Personal Highlights from the Wisconsin Bike Summit

The Wisconsin Bike Fed held its annual Wisconsin Bike Summit in Madison yesterday. I took advantage of the opportunity to attend the many sessions and meet others from around the state working to make Wisconsin even better for bicycling.

I want to share some of the highlights from my day at the Bike Summit.

Best Quote
In  opening remarks for the Bike Summit, Bike Fed Executive Director Dave Cieslewicz provided the best quote of the day: “A city that’s built for bicyling is built for living.” This simple statement says so much.

And Cieslewicz should know. He is the former mayor of Madison, a gold-level Bicycle Friendly Community.

Efforts to improve bicycling in communities everywhere would be greatly boosted by spreading this simple message among citizens and decision makers.

My Favorite Session
The day included four sessions with 3 concurrent panels during each. I jumped back and forth often – all the sessions were excellent – but there was simply no way to take in everything.

My favorite session by far was one focused on encouraging more women to get into bicycling. Six panelists told personal stories on diverse aspects of bicycling: group bike rides, bike polo, bike touring, basic bike repair, and more.

I appreciated this session because of its context in a broader conversation taking place nationally about why women are underrepresented in bicycling. But this wasn’t the reason why it was my favorite.

The vast majority of presenters at the Bike Summit were prominent figures in government agencies, large businesses, and major bicycle advocacy organizations. The work all these folks do to make bicycling better is certainly valuable and appreciated.

But the panelists discussing how to encourage more women to bicycle were mostly just ordinary citizens pursuing their passion. A few found ways to monetize their efforts – bike advocates need food and shelter, too – but most simply put themselves out there and created new community that happens to have a connection with bicycling.

Those familiar with Poky Pedaling Stevens Point will understand why this aspect of the panel resonated strongly with me.

To move bicycling forward, it is not enough to wait for decision makers to lead. Regular folks need to act and demonstrate by sheer numbers that moving bicycling forward is the popular sentiment. Decision makers will then have no choice but to follow their constituents.

It was inspiring to hear these panelists share their stories of success. And I was grateful for the opportunity to meet a few of them later in the day and thank them for their efforts.

Cities, fundamentally, are not about policies, infrastructure, or money. Cities are about people. In the context of the quote from the Bike Fed’s Cieslewicz connecting bicycling to livability, hearing personal stories from this panel about bringing people together around bicycling was powerful.

This is the reason this panel stood out for me from all the other sessions of the day.

Bicycle Friendly Communities and Stevens Point
A panel on Bicycle Friendly Communities was hosted by Andy Clarke, the Executive Director of the League of American Bicyclists. The LAB is the organization that evaluates communities nationwide for the Bicycle Friendly Community designation.

After the panel, I took the opportunity to meet him and chat for a few minutes. Stevens Point was named a bronze-level BFC a couple of weeks ago, and I wanted him to be aware that our city was represented at the Bike Summit and is actively working to make bicycling even better here. (I was not the only person present from the Stevens Point area. Sarah Wallace of the Portage County Planning and Zoning Dept also attended the Bike Summit.) Clarke was able to give me a bit of insight about the feedback a BFC receives from the LAB on its award application.  I hope to get that feedback soon from Stevens Point city officials who submitted our successful application.

In his remarks during the panel, Clarke mentioned that over 700 communities have applied for BFC status since the program began in 2003. Yet fewer than 300 have earned the BFC award. This selectivity illustrates what a big deal Stevens Point being named a BFC truly is.

Good words for Stevens Point and PPSP
Early in the day, I briefly spoke with Dave Cieslewicz, who became the Bike Fed’s Executive Director only three weeks ago. That gave me the opportunity to put a good word in for Stevens Point and highlight our recent BFC award. I also quickly described what PPSP was about.

Later in the day, I was talking with Kevin Hartman, Launch Director for Midwest Bike Share, who is working to start a bike share program in Milwaukee. Hartman had been the Bike Fed’s Executive Director until a few months ago and is familiar with PPSP from that earlier role. As we spoke, Cieslewicz came up to us, and Hartman took that opportunity to tell him of the great bicycle activity happening in Stevens Point, including my efforts with PPSP. I appreciate Hartman’s kind words.

Because of the Bike Fed’s limited staff, communities outside Madison and Milwaukee typically do not get the level of attention that these two cities do. I do not say this to slight the Bike Fed, because they do the best they can with their limited resources. This is simply a reality to understand when considering how the Bike Fed can support local efforts.

In light of this, I hope Hartman’s comments to Cieslewicz about Stevens Point and PPSP help make it a bit easier to get the Bike Fed’s attention in the future to move bicycling forward here.

Madison wishes it had something like PPSP
At lunch, I spoke with Arthur Ross, Pedestrian-Bicycle Coordinator for the City of Madison, to learn some detail about bicycle infrastructure that Madison has used. I also took that opportunity to talk about our bicycling environment in Stevens Point and my efforts with PPSP.

Later in the day, I came across a conversation between Ross and Tom Huber of Toole Design, one of the consultants on the Portage County bike/ped planning project. I know Huber from being on one of that project’s committees. Upon seeing me, Huber introduced me to Ross and immediately gave glowing praise for PPSP, for which I am grateful. Ross’s reply to that, based on my earlier conversation with him, was how he wished Madison had something like PPSP.

That comment from Ross stunned me. Madison, after all, is a gold-level BFC, has a relatively high percentage of bicycle commuters, and has all sorts of groups participating in all sorts of bicycle rides and activities. When I mentioned this to Ross, he replied that even so, Madison doesn’t have any bicycle activity that reaches out to ordinary people on ordinary bikes the way PPSP does. Ross considers it important to connect to such citizens about bicycling and feels his efforts would be more successful if Madison had something like PPSP taking place. I was flattered by these remarks.

I have always hoped that I would be able to someday inspire people in communities across Wisconsin to replicate what I do here with PPSP, just as I was inspired to start PPSP after enjoying Bike Fun during my years in Portland. Ross’s comments make me feel that this could be possible some day.

Final Comments
The Bike Summit made for an inspiring and stimulating day. These highlights are only a sample of the many great interactions I had with people who care about making bicycling better. I want to thank the Bike Fed and their sponsors for putting this event on, and I look forward to attending next year.

I also hope my comments encourage Poky Pedalers to consider attending the Bike Summit next year. It is the sort of event where anyone who likes bicycling can participate. Meeting others and learning what happens in other cities is great for imagining what is possible here. And simply by sharing personal experiences, Poky Pedalers can influence state and national leaders in bicycle advocacy. After all, Poky Pedalers make up an enormous segment of the constituency these folks are advocating for.

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