Inspiration from the Big Apple

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with how impressed we are at how fast New York City, once a bicycle desert, has been transformed into what is perhaps the most bicycle-friendly big city in the country.  After a visit to NYC for a conference earlier this year, I reported in a blog posting how the principle tools for that transformation have been the protected bike lane and colored bike lanes.  Now that New Yorkers feel like they have safe, convenient bikeways, from the mean streets of Manhattan to Queens, everyone from actors and supermodels to bankers and soccer moms have found that the bicycle is a great way to make short urban trips.

Before the 9th Ave. Cycletrack was built, the only bicycles on this street were piloted by couriers and delivery guys.


Recent posts on this blog have also pondered Wisconsin’s somewhat glacial approach to adopting innovative bicycle facilities. It has been suggested that we still lack the political leadership and local agents of change before that can happen in any city in Wisconsin.  In NYC, the principal architect of that transformation has been the often heralded (and sometimes maligned) Janette Sadik-Khan, Commissioner of the NYC Dept. of Transportation.  The video below interviews her and provides a good insight into how an intelligent visionary can make real positive changes, despite decades of entrenched bureaucracy.

Excuse the very short introductory commercial; this originally ran on NBC news.

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Gabe Klein, Commissioner of the Chicago DOT, was appointed by Rahm Emanuel to be his champion of cycling and with a vision of 25 miles of protected bike lanes. The winds of change are already blowing south of the border. This New City article by John Greenfield takes a look at how Klein grew to appreciate the positive effect that bicycles can have on cities and how he came to Chicago.

With the power of big city mayors behind them, these inspirational transportation leaders are breathing life and vitality back into city streets, the result of which is an improved quality of life, fewer crashes (of all kinds), more business for main street merchants, and cities that can attract and retain educated workers necessary for the new economy.

The Bike Fed has heard whispers of cycletracks and protected bike lanes in some parts of Wisconsin.  Milwaukee has piloted a short section of raised bike lane. Fitchburg has some preliminary plans for a cycletrack in a new development, and there are bike plans that reference these innovative bikeways being drafted in communities across the Badger State.

Who are our agents of change?  Has there been anyone in your community who has stood up and made the case that bicycles can be a cure for much of what ails our communities?  Let us know in the comment section below if you would like to nominate someone as a local champion for cycling.

About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

3 thoughts on “Inspiration from the Big Apple

  1. Once upon a time the City of Milwaukee Public Works had a champion for bicycle infrastructure…. 😉 While he was there, there were many miles of bike lanes add and some traffic calming designs.

    It would be great if the City of Milwaukee (all WI municipalities really) had someone like Sadik-Khan and Klein. The best way we could accomplish this is let the elected officials know that this is an important and vital position to fill. Un-fortunatly because revenues are down I think many officials would be reluctant to add to the payroll.

  2. To know of Sadik-Khan’s work in NYC is encouraging. She’s right, change is always hard and you’re not going to make everyone happy. But to give people a safer choice for bicycling may mean in the weeks and months to come more and more people will choose to do it. I really loved her comment about believing in cities.

  3. I’m wondering if one reason , aside from cost, the position of Bike/Ped co-ordinator stays unfilled is fear of backlash. To do as much as Dave Schlabowske did in that position shows no fear of backlash. In a lot of ways, bicyclists in Milwaukee need to develop the hide of a rhino. Talk radio often gives bicyclists heat because of their suburban base. I’ve yet to know what progress has been made on a search for Dave’s successor.

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