartments, or from a large department store to a much of offices.

    There are also requirements of what types of racks meet the zoning code.

    So if you have a question about whether a building meetings the zoning requirements, you can ask the alder for the area or even submit a complaint to the city Building Inspection unit.


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