Thanks to Jacqui Sakowski for this guest post as a friendly reminder to be respectful of the rural communities in which we ride. I added the title above (Jacqui’s title is below) because as a person who his ridden his bike though small towns across the United States and abroad, I think we often are uninvited guests. Most times I am welcomed as a guest, but it helps to remember that despite tourism campaigns and our national freedom of travel, nobody asked us to visit. Jacqui lives on a farm in rural Iowa County, and although not a cyclist herself, she has been fortunate to travel all over Europe to attend the Tour de France and many of the world’s most other prestigious cycling events. There are a number of perspectives on this issue, and as usual, we welcome a productive dialogue in the comment section below.
Welcome to our Rural Neighborhood
As Snowdrops, Daffodils and Day Lilies signal spring, new life returns to Wisconsin’s rural communities. It is evidenced by shrinking snow mounds and increasingly frequent splashes of brightly colored spandex whipping along country lanes. It is evidenced by the ancient sounds of Cranes flying over rural landscapes in search of nest sites, and by the sounds of cyclists in fellowship with their peers. And it is evidenced by the increasing frustration of rural dwellers whose lives are affected by cyclists who do not realize the impact of their rides on the lives of those who live and work alongside Wisconsin’s country roads.
My family has lived in rural WI for almost seventy years and on our current property for almost forty, and we have witnessed the explosion of cycling in our state and our neighborhood over recent decades. The valley in South Central WI in which we live is now so popular among cyclists that when we tell cyclists in Greater Madison where we live they have usually heard of the road, even if they have not ridden it. Walking on our road at the peak of the cycling season, particularly at the weekends, has become dangerous and we have even been subjected to verbal abuse from cyclists and event organizers who appear not to realize that people live in the countryside, and that the roads are not exclusively for their use.
I wrote this in hope that we can develop a code of conduct to encourage behaviors that will improve the relationship between cyclists and rural communities, and allow us to pursue our overlapping interests harmoniously. Below is my list of four behaviors that would have enormous impact.
- Talk less, and quietly: The open nature of rural landscapes and lack of buildings means sound travels further and appears louder than it does in urban communities. Your conversations sound like yelling to people working in yards and gardens along the road. You may not see us, but we hear your conversations in detail! And PLEASE cut out the profanity!
- Move to the side quickly when you see or hear traffic: Being safe and welcome is more important than being right. Farming is a seven days a week business and farm implements cannot necessarily stop or maneuver quickly. Trucks are wide, heavy, and dangerous.
- The law says, “Always ride on the right, in the same direction as other traffic. [346.80(2)(a)] and “Ride as far to the right as is practicable (not as far right as possible)”. It also says, “Riding 2 abreast is permitted on any street as long as other traffic is not impeded. When riding 2 abreast on a 2 or more lane roadway, you both have to ride within a single lane. [346.80(3)(a)]
- Stop signs apply to you too: As do all traffic signs unless the road has been closed for an event. I know stopping costs you momentum and energy but it keeps you safe. Whoever may be at fault you’re the one that gets hurt: play it safe and play again!
- Take your trash home: We regularly clean up garbage left in our hedgerows, and hanging on our trees (yes, that really happens!!) by strangers who visit our community. Please be considerate.
Choosing the peace and pace of the countryside over urban life was a conscious decision for most rural families: we give up many facilities and conveniences in exchange for significant reductions in people, dirt, light and noise pollution. Our days start early, as do our nights. We work with our neighbors and municipalities to protect land, vegetation and wildlife, and to manage human impact on the natural world: in fact to create the very environment, that draws so many cyclists to our neighborhoods. It is our hope that by reaching out to you, that you will learn to appreciate that our rural roads are neighborhoods just as your suburban and urban streets are neighborhoods. When strangers choose to play in others’ neighborhoods, they need to do so respectfully and in consideration for the needs of those who occupy those neighborhoods.
There is much to enjoy cycling Wisconsin’s roads. Stay safe, make yourself welcome wherever you cycle, and have a great summer. Thank you for your consideration.