Happy to Be Here

Jon Childress chose Wisconsin as his new home sight unseen. He did it for the love of bicycles.

Childress is the prototype of the much sought after creative young person. A thirty-something software engineer he could work from anywhere. He grew up in the south and was living in Buffalo when he decided he wanted to move somewhere that was more friendly to his lifestyle, which emphatically did not have cars at the center of it.

Over a cup of java at a coffee shop on the Capital Square Childress explained to me what he was looking for in a community. “Getting rid of my car was my first priority and finding cool people to live and work around was a close second,” Childress says. “I had never heard of Madison, but when I discovered that I could have both here it was an easy choice.”

Sure enough, shortly after he arrived in Wisconsin last October Childress sold his 2002 Corolla and bought a fat bike for what he was sure would be a bumpy winter commute. He was wrong and pleasantly surprised.

“Madison does such a good job with plowing that I didn’t need the Pugsly for commuting,” he explains. “So, I jut put some studded tires on my road bike and used that all winter.”

So, the Pugsly followed the Corolla out his life I assumed. Nope. “It’s the most fun I’ve ever had a on a bike. I biked all the way across Lake Monona twice.”

Childress allows that Madisonians sometimes seem to take their bike good fortune for granted. “I love the way people here just aren’t willing to settle for ‘good enough.’ But sometimes I think we should just appreciate how good it is here.”

Childress himself isn’t settling, though. He’s got his employer, Bendyworks, a software design consultancy, aiming at gold bicycle friendly business status. He volunteered to be the firm’s bike coordinator and he’s eager to find a way to give back to the broader Madison community by sitting on committees or doing whatever it takes to move the city up to platinum status. (The city plans to apply for Platinum in 2015.)

He sees cycling as more than just riding bikes. “Cars are so isolating,” he says. “I like cycling for all the divides it seems to help close — racial, ethnic, economic. Biking helps bring a city together.”

And he’s not alone in choosing a place to call home based on its bikability. “Since I’ve been here I’ve run into three or four friends I hadn’t seen in years who wound up in Madison because of its reputation for being bike friendly.”

Jon Childress is the poster programmer for an argument we like to make a lot around here at the Bike Fed: bike friendliness is good for everybody, even folks who will never get on a bike. Bikability is one important way to market a community as an attractive place for talented people who could ply their trade anywhere. A bike friendly community is always one that’s also fun, cool and pleasant to live in.

We like to think that Jon Childress made a darn good choice.

About Dave Cieslewicz, Executive Director

Dave Cieslewicz served two terms as mayor of Madison where he set the city on a path for Platinum status as one of the best biking cities in North America. Before that he started his own nonprofit, 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, which focuses on land use and transportation policy. He has been an adjunct professor at the UW Madison's Department of Urban and Regional Planning where he teaches a class called Bikes, Pedestrians and Cities. He pronounces his name chess LEV ich, but nobody else does.

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