|Folks rolling in for the start of the ride|
photo by Tim Reinhardt
|The route I have to take at least twice a day|
I was biking home from work on a sunny Monday afternoon around 2pm. Traffic on the road I take at least twice a day was a bit heavier than usual, but nowhere near rush hour intensity. This road I am forced to take, because there is no other good alternatives, is a narrow four lane which runs through a mostly residential area. There are no bike lanes or paths, even though many of the bike commuters and parents in the area have been begging the city for ages to build one or the other. The speed limit is 35mph (too fast in my mind for a residential area with parks, a plethora of children and poorly maintained sidewalks). People, however, never travel 35mph. Most travel 45-50 and the police won't ticket anyone unless they are at the 45+mph mark. This road is a corridor leading to more suburbs or an alternative route to the East side of the city. Drivers always seem either in a hurry or extremely distracted since weekly I have "close calls" even though I am a very courteous, predictable and skilled cyclist. That Monday, I was the victim of a road bully. A driver who chooses to use their vehicle as a weapon vs. transportation. I was forced off the road, went over my bars and landed on my shoulder and neck. I was hurt, thankfully not badly, and yet not one person stopped, including of course the person who ran me off the road. I got up, did the head to toe check, checked my bike and proceeded to walk the rest of the way since I was so shaken up and my bike needed some TLC. I went into urgent care to get checked out fearing a fracture and impinged nerve, called the cops to make a report and began to think. I thought about what this incident meant to me. I knew the next day, and the day after that it could happen again, if not to me, to anyone else in the neighborhood. I knew the next time it could mean death.
Because the issue of poor bike/pedestrian infrastructure was not a new one for my area of Middleton, I had such little hope that changes would be made if I just reported it to the city, as I normally do. I knew I had to raise my voice a bit and get others to do the same in a constructive way. That night, I planned an infrastructure ride for the following Monday. I invited people through Facebook, Nextdoor, and word of mouth. I wanted to get other's view on the problems in the area and I wanted them to report the things they felt needed to be changed. I essentially didn't want to stand alone anymore on these issues and decided the only way I could do it was to get folks out on bikes to experience riding this and other unsafe roads in the area.
The route I chose was a measly 3.5 miles, but from past experiences, I knew overwhelming folks with too many problems wouldn't solve anything. Instead, my hope was to point out key projects and issues and if it worked, plan another ride for a different area come spring. Eighteen people showed (including several parents and three children). Almost everyone had the same reaction to the lack of safe infrastructure and lack of city support. I no longer felt alone or without a voice. Although eighteen isn't many people, it was a start, and since I also got an overwhelming amount of feedback via social media from those who couldn't make the ride, I began to think, "yeah, maybe things can and will change".
Working in a grassroots way isn't by any means a new thing. Madison Bikes was just formed this year due to an overwhelming need to have a stronger local advocacy group vs. just a state wide one. In a matter of months, their membership has grown to over 500 and cycling, as well as walking, has become safer in the city almost overnight. I always believed change starts with one drop of water, and groups like this are proof that big changes can be made by small starts. My hope, by planning this ride, and educating myself and others in Middleton about how we can make it safer for children to bike to school and adults to work or for errands, that slowly changes will occur. I'm also hoping a group similar to Madison Bikes, will form in Middleton and work with not only Madison, but other suburbs in the county. It takes a village...