It wasn't an idea unique to Madison. Bogota had been opening up miles of its streets to bikes and pedestrians on Sundays for years. Chicago had done it and a few other American cities had tried it. But Madison's Ride the Drive did make us an early adopter of this concept. Now virtually every city in the country is trying it or at least talking about it.
Despite the fact that I pushed for it, Ride The Drive didn't just happen by mayoral decree. There were months of meetings with all kinds of stakeholders, including downtown businesses and churches. The route and times were tweaked to accommodate as many competing needs as possible. In the end, not everyone was entirely happy, but I can say that it was the single most popular thing I did as mayor.
Families filled the streets; artists did all kinds of creative installations and performance art; bands played; hot dogs were served; kids got their faces painted. Happiness reigned on each of the three beautiful summer Sundays that the event took place.
Part of it was about getting people to just get comfortable again on a bike in the city. The hope is that some percentage of those folks would get the idea that biking to work would be fun as well.
But there's more to it than just that. Ride the Drive is also about being slow and quiet in your city and appreciating it in a whole new way. Seeing your city from a different perspective is a valuable thing. Experiencing a spot in stillness that is otherwise a cacophony is a special thing. You see things differently, details of buildings, angles of sunlight, perspectives, juxtapositions and shadows that are lost at 40 miles an hour surrounded by a ton of glass and steel.
Gaining that kind of appreciation of a place builds a stronger connection to it. It strengthens the ties of civic engagement, roots a person tighter to a place. In short, it builds a stronger community. We should do it more.