The Year in Wisconsin Biking

It was a big year for cycling in Wisconsin. Most of the news was great, but some was very sad. Here is a run down of what Bike Fed staff believe were the ten biggest Wisconsin biking stories of 2015.

10. Wisconsin drops in Bike Friendly State rankings. Our state plummeted from third to ninth place on the news of cuts to bike facility funding and repeal of our complete streets law. Depressing. But read on. Things got better at the local level. A LOT better.

9. Landmark bike crash study released. UW Milwaukee professor Rob Schneider released an important study of bike crashes in Wisconsin. Schneider’s research indicates that the number of crashes per 1,000 riders has decreased from 59 seven years ago to 43 today.  Read more of Schneider’s study with the links below:

8. Bike Fed membership reaches 5,700. Membership in Wisconsin’s premier bike advocacy organization is up 20% this year and 45% over the last 24 months.

7. Complete Streets repealed. Wisconsin became the first state to essentially repeal a complete streets law. A remnant remains but it requires that even when the state DOT wants to include a bike or pedestrian accommodation in a road project they need local approval. Of course, that’s not required when they build or widen a highway. A big step in the wrong direction for our state and we paid the price in our state ranking.

6. Bike fatalities increase. Even while we know cycling is getting safer per rider and per mile cycled, we can’t ignore the uptick in fatalities this year. Wisconsin suffered 15 deaths in bike crashes in 2015. Each fatality has a person, a story and family and friends behind it. In some cases the rider was at no fault and some motorists have been charged with crimes. In other cases the rider might have done more to protect their own safety. But in all cases it was tragic. The Bike Fed’s policy is that no fatality figure higher than zero is acceptable.

5. Bike tax beaten back. An ill-advised legislative proposal to tax the purchase of new bicycles with a “registration fee” that essentially amounted to an additional sales tax was turned back. Bike Fed members rallied behind their local bike shops and the important Wisconsin bike industry to defeat the proposal.

Oh what a feeling to finally cross that line!

4. Inaugural Ride Across Wisconsin a big success. Almost 500 intrepid riders took on the challenge of riding 175 miles from Dubuque to Kenosha in one day in late August. At the end of their day they quaffed brews on the shores of Lake Michigan from their fancy clay RAW beer steins with “Earned It” proudly stamped on the bottom. They did earn it. And you’ll get a chance to earn another one – or your first — during RAW 2016 set for August 27th.

1 of 5 in US!

3. Madison is Platinum. The League of American Bicyclists’ Bicycle Friendly Community rankings came out in November and Madison found itself in rarefied air, joining only four other communities at the Platinum level. And none of those other cities have the harsh Wisconsin winter to contend with. Eight years of community effort paid off big time. There are currently only five cities in the country with a platinum designation.

2. Wisconsin wins National Bike Challenge for second year running. Twelve thousand Wisconsinites logged four million miles from May through September. It proves we love biking, we’re meticulous record-keepers and we’re super-competitive. Nice combination, Badgers.

1. Wisconsin cleans up in BFC ratings. Sure, Madison became Platinum but 17 other Wisconsin cities joined or moved up on the Bike Friendly Communities list. No other state did better. So, while we had a tough year at the state level, local communities are really stepping up.

So, here’s to the year that was. It was great and it was horrible. But just like cycling itself we can’t enjoy the gliding downhill without fighting up the terrain in the first place. Next year let’s hope for a tail wind in all directions.

About Dave Cieslewicz, Director Emeritus

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.

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