By the time Mayor Paul Soglin took the podium Wednesday night to discuss the future of biking in Madison, every chair in the room had been filled, and attendees, some wearing cycling tights and clip-in shoes, had to stand against walls or sit cross-legged on the floor.
They had gathered at the U.S. Bank Plaza downtown for a meeting hosted by the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin and were waiting to hear how Soglin's recently proposed capital budget would affect their favored mode of transportation. Soglin is proposing $8.3 million in cuts for biking and pedestrian projects in 2012. Although funding is predicted to rise in the following years, Soglin's proposing spending for biking and pedestrian projects is still about 11 percent less than former Mayor Dave Cieslewicz had budgeted through 2016.
"The main problem that not only affects cycling but all aspects of what we're doing with regards to the city is basically that there's no money," Soglin said.
The biking budget will not see much change in the future either, Soglin said. Any increase in revenue during the next few years would go toward paying off Madison's debts, which Soglin said stem from previous borrowing and new burdens placed upon the city by the state.
Soglin has had a rocky relationship with the city's active and vocal biking community in recent years. He took a lot of flak when he wrote in his blog in 2007 that bikers who had ridden during a winter storm should be "taken out and shot." Most recently, he initiated a dustup by canceling September's Ride the Drive because of its negative impact on businesses along the route, though the event has since been reestablished.
Fitchburg Ald. Steve Arnold, who biked in for the meeting from Fitchburg, said he understood the mayor has few resources to draw from for his budget.
Still, Arnold, a member of the Mad City Velo cycling club, would have preferred that the mayor direct less money to street and highway projects and more to bike facilities, which he says are cost effective and build community.
Facilities that are accessible not just to bikers with confidence and experience would also attract more ridership, Arnold said.
"Right now, 1% of riders are fearless and will go anywhere. Six percent are confident and comfortable, 60% are interested but reluctant, and the rest say 'no how, no way," Arnold said, quoting a biking consultant firm from New York that planned Fitchburg's biking infrastructure projects.
The goal is to provide for the 60 percent of people unsure about riding, Arnold said.
Despite the city's budget woes, the mayor's capital budget does plan for a handful of new bike projects through 2016.
Tony Fernandez, a city engineer who has been working on biking infrastructure for 11 years, presented plans for the new additions after Soglin addressed the crowd.
The Cannonball Path would put a bridge over the beltline east of Todd Drive and provide cyclists with a safe alternative to using Fish Hatchery Road. The Starkweather East Branch path would finally connect Madison with Sun Prairie, Fernandez said.
And progress is also being made on connecting the Capitol City State Trail with the Glacial-Drumlin State Trail, making it a 140-mile path that would allow cyclists from southwest Wisconsin to bike to Miller Park in Milwaukee, Fernandez said.