Lobby Day a Success (sort of)

The Wisconsin Constitution makes for a fitting meeting place to strategize on Lobby Day.

Seventy intrepid Bike Fed members hit the marble halls of the State Capitol in Madison on Tuesday. All told they met with 51 legislators, including 25 Republicans and 26 Democrats. All of the major legislative leaders, including the Assembly Speaker and Senate Majority Leader and the co-chairs of the powerful Joint Finance Committee, were contacted.

John Burke, CEO of Trek Bicycles, fires up the troops before they head over to the State Capitol. Photo by Darryl Jordan

And it wasn’t just our members but leaders of the bike industry, including John Burke of Trek, Chris Fortune of Saris Cycling Group and Chris Kegel of Wheel & Sprocket, who took time out of their schedules to meet with legislators.

We had three simple requests for changes in the state budget:

  • Don’t repeal the Complete Streets law.
  • Restore $2 million in Transportation Alternatives Program funding.
  • Restore the Stewardship Fund.

While we anticipated that all the Democrats would support our changes (and they did), we also knew that the Republicans hold large majorities in both houses and, as a result, on the Joint Finance Committee as well.

So we were particularly curious to know what kind of reaction we would get from the Republican side of the aisle.

In truth, it was mixed, but we did find some openings for common ground. Several members or their staffs were eager to talk about their cycling exploits or the bikes they owned or bike events in their districts of which they were proud.

But one visit in particular synthesized the challenge. It was a meeting between our member David Lindow of Sheboygan Falls and his Republican senator Devin LeMahieu. Our Deputy Director Dave Schlabowske accompanied David at the meeting and reported how the conversation went.

Sen. LeMahieu was happy to meet with us and generous with this time. In fact, he was eager to talk about the IronMan competitions he had completed and his love of cycling. And he was painfully aware of two tragic cycling deaths in his district.

But here’s our problem. Despite all that the senator told us he would not support any of our requests. On the one hand, we appreciate his candor. He could have strung us along. But on the other hand, this points up the work we need to do.

Complete Streets will ensure that roads like County A in Sheboygan will get paved shoulders on a curve. Two people have been killed in separate crashes here. If you live in Senator Lemahieu’s district, please contact him and ask him to support Complete Streets.

We have Democrats who never get on a bike who support good cycling policy wholeheartedly and Republicans who are avid cyclists who don’t. And to make matters worse, the Republicans hold virtually all the power in state government right now.

While we try to be “bike-partisan” we have to acknowledge honestly that at this moment cycling is a partisan issue. For some reason – and it’s probably mostly a “culture wars” thing – Republicans are not seeing the value in pro-bike policies.

The Bike Fed members had a positive meeting with Rep, Terese Berceau. Photo by Darryl Jordan

So if you are represented by a Republican and you ride a bike, please reach out to your elected representation and see if you can help them see that bicycling is a very simple, inexpensive solution to many expensive problems we face in Wisconsin. Remind them that Wisconsin is as much our nation’s capitol for the bicycle industry as  much as it is the nation’s dairyland. Remind them bicycling adds about $2 billion to our economy every year and supports 14,000 jobs.

Then ask them politely again if the can support and of our three ask.

Our task for the weeks and even years ahead is to figure out how to take Republican legislators who love cycling and get them to recognize the value in pro-cycling policies. The point isn’t to blame anyone. That wouldn’t get us anywhere anyway. The point is to figure out where the disconnect is and make that connection.

19 thoughts on “Lobby Day a Success (sort of)

      • humm…that seems a bit weak. He needs to do better than that. Maybe that’s what the question(s) should be. “Why not support the requests”, not “Will you support the requests” and then get details, from both sides. I think the reasons why are just as important as why not.

  1. Dave, thank you for the update and for a graet Lobby Day.

    BTW, I just emailed BudgetComments@legis.wisconsin.gov (as urged in yesterday’s e-blast to Bike Fed members) and got this reply.

    Delivery to the following recipient failed permanently: BudgetComments@legis.wisconsin.gov

    Technical details of permanent failure:
    Google tried to deliver your message, but it was rejected by the server for the recipient domain legis.wisconsin.gov by smtp1.legis.state.wi.us. [].

    The error that the other server returned was:
    550 No such user (BudgetComments@legis.wisconsin.gov)

  2. Dave,
    I did not see you after my meeting with State Rep. Evan Goyke on Tuesday, but would like to report that I did have the positive meeting we expected. He came out of a committee meeting to see me, and was so fired up that I barely had a chance to say anything before he made my points for me.

