Madison’s Ride the Drive is this Sunday

Ride the Drive on car-free John Nolan Drive.

It wasn’t my idea but I swam in the lake of love it created.

Like a lot of things in Madison the now fabulously successful Ride the Drive event came from a committee. The sixth season of Ride the Drive kicks off this Sunday, June 1st, from 10 am to 3 pm.

When I was Mayor of Madison I appointed a committee that we named the Platinum Bike Committee. Their purpose was to put together a plan that would get the city to Platinum status from its current Gold rating in the League of American Bicyclists’ Bicycle Friendly Communities program.

The Platinum Committee worked for a year and came up with about a report with 100 recommendations, one of which was to have an open streets event like the one started in Bogota, Columbia. Dubbed “ciclovia,” Bogota’s event got its start in 1976 and today some seventy miles of street are opened to bikes and pedestrians and closed to cars every Sunday morning.

The route for this Sunday will again feature free trials from B-cycle. The $5 – 24 Hour Access Fee will be waived at all kiosks, so grab a B-cycle and pedal over to their tent on John Nolan to say thanks for the ride!

Madison’s attempt was going to be more modest. Just one Sunday morning would be selected and only a mile or so of street would be used. We settled on a Sunday in August, which was relatively light on other events and we picked the John Nolen causeway for the location. That strip of roadway is Madison’s killer view introduction to the city. The Capitol building peeks out from behind other buildings on the isthmus and the Monona Terrace Convention Center gleams in front of sparkling Lake Monona.

I thought this was going to be great. John Burke thought it wasn’t going to be great enough. The CEO of Trek was picking up the tab for most of the event and he had loaned us his community relations person Krista Rettig, a one woman organizational powerhouse, to get it off the ground. John does not settle for anything less than amazing and he thought the mile of John Nolen Drive was fine and fine wasn’t good enough.

So, John sketched out a seven-mile loop that ran around the Capital Square and down State Street and back to Brittingham Park and to the causeway. The politician in me cringed. There were no churches on John Nolen Drive. There were several within the loop John had roughed out. I was prepared to take some heat from angry drivers, but now I was setting myself up to be accused of separating people from their eternal salvation.

So we reached out to the churches, the businesses and the residents inside the circuit. And coolness abounded. They all thought it was a great idea and the level of cooperation was amazing.

Even if you have your own bicycle, why not take a free ride on B-cycle? It is always fun to try new bikes.

We programmed some music and other events like a whole huge intersection for kids to chalk. There would be the world’s longest picnic table. Oscar Mayer donated thousands of hot dogs, which were to be sold for a buck with proceeds going to charity. There would be face painting and bike tune-ups and all manner of spontaneous revelry.

And when the day arrived the weather cooperated. Late August in Wisconsin can be hot and muggy, and you know, it’s not so much the heat as it is the humidity. But this Sunday dawned clear, dry and cool.

As I road the circuit over and over again people called out happy things to me and many told me that we should do this every Sunday. On Monday my email was crammed with political love.

We estimated that about 20,000 people had attended and there were a lot of families there. People told me that they hadn’t seen their bikes in years, but they dug them out of their basements, pumped up the tires, sprayed some oil on the chain and got moving again. And that really is the point of open streets events. Reintroduce people to their bikes and to the pure fun of cycling.

For those of you who can be in Madison on Sunday stop by the Bike Fed tent. It’d be good to see you out there swimming in the love.

Note:,  the website for Ride the Drive was down this morning when we published this blog.

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3 thoughts on “Madison’s Ride the Drive is this Sunday

  1. Maybe you can tell us about your 2010 Ride The Drive love fest with the King Of The Dopers Lance Armstrong!

  2. I loved Ride the Drive 2014. The first few I walked (no bike and with asthma didn’t think I could ride one). Then in 2012 you offered the B Bikes and I rode one of those and bought a helmet (thought ..”I can stop if I get tired”). A few days later I bought a gently used Trek to keep my helmet company. This grandmum of four hasn’t stopped since!

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