2014 Top Ten Bicycling Highlights in Wisconsin

As the year draws to a close we thought it might be fun to recap the top ten biggest biking stories of the year in Wisconsin and for the Bike Fed. We will follow this up with two more blog posts over the next couple days to set the course for the New Year. You may disagree with our top list, think of something we’ve missed or have a different agenda for our work in 2015. That’s what the comment section is for. Fire away!

1. Wisconsin is ranked #3 by the League of American Bicyclists. We have to admit that we were conflicted about this. On the one hand, we know our state is great for biking and that if anything being ranked third best is a slap in the face. We know in our hearts that we’re Number One! On the other hand, moving up five positions from the #8 spot in 2013 just doesn’t ring true to us. After all, the state cut its funding for bike projects and passed just a thin shadow of our vulnerable users law. The ranking may have been the result of as strong application written by the state Department of Transportation with an assist from the Bike Fed. Hey, we’ll take it. Now let’s work to deserve it.

2. Wisconsin wins the National Bike Challenge. Yep. No conflicted emotions here. We won fair and square, besting Nebraska and Vermont, states that beat us out in 2013. Wisconsinites recorded more miles ridden between May and October than any other state. Does that mean that we actually rode more miles? No. Just based on pure population you’d have to guess that maybe California did that. But it does mean that Wisconsinites bike a lot per capita and that we’re motivated. It’s a great accomplishment despite the caveats.

3. Milwaukee stuck at Bronze.The League left Milwaukee at the Bronze level in its Bicycle Friendly Communities program. We think that’s just wrong. The state’s biggest city has made great progress that we think justified at least a step up to Silver. The frustration just makes us want to work harder with local officials and businesses to get the recognition we deserve. Mayor Tom Barrett and some senior City staff have agreed to work with the Bike Fed to form a Milwaukee Gold Committee, similar to the Platinum Commission in Madison. We look forward to working with City and civic leaders (and you, our members of course) to help Milwaukee reach for the gold ring!

4. Vulnerable Users bill gutted. The legislature passed only one small part of our vulnerable users bill, which was designed to protect cyclists and others who are killed or injured because of inattentive drivers. We’ll be back with the full strength bill next year.

5. Bike Fed membership grows. The Bike Fed started the year with 3,800 members, targeted 4,500 to finish the year, and actually came in at over 4,600, for an 18% increase. While membership in nonprofits is generally stable or declining, the Bike Fed is growing. Thanks to everyone who joined or renewed this year!

6. Saris Gala a bigger success than ever. The Saris Gala, at it’s new venue in downtown Madison, set a record for both attendance (650) and money raised for the Bike Fed (we netted about $100,000). We surveyed attendees and they told us that they loved special guest Bob Roll and the chance to meet old and new friends and to support the cause of better biking. On the downside, many of you told us that the Children’s Museum, while a great venue in general, was too cramped and noisy. We heard you loud and clear. Look for a new venue, but still in downtown Madison, for the 2015 Gala.

One of the Share & Be Aware billboards we designed, this one sponsored by Wheel and Sprocket.

7. Share & Be Aware and Safe Routes to School Programs a big success. For more than 5 years, these keystone programs has allowed the Bike Fed teach tens of thousands of Wisconsinites how to ride legally and safely, and encourage drivers to share the road with people walking and bicycling. We are proud to play a part in the decreasing crash rate and that this year there were only four fatal crashes compared to 10 last year. Our critical Share & Be Aware safety work and our Safe Routes are funded through the state Department Transportation, using Federal money. This year we found out that the DOT likes our work so much that they’ve now funded us into 2018.

8. The Polish Moon rises. In August the Bike Fed started a new ride, which we dubbed “The Polish Moon”, keying off its location in the near south side Milwaukee neighborhood of Walkers Point. The Polish Moon refers to the old Allen Bradley clock, which looms over what was once an East European neighborhood, but is now home to lots of Latino residents and assorted urban hipsters. The early evening ride was a huge success with Mexican and Polish music, local beer and food and, of course, a ride through the historic streets of the old south side. It celebrated the pure fun and socialability of biking and introduced many people to cycling on streets where they rarely drive.

Oh yeah, we have accordion on two wheels, thanks to Tristan from Coast In Bikes and Don Turner for the squeeze box!

9. Smart Trips gets underway. The Bike Fed wrote a successful grant to start our “Smart Trips” project in Milwaukee’s River West and Harambe neighborhoods. The intensive effort started with bicycle and pedestrian counts and a door to door survey of neighborhood residents to learn more about why they bike or why they don’t. This winter we will take those results and build a toolkit designed to help people who want to try bicycling, walking and taking transit more. Tony Giron, the Smart Trips Coordinator, has lots of fun ideas based on his experience running a similar program in Chicago’s Pilsen Neighborhood.

10. A full year of Bike Fed Magazine. This was the first year in which we published four full-size editions of our popular magazine, and we even launched a digital version. Our Bike Fed Magazine has evolved from the small, newsprint annual Ride Guide, into a high-quality color magazine. In 2015, we will publish our magazine every other month, beginning in March, with the last issue in September, to better match the prime riding season and help ride organizers promote all the wonderful races, rides and other cycling events Wisconsin is famous for.

Let us know in the comment section below if you think we forgot something important.

About Dave Cieslewicz, Executive Director

Dave Cieslewicz served two terms as mayor of Madison where he set the city on a path for Platinum status as one of the best biking cities in North America. Before that he started his own nonprofit, 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, which focuses on land use and transportation policy. He has been an adjunct professor at the UW Madison's Department of Urban and Regional Planning where he teaches a class called Bikes, Pedestrians and Cities. He pronounces his name chess LEV ich, but nobody else does.

6 thoughts on “2014 Top Ten Bicycling Highlights in Wisconsin

  1. Hi Dave,

    I live in the Harambee neighborhood and had no such visit regarding Safe Trips. Is there a way to ensure my household is accounted for?

  2. Thanks to The Bike Fed for all the wonderful things happening to support and promote bicycling in Wisconsin. It is great to have such an effective advocacy agency working on our behalf.
    David Waters

  3. Dave, I have been working in my part of CT to inform and develop BFC and SRTS. I often suggest that SRTS provides great information for motorists (parents of the kids) to be more careful around cyclists. An added benefit of the program. My part of CT is Milwaukee 1995 (or before) when it comes to bicycling programs and infrastructure. Milwaukee and Madison must be getting close or has already achieved the first SRTS students receiving their drivers license. Perhaps there is a large enough sample for someone to execute a study that provides insight on the positive safety impact of the program when the SRTS kids get their driving license. Maybe a student in the UW system would find this an opportunity for a study – Do Roads Get Safer When SRTS Students Begin to Drive ? If, I am trying to suggest something that has already been done, please let me know. Happy New Year

    • That is a very interesting idea Dave. I will suggest that to our Safe Routes team and perhaps they can take that back to the national Safe Routes Coalition as a project idea. Happy New Year to you too!

  4. To Bike Fed board, all the members and assorted volunteers:

    Thanks for an awesome 2014 !!!
    Your efforts are greatly appreciated.

    We’re lucky to have such an active and conscientious group representing the cyclists of WI.

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