Friday, March 2, 2012

Do The Right Thing

"Real leaders are ordinary people with extraordinary determination."  -Confucius

Spencer Black and his wife, Pam, biking along the Pacific coast

Weather you know it or not, we, as cyclists are in the middle of a giant tug-of-war.  Yes, by sheer numbers, we are growing and trying our best to reclaim our space on streets (that our tax dollars pay for).  At the same time, the funding that provides us with safe routes to school and work is being stripped away at an alarming rate and is instead being applied to more "practical" things, like highways.

Thursday, February 2nd, will go down in my book of shame.  At 8:09am, the House voted against saving funding for projects such as:  safe routes to school/work, traffic calming, bicycling infrastructure, rail trails and safe bridge crossings for cyclists and pedestrians.  We lost this vote to the GOP 29-27, however, three Republicans voted to save it (Petri-WI, Johnson-IL and LoBiondo-NY).

You know how people say "I'll always remember where I was when JFK was shot"?  I will never forget where I was when I heard we lost the vote.  I was sitting in the Chicago public library, searching to see what happened with this vote, when I cam across Brent Cohrs' piece at  It was as if a giant fist slammed into my gut.  I couldn't breathe.  I wanted to cry.  I knew that with this one vote, we went back in time at least 20 years...if not more.  Until today, I have not had the emotional strength to write about my feelings surrounding this event.  Now, that my head has cleared a bit, I feel the need to touch on it in a different way.

In this piece, I don't want to spend too much time focusing on the vote since there has already been great articles written (see Dave Cohrs' post and Dave Schlabowske's post on the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin blog ).  Instead, I want to focus on the local politicians who are busting their asses to improve cycling in WI and throughout the country.

During the 2012 WI Bike Summit--held here in Madison last week--Rep. Tom Petri was recognized and awarded for voting against his party in support of saving the bike funding.  Although I commend Petri for doing so--and hope other republicans follow suit--I am amazed the folks who work daily to improve cycling infrastructure don't get awarded more often.  In my eyes, there are so many politicians that "do the right thing" and rarely get applause.

Being an active citizen in my neighborhood and state, I have either spoken with or written dozens of politicians expressing my concerns for bike/ped safety.  In doing so, I have made a few enemies but have also made many friends.  I think a few of them see my number come up when I call and know what the conversation will be about.  Some of these civic leaders that I admire, and will gladly give a standing applause to are listed below highlighting a few of their projects.

I have to start with Spencer Black.  Spencer and I are not only neighbors but we also serve on the WI Bicycle Federation Board of Directors together.  Although we don't ride together (he's an afternoon rider and I'm an early morning rider), we see each other enjoying the wonders of two-wheeling frequently.  

For those of you that live in Wisconsin, you probably know that Spencer served 26 years on the Assembly.  He retired just over a year ago--many had to fight back tears--but hasn't stopped working for the state and community.  His life is dedicated to helping the environment and improving cycling conditions.  He served on the Governor's Bicycle Council, helped passed legislation setting up the state's trail system and a new complete streets law, chaired the committee on Balanced Transportation which initiated the first significant state funding for bicycle facilities, worked on "dooring" legislation making it illegal to harm a cyclist by carelessly opening doors and requested that studies be done to show the financial gain the cycling industry brings to Wisconsin.  If this isn't enough, he and his wife, travel around the country biking together.

Brett speaking to cyclists that are riding to oppose bike budget cuts 

Brett Hulsey is not only my state rep but also a friend.  He's one of my "go to" people when I have a question about local environmental issues and almost always shows up to my bike events.  Brett took over in the assembly when Spencer retired (he holds Spencer's old seat).  When running for this position, he could often be spotted on his bike bringing yard signs and fliers to those that wanted them.  Brett also serves on the country transportation board with hopes of improving the bike/ped infrastructure in Dane Country and throughout the state.  The picture above shows Brett at the first Bikers Against Walkers Budget ride around the capital following the news that Governor Walker would be cutting an enormous amount of funding for state bicycle projects.  I have to say a special "thank you" to Brett for also speaking at my first all women's bike event last year!

Dave Cieslewicz

I couldn't write this piece without talking about Dave Cieslewicz (formerly known as "Mayor Dave" in Madison).  I moved to Madison when Dave first took office and was so thankful to have a mayor that supported cyclists.  Coming from Minneapolis, I can't help but make comparisons to Mayor Rybak.  I asked Dave what bike projects he's most proud of and he quickly responded with this:

"Probably the biggest thing I'm happy about in all the biking stuff we did was put $50 million in the capital budget over five years for bike and ped improvements. It was the first time we had ever established a budget category for these projects and we boosted the funding. I don't think you'll find too many cities (and none our size) making this kind of financial commitment. And it's infrastructure that will make the casual biker feel safe enough to commute on a regular basis."
In 2007, he launched the new Platinum Bike Initiative and created the Platinum Bike Committee.  In 2010, he, along with Kathleen Falk and several other local leaders, traveled to Europe to study several cities bike infrastructure.  Their hopes were to bring back ideas that could be applied to Madison and Wisconsin.  Since then, Madison has adopted "bike boxes" and "sharrows" to help keep urban riders safe while in traffic.

If the above projects aren't enough, Dave also started the B-Cycle bike share program with Trek and 20 by 2020--an initiative to get people in Madison to take 20% of their trips by bike by the year 2020.

Kathleen Falk
 Finally, I'll talk about Kathleen Falk who is the former Dane County executive and is now running for governor.  The first time I met Kathleen was at the Saris gala--the largest fundraiser for the Wisconsin Bicycle Federation.  She was dressed up and yet still on a bike that shows how you can power electronics through the wattage the bike produces.  Kathleen is a true environmentalist.  She leads through example and was one of the top users of the B-Cycle bikes in 2011.  When plans for the highway 12 project from Madison to Sauk City were being made, she insisted that a bike path be put along side it.  At the time, I questioned this.  Now, I can't believe how many cyclists, walkers, roller skiers and inline skaters use it.  The phrase "Build it and they will come" fits this scenario perfectly.  Because she supports cycling as a positive means of transportation, I know that if she becomes governor, she will continue to improve Wisconsin's bike friendly legacy.

Each person and action is a drop in the bucket, but together, we CAN make a difference.  I urge you to take a moment and thank your local politicians who support bicycling.  More importantly, I ask you to volunteer with organizations that improve cycling, like the Wisconsin Bicycle Federation.

*Just as I was finishing up this piece, I received a post stating that the Cardin-Cochran Amendment had just been accepted as part of the base Senate transportation bill, MAP-21.  If this ends up becoming law, it will ensure that local governments, school systems, and metropolitan planning organizations are able to access funds to make bicycling and walking safe and accessible.  Please go to the League of American Bicyclists for more information and write your senator stating that you support this!

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