Tour shows how bikes fit into city’s big picture

Arthur Ross, Madison's pedestrian-bicycle coordinator, led the bicycle tour that included five Urban County Council members.

Arthur Ross, Madison's pedestrian-bicycle coordinator, led a bike tour that included five Urban County Council members. Photo by Tom Eblen

One of the most popular optional activities during Commerce Lexington’s trip to Madison, WI, was a bicycle tour of the city’s extensive trail network.

It didn’t hurt that the weather was perfect Tuesday afternoon: sunny and in the 70s.

About 50 Lexington visitors paid to rent bikes for a 7-12 mile ride. The group included five six Urban County Council members: Kevin Stinnett, George Myers, Doug Martin, Chuck Ellinger, Jay McChord and Tom Blues.

Madison is regarded as one of the nation’s best cities for bicycling and walking, with a 150-mile network of trails. Many of the trails are popular recreation facilities, especially those around the lakes on either side of downtown Madison.

But what was notable was how trails and bike lanes have been integrated into Madison’s street and sidewalk network. It’s not a novelty; it’s serious transportation and a tool for better connecting Madison’s neighborhoods, businesses and public venues.

The city requires new developments and buildings to have parking facilities for bicycles as well as cars. And when it snows — as it does a lot here — trails are cleared as quickly as streets, because so many people bike to work, said Arthur Ross, Madison’s pedestrian-bicycle coordinator.

In addition to commuters and recreational riders, many people now run errands on bikes and a growing number of businesses are using them to make deliveries, Ross said.

While some neighborhoods have resisted new trails, fearing they would bring in a “bad element,” there’s no evidence of that. Ross said property values of homes often rise after trails are built near them.

Ross noted that trails are especially important in cul de sac neighborhoods. The intent of cul de sacs is to isolate people from the impact of automobiles and traffic, but they shouldn’t isolate people from each other, he said.

The key to successful integration of trails, bike lanes and roads is public education and good design that minimizes traffic conflicts. That was evident during the trail ride, as intersections where the trail crossed streets were carefully marked for both drivers and cyclists. Most roads also accommodate bicycles.

Halfway through the tour, the group stopped for lunch at Strand Associates, a Madison-based engineering firm with a vice president who lives in Lexington, Mike Woolum. Strand is doing the design work for Lexington’s Legacy Trail, which by the end of next year will connect downtown Lexington with the Kentucky Horse Park.

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