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March 2024 came in like a lion and is still roaring – what a busy time for bicycle advocacy in Wisconsin!

I recently returned home from the National Bike Summit in Washington, D.C. which kicked off with an inspiring call to action from Veronica O. Davis, author of Inclusive Transportation: A Manifesto for Repairing Divided Communities. Davis emphasized that we need to prioritize putting people in office, at every level of government, who understand the importance of safe streets. This spring, I believe we have reasons for some fresh optimism. Read on to learn why…

Reconnecting Communities

On March 13th, I had the privilege of attending President Joe Biden’s announcement of a $36.6 million grant awarded to Milwaukee through the Reconnecting Communities and Neighborhoods grant program. The grant will transform a 2.6 mile stretch of 6th street into a “complete street” that will take the needs of all road users – not just people in cars – into consideration. The project will include separated bike lanes, tree-lined medians, safer pedestrian crossings and more. This project will also undo decades of destructive negative impacts from previous car-centric street design and set about “repairing divided communities” as discussed in Ms. Davis’ book.

Bike/Ped Infrastructure Opportunity

Earlier that week, representatives from Bike Fed and Trek met with Secretary Craig Thompson and WisDOT staff about strategies to obligate funding available through Federal Redistribution Funds, including $67 million in Transportation Alternatives funding for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure or planning. This funding can only be used for shovel-ready projects that can be funded in 2024 and begin construction in 2025. WisDOT has set up a webpage with guidelines, a webinar, and a project intake form to determine if proposed projects are eligible for funding. If you have a project in mind for your community, check it out!

Bike Fed Executive Director Kirsten Finn with Madison Bikes’ Robbie Webber at Lobby Day

Wisconsin Legislator “Asks”

March 20th was Lobby Day at the National Bike Summit and Madison Bikes’ Robbie Webber and I visited Wisconsin legislators with three funding “asks”:

  • The Complete Streets Act would direct states to set aside five percent (5%) of highway funding to create and implement a Complete Streets grant program for which local Governments that have a Complete Streets policy would be eligible to apply. The Complete Streets Act also requires the Federal Highway Administration to provide guidance to states on creating Complete Streets standards for local projects. Requirements to incorporate Complete Streets elements into all new construction and reconstruction would be phased in. The Act would be particularly helpful in Wisconsin where we are the only State to have removed a Complete Streets mandate from our statutes.
  • The Bicycle Education Bill would make both in-school bike education programs and drivers education focused on sharing the road with vulnerable road users eligible for Section 405 of State Highway Safety Program grant funding. The Bill would require no new Federal spending and would help decrease non-motorized road user fatalities. Currently in Wisconsin these programs are funded through the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) only. 
  • The Sarah Debbink Langenkamp Bill would give states greater flexibility to spend safety dollars on local priorities. For many states, bicycle and pedestrian safety projects can be funded with 100% federal funds. Because Wisconsin does not meet the 15% vulnerable road user fatality threshold (which is a good thing), bike/ped projects are only funded at 80% and local communities need to come up with a 20% match. This has prevented many Wisconsin communities from accessing Federal funding for bicycle and pedestrian facilities. 

Wisconsin Bike Fed, Madison Bikes, and Trek have been advocating for the Debbink Langenkamp Act since 2022 when Oconomowoc native Sarah Debbink Langenkamp was killed riding her bike home from her son’s school in Bethesda, Maryland.  Sarah was a U.S. diplomat and a mother of two and was evacuated from Ukraine for her safety – only to be killed in a bike lane weeks later. In October of 2023, we hosted Ride For Your Life in Madison to celebrate Sarah’s life, and the lives of all we have lost to traffic violence.

Previously sponsored in the House, on March 26th Senator Tammy Baldwin introduced the Langenkamp Safety Act in the Senate along with co-sponsors Senators Cardin and Van Hollen from Maryland. See coverage of the story here!

Bike organization executive directors from Hawaii, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Vermont, Illinois, California, Texas & Florida out for dinner in Washington D.C. during the National Bike Summit

Bicycle Friendly State Presentation

Finally, on March 21st I was invited to speak at the National Bike Summit, along with my colleague Michael Wojcik of the Minnesota Bike Alliance, on how the League of American Bicyclists’ Bicycle Friendly State program can support state leadership in 2024. Wisconsin currently sits at #29 in the ranking (down from our 2010 high of #2), due primarily to our repeal of Complete Streets and the state’s relatively small investment in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. I am unsure that our rank will improve with the 2024 survey. However, new investments in bike infrastructure at the local and state level, plus recent Federal grants for projects around the state, have me focused on our future. Nothing can match the cockeyed optimism of a Wisconsin cyclist in March!

Feature photo at top: Bike valet service for National Bike Summit attendees at the Washington DC event venue, The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.

Want to get more involved in bicycle advocacy?

Join our Healthy Communities Summit on April 29th, stay tuned to our e-newsletter for action alerts and updates, or send an email to your legislator via our website and ask them to prioritize investments in safe biking and walking.