    He is especially anxious to accomplish two links: between our neighborhood and downtown using Vliet Street, and between here and the Hank Aaron Trail by converting the Hwy 41 stub (!) to carry bike and ped traffic.

    • Great to hear Vince! I agree Vliet is a great connector. My idea is to get green wave signal timing so people on bicycles can ride the whole way without stopping. There might also be room for enhanced bike lanes since there is so little demand for on-street parking.

    • Great to hear Vince! I agree Vliet is a great connector. My idea is to get green wave signal timing so people on bicycles can ride the whole way without stopping. There might also be room for enhanced bike lanes since there is so little demand for on-street parking.

  3. Unfortunately, (?) I don’t get to lobby my State Senator very often or very hard. He (Sen Risser) usually agrees with me and is out front already.

  4. My impression is that WBF thinks that the more miles of bike lanes built, the better. I disagree and think you waste resources on the idealistic notion that bicyclists should carve out rights to the road. Not with my blood.

    I see lots of new bike lanes on busy, fast and congested parking streets in places with quiet residential streets one block over in each direction. You will never see me on these busy streets. Why can’t you bank those funds and use them for critical bike corridors? Don’t you wish you had the funds to fix County A in Sheyboygan? IMHO you would have it if you didn’t support the unnecessary mixing of bikes and cars in places where bicyclists should be using quieter nearby streets.

    Lest you think I kowtow to the anti-bike crowd you can read my letter to Senator Devin LeMahieu.


    Chris Kemble

    Dear Senator Devin LeMahieu:

    My fellow conservatives never seem to understand ‘efficiency’. When it comes to transportation and energy policies I have to jump far to the left and agree that conservatives push disastrous ideas. (Just ask me and I will document it for you).

    Bicyclists are the cannon fodder of society, nobody’s life is cheaper. Unless a driver is drinking the maximum penalty for killing a biker in Wisconsin is usually a couple of hundred dollar fine. I am not aware of a single bike fatality in Wisconsin where the rider was violating any traffic law. Drivers can be as reckless and negligent as they want. Today the situation is worse than ever because of all the distracted drivers on the road.

    Policy decisions matter. I was in Orlando and Copenhagen recently. The concierge in Orlando said bicycling was given no thought in city planning, that if I try bicycling it might be my last ride. Copenhagen was an awesome biking experience, better in ways you may not think of. When we left in a cab the ride was quick because the roads aren’t overly congested. And the city was quiet! Not that constant drone most of us take for granted.

    So you are an avowed cycle enthusiast but cannot find any way to support the bicycle community? Do you understand that American bicyclists are killed at some of the highest rates in the world? (e.g. Dutch and Danish cyclists deaths per mile are about 20% of the US rate) http://streets.mn/2014/07/01/bicycling-relative-safe/ Is that necessary?

    Do you think there might be straight forward reasons for US high fatality rates? Will you support ‘Vulnerable Users’ legislation? Banning cellphone use while driving?

    Lest you think I kowtow to the bike community you can read my letter to WBF.

    • Thanks very much for the thoughtful comment and for sending the letter to Sen. LeMahieu. Regarding the two fatal crashes on HWY A, we have spoken with Sheboygan County Planning and Highway Department and they have assured us HWY A will be getting paved shoulders. In rural areas like that, HWY A is the only route from the south to get to work at Kohler, that is why the young student interning at Kohler was riding there. We have also been told by our members in Sheboygan that HWY A is a critical connector for recreational routes.

      As for adding bike lanes to busy streets with parking, those are really the only place bike lanes belong, because low-traffic side streets like you mention don’t need pavement markings. Bike lanes are needed on many of those arterial streets because those streets have destinations (trip generators) people need or want to get to, like cafes, retail, or work places. Ideally we begin adding protected bike lanes though, so people who don’t enjoy riding next to heavy traffic feel more comfortable. That technique is proven to work in many other cities from Chicago to Copenhagen (where they call them cycletracks) and those protected lanes get way more people bicycling. My daughter went to Copenhagen and Amsterdam in 4th grade, so I had a chance to ride those same streets you did.

      As for using the parallel side streets, we agree! In fact, Milwaukee’s Bike Plan (that we were contracted to work on along with Alta Planning + Design) includes a draft network of such streets, identified as possible “bicycle boulevards” or neighborhood greenways. That network in the plan is pretty rough, but it provides a good start and many of those streets could be converted to neighborhood greenways.

