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Creating a Bikeable Community


Posted: 1:32PM December 1st, 2014 | Comments

I’d like to preface this post by acknowledging the amazing effort that has been put into getting Madison to where it is today, a national leader in bikeability. Over the past few months, I’ve attended DMI Bike Committee Meetings where a group of motivated individuals work tirelessly behind the scenes to advance bikeability in Madison. I compare Madison's bike culture to Copenhagen's because it is the city that turned me into a biker, but I am grateful to come home to a city that allows me to continue biking. My time in Copenhagen gave much greater appreciation and understanding of all that goes on behind the scenes to make Madison what it is as well as a vision of all that Madison can grow to be. 


In my previous post, I argue that a bikeable community is a sustainable one. We are now posed with the challenge of creating these bike-friendly communities. This is no easy task. It requires shifting mindsets, substantial investments, and progressive leadership. In this blog, I’ve identified what I see as the triple threat in creating bikeable communities: inviting infrastructure, persuasive policy, enthusiasm and encouragement.


Inviting Infrastructure

After living in both Copenhagen and Madison, I see inviting bike infrastructure as the number one enabler of a vibrant bike culture. Moreover, it is the number one difference between Madison and Copenhagen’s bikeability. Madison is many steps ahead of the average US city in catering to the needs of current, dedicated commuters and recreational bikers. 

There is room for improvement when it comes to including the non-biking sector of society. What works for veteran bikers is not necessarily inviting or intuitive for the non-biker. The key to creating inviting infrastructure is two-fold; it needs to be consistent and it needs to be safe. 


A Note On Consistency

The City of Copenhagen’s bike infrastructure is amazingly consistent. They have a system and they do not deviate, creating a comfortable, continuous, and easily understood network around the city.  


The beauty of Copenhagen’s infrastructure is that it speaks for itself. Differing but consistent materials are used for sidewalks, bike lanes, and roads to minimize inter-modal conflicts and enhance the intuitive nature of the infrastructure. As a biker, one feels free to explore, to bike anywhere one would normally go by car without feeling the need to previously map out a bike route. If people need to take extra steps or go out of their normal route to get somewhere by bike, why would they change their ways? 


The trails in Madison are wonderful - even Copenhagen cannot boast such quick arteries to beautiful lakes and peaceful farmlands. I consistently use them for long bike-rides and getting from one side of the city to another. They are like bike highways, complete with on/off ramps...wonderfully useful for covering ground, but less useful if there are no bikeable roads to connect them to businesses, workplaces, schools, and homes. The next step for Madison is creating a consistent network to connect our wonderful trails, our “bike highways,” to our final destinations. This is done by ensuring an intuitive bike space on every road. Excitingly, Wisconsin is headed in the right direction; in 2009, the state adopted “Complete Streets” Legislation requiring all newly constructed roads to have a bike lane.


A Note on Safety

Requiring a space for bikes on roads is a fantastic step. Let’s take this opportunity to do it right! Not only is inviting infrastructure consistent, but it is SAFE. If a designated bike space does not feel sufficiently protected, regardless of statistical safety, new bikers will not use it. 


A few strategies for improving perceived safety:

  1. Protected bike lanes: We need to protect our bikers! As noted in the image above, this involves CURBS on all bike lanes along roads with car speeds over 30 mph. Likewise, Copenhagen positions bike lanes between parked cars and the sidewalks, using the parked cars as a traffic buffer for bikers.

  2. Bike Signals: We need to prioritize bikers’ space in the road. Adding bike-specific signals allows bikers a green light before cars to establish their territory in the intersection. It also provides clarity for new or tentative bikers.

  3. Bike boxes and intersection paint: Colored bike boxes at stop lights and painted bike lanes through intersections are becoming increasingly popular in Madison. They alert drivers to bikers presence in areas where it is often forgotten.


Persuasive Policy

 While inviting infrastructure is the ideal standard for a bikeable city, there are policy steps that can provide incentives along the way. The complete streets legislation was certainly a major policy breakthrough for bikeable streets in Wisconsin. Here is a list of some additional behind-the-scenes policy work going on in Madison.

  1. Plowing Bike Lanes: This is currently a hot topic at the DMI Bike Committee Meetings. Bike advocates in Madison have worked hard to get their voices heard by the city. Thanks to their efforts, this winter Madison will enjoy plowed bike lanes on main arterial roadways! What’s Next? Of course, Copenhagen takes this one step further by plowing bike lanes before car lanes to encourage bike commutes. Perhaps we can look forward to this in the future! 

