I've been doing some traveling this summer and fall sharing the good news about bicycling in Madison and spreading the word that the bicyclists are coming.
I've been invited to give these talks, because from Omaha to Ontario, Madison has a great reputation as a bicycling community. For starters, read this article from last Saturday's Omaha World Herald, titled "Omaha Wants to Follow Madison's Lead on Bikes."
Then there's a recent report from the Wisconsin-based State Smart Transportation Initiative that concludes we actually lead the nation in bicycle commuters.That's great news if you count six out of 100 trips as great.
We -- and the rest of the nation -- can do better. In fact, our goal is to have 20% of all trips made by bike by 2020.
Over the last five days, I traveled to Omaha (on the eve of the Nebraska-Wisconsin game no less) to speak at their Heartland Active Transportation Summit and then to Essex, Ontario to give a similar to talk at their Active Communities Summit. Attendees at both conferences wanted to hear about what Madison has done to improve bicycling.
(Well, not just bikes. When a local TV station came to interview me in Omaha, I thought it would be about the summit. Turned out they wanted to know how Madisonians felt about all those Husker fans invading our city. I told them that we were looking forward to welcoming them into the Big Ten. When asked for a prediction, I went with 28-27 Badgers because I wanted to be nice to my hosts. Turned out the Badgers weren't so nice to their guests. You can see that story here.)
I did stop back home long enough to see Bucky demolish the Huskers, but I have to say it didn't have the same level of satisfaction as beating Ohio State or Michigan. Nebraskans are very nice people.
And as all nice people deserve, Omaha has a new B-cycle bike sharing system, like ours though only one-tenth the size. Until recently, they've had only one mile of on-street bike paths but miles and miles of trails. Problem is that those trails were developed for recreational purposes, so they don't often connect people to places they want to go for work or shopping.
The city has a plan in place to increase on-street bike lanes to 20 miles, and to connect up those recreational trails with new routes that will get people to where they want to go.
In Essex, Ontario, they're building their bike plans around touring. Essex is blessed with lots of flat, paved, lightly traveled rural roads. They're also blessed with no less then 17 wineries. As part of my visit, I got a chance to take part in a winery tour by bike. This was a happy thing.
I came away from the trip prouder then ever to be a Madisonian. We're known all over North America as a great biking city. I also came away more convinced than ever that bicycling has a very bright future everywhere. The movement to make both cities and rural areas more bike friendly is strong and growing. It's driven, I think, by four things.
First, gas prices continue to creep up and impact already-strained family budgets. Biking is virtually free after you buy the bike and used bikes can be had for a song. Gas prices, meanwhile, are headed nowhere but up in the long-term.
Second, the continuing recession means that people are looking for ways to save on gas, parking and maintenance.
Third, health care costs are rising dramatically nearly everywhere. A big part of every pro-bike conference I go to is a discussion of the obesity epidemic and other health problems that can be relieved through more exercise.
Fourth, there's a growing recognition that cities good for biking also have a high quality of life in other ways. A community that's safe to bike in is almost by definition safe, pleasant and fun to live in as well. And a strong bike culture is a marker that creative entrepreneurs look for when deciding where to locate.
Madison is only going to get better for cycling. I was pleased to see that Mayor Soglin continued the program I started this year to fund new bike and pedestrian infrastructure. In fact, the mayor left the five year funding at about $50 million, exactly what I had budgeted. Good for him, and good for Madison.