Last week I did some traveling through Central Wisconsin. I visited Appleton, Green Bay, Green Lake, Stevens Point and Waukesha. As I drove to my appointed rounds I was in communication with our lobbyists back in Madison as they tried to pry lose our vulnerable users bill from the grips of the Senate Rules Committee.
My instruction to our lobbyists was to cut any deal they could. We would take any sliver of progress and live to fight in the next session on the rest. With this legislature any progress at all is a victory. It now appears that at least the part of our bill requiring instruction in drivers ed classes on how to be safe around bicyclists and pedestrians may pass. We’ll have to work for the increased penalties for killing or injuring a cyclist or other vulnerable user next session. Slim progress, but we’ll take it.
Contrast that with the enthusiasm for cycling I found at my local stops. In Appleton, Mayor Tim Hanna accepted the challenge to form a committee to move his already bike friendly city up on the League of American Bicyclists list. In Green Bay, Mayor Jim Schmitt committed to get his city on that list. (It didn’t hurt to create a little friendly rivalry between the two mayors. I’m not above that sort of thing.)
One of the reasons George Kaptiz decided to open his third Broken Spoke Bicycle Studio on Broadway St. in Green Bay is the bike lane that goes right past his new shop. They also close Broadway to traffic every week for a farmers market, and the staff at Broken Spoke is hoping to offer bike parking this summer.
Back in Appleton I was there when a key city committee voted overwhelmingly to install a new bike lane per the city’s bike plan even in the face of neighborhood opposition.
The next day in Green Lake I met with a group of about fifty business owners, local officials and bike advocates on how to improve cycling in the county. The county board char Jack Meyers was there and he was very supportive. The manager of the Heidel House Resort and Spa had impressive statistics about how much biking means to his hotel. He reported that 13% of his guests use bikes while there and that they contribute about $580,000 to the local economy. He’s adding more rental bikes this season to meet the increased demand and offers a special “Pedal and Play Package.”
In Stevens Point I talked with camp ground owners eager to find ways to get their facilities worked in to Wisconsin’s amazing set of road tours. And I finished the trip in Waukesha (ok, not exactly central Wisconsin) where I spoke to about 100 folks brought together by the Waukesha Rotary Club to hear about biking improvements there. You may find that odd until you realize that the club officers are avid bikers and they want to grow Rotary among younger people.
The contrast is stark. We were in Washington DC a couple of weeks ago for the National Bike Summit where we met with our representatives in Congress. They were receptive and polite but we know that none of the national legislation we were lobbying for is likely to pass this session. And I’ve already reported on our frustrations with our state government.
Yet, all over the state local governments are engaged and enthusiastic about improving cycling in their communities. They’re even getting pretty competitive about it, which is great.
The experience of the last few weeks has just served to underscore my feeling when I came into this job late last year: local is where it’s at.