  2. Available Bike Parking: A very simple and implementable incentive. State Street is lined with scattered bike racks, allowing customers to bike to their favorite shops and eateries with accessible and convenient bike parking just steps away. What’s Next? Copenhagen took the aggressive policy of reducing car parking in the city by 1% annually and adding more bike parking. By making it increasingly difficult to drive into the city, bike commuting becomes more appealing. 

  3. Bikes AND Public Transport: The key to bike commuting success lies in combining it with effective public transport. Madison has done a great job with this; busses have bike racks attached to the front, and there are readily available B-Cycle stations throughout the city, allowing commuters to make the care-free transition between bike and bus, maximizing freedom. What’s Next? Making the bus schedule more regular and extensive will only encourage more environmentally-friendly commutes.

  4. Greenways and Shortcuts: Madison’s extensive trail system encourages biking by creating shortcuts through the city and minimizing intersections. What’s Next? Along popular bike routes (and elsewhere on poor-weather days), Copenhagen light signals are timed to give green lights to bikers going an average speed of 15 km/hr, ensuring a speedy trip home! Policies such as greenways and bike short cuts effectively give bikes more freedom than cars.


Enthusiasm and Encouragement

 It’s undeniable that Madison has plenty of enthusiasm. From the protests around the capital to the earth-shaking jump around ritual in Camp Randall, it is clear that Madisonians care. Individuals work tirelessly for the betterment of the city we all love. We should not underestimate the little things. The bike community is similarly doing their part to show their enthusiasm and to encourage others. Next time you are out and about, be sure to look out for the little things.

  1. Bike Counters: A great way track success and show the individual they are part of something big! Be sure to check out the newly-installed counter on the Southwest Commuter Trail at the Randall/Regent/Monroe intersection! (see photo here)

  2. Bike Stations: A small gesture to make life easier for bikers. I’ve used the water fountain and bike pump located on the Southwest Commuter Path at Midvale.

  3. Bike Footrests: Copenhagen has bike foot rests and railings scattered along the roads to increase comfort of bikers as they wait at red lights. The footrests bear the message “Thanks for Biking!” in Danish. Although not a strategy currently used in Madison, it is easily implementable. PICTURE

  4. Bicycle Benefits Program: Buy a Bicycle Benefits sticker for your helmet and enjoy discounts at participating businesses when you ride your bike! See here for participating Madison businesses.

  5. Bicycle Friendly Business Status: The Bike Fed recognizes businesses for their efforts in creating bike-friendly workplaces. Sustain Dane is proud to announce our recent certification as a silver-level bike friendly business!

  6. Madison B-Cycle: This amazing bike-share program does a wonderful job of encouraging city bike commuting and extending bike accessibility to all.

Hopefully this continued enthusiasm and effort will encourage more Madisonians to start thinking seriously of biking in their policy and infrastructure demands!


What’s YOUR Role in the Movement?

Want to contribute to making Madison a bikeable community? Consider this a call to action!


BIKE! The most effective contribution is to lead by example; the more people biking, the more socially acceptable it is! Bike to work, bike to the grocery store, bike your kids to school. There is no better advertisement for the bike-commuting cause than the woman in heels or man in suit pedaling past rush hour traffic. Participate in and take advantage of biking programs and initiatives around you (Safe routes to schools program, Ride the Drive, Bike to Work Day). 


Tell your planners and policy makers this is what you want! Show appreciation for what is working and bring attention to dangerous intersections or bike routes.

Businesses Owners 

Install sufficient bike parking facilities and pick locations that are accessible to bikers. After all, studies show bikers spend more than drivers! Show appreciation to bikers; consider participating in the Bicycle Benefits Program. 

Feel like you are already doing a good job with this? Apply for a Bicycle Friendly Business title! Sustain Dane is proud to announce it’s recent certification of a Silver-Level Bike Friendly Business due to its great location and bicycle accommodations for employees!


Be understanding to bike commuters; provide shower facilities or understand that employees need to work in an outfit they can bike in. Provide incentives such as intra-corporation bike challenges.

Planners and Policy Makers 

Keep the bikers, and more importantly... the potential bikers, in mind when designing infrastructure and policy in our communities. The bike friendly solution will likely be the sustainable one!


The efforts that have gone into getting Madison to the bikeable city that it is today are commendable. Madison has the potential to be the national leader in both bikeability and sustainability. Let’s be appreciative of our healthy city and continue to build upon the momentum! 


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