      The trick is to reduce the cut-through traffic and speeding on those parallel side streets. Many people in cars avoid the more congested street, like Layton Blvd. (S 27th Street) from National to Lincoln. The signed bike route there is on the parallel side streets, like 26th and 29th, but people were speeding on them and using them to avoid Layton. To stop that, the City installed traffic calming devices like speed humps.

      All that is left to convert those streets to neighborhood greenways, would be to remove the unwarranted stop signs installed every block in a failed attempt to stop speeding and cut-through traffic and then improve the crossings at arterials, so a person on a bicycle can get across Greenfield or National without a traffic signal.

      The last monthly meeting of the Bike Fed’s Milwaukee area members, SEWRPC, the City of Milwaukee Bicycle Coordinator and Dr. Robert Schneider, an alternative transportation professor from UWM, held a workshop in which they described these alternative bikeways like protected lanes and neighborhood greenways, and the 75 or so members went to work drawing and writing on maps of Milwaukee County noting where these routes might go. It was very productive and we hope to hold similar workshops elsewhere.

      I hope my reply gives you have a better understanding of our advocacy approach. The Complete Streets Law (WisDOT Trans 75) includes reasonable, fiscally conservative exceptions to when bicycle and pedestrian facilities need not be added. If legislators feel WisDOT is not interpreting and implementing Trans 75 properly, the answer is to change procedures, not change a law that might have saved two lives.

      Again Chris, thanks for riding, reading and writing back in our comment section. I checked and didn’t see you as a Bike Fed member, but we need more motivated, thoughtful, involved members with your perspective. I hope you consider taking a closer look at our organization and joining with us to make Wisconsin a better place to live, work, do business and ride a bike!

      • Dave, I’m both an advocate of bicyclists, number one protecting themselves as much as possible and giving us the infrastructure to do it safely. You refer to Sheboygan County Hwy A as a “the only route from the south to get to work at Kohler” and then excuse new bike lanes on busy parking-congested streets as trip generators. If there are no other alternatives that would be fine, but many if not most to the new lanes I see are one block over from quiet alternate streets. I think most people seeing a bike lane think it a recommended bicycle route.

        Our lanes are not like Copenhagen. Theirs are raised paths only for bicyclists and protected by a curb. Ours protect the riders with a strip of paint, and cars regularly drive in those lanes. I advocate for dedicated bicycle trails like the Interurban, Hank Aaron, etc., for bike lanes or wide shoulders for critical bike corridors, and for raised bike lanes where needed. I also advocate for not encouraging riding on busy streets if good alternate routes are near. And we need legal protection too, Vulnerable Users legislation.

        • Chris,

          I think we agree again. We need paved shoulders on HWY A because it is one of the critical corridor without another alternative that you talk about, and we should have neighborhood greenways parallel to busy streets. I do not excuse bike lanes on arterial streets like S. 2nd Street or the green lanes on North Avenue in East Tosa, we need them because people need to ride their bikes to many of the businesses on those streets. We should also improve the parallel side streets and create neighborhood greenways that are better places to ride a bike and live in a house.

          When I was the City of Milwaukee Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator, we installed the raised bike lane on S. Bay Street as a pilot. We also included a proposed network of protected bike lanes in the City Bike Plan. The Bike Fed continues to advocate for those higher level, “next generation” bicycle facilities.

          One thing to remember about Copenhagen, they gradually eliminated almost all of their on-street parking to accomodate the raised cycletracks. Street parking remains a sacred cow in the vast majority of the US. Many cities like NYC, Washington, D.C, and Chicago are adding protected bike lanes, but they are doing it on very wide streets by removing travel lanes.

          As for the Vulnerable User Law, thanks for advocating for that. We had a big majority of bi-partisan support for our Vulnerable User legislation, but the current leadership would not let it get to the floor for a vote with penalty enhancers in it. We will continue to advocate that our VU Law be strengthened, but you don’t win every fight. Of course having people like you advocating for us helps.

          • I haven’t studied a map, Dave, but I think I could get to any business on North 76th St., Capital Drive, North Av., etc. with a one block rerouting from a residential street. You defend spending on ’trip generator’ lanes that are no more protection than a painted line, that encourage bicyclists to chose main traffic artery routes. I don’t. Further I think it unnecessarily alienates some of the driving only public. Personally I ride the Interurban, Hank Aaron, Oak Leaf, New Berlin and Bugline Trails all the time. I don’t use the bike lanes in Milwaukee. Thank you for considering my view.

          • Chris,

            Bike lanes fit on all the streets you mention, the cost to add them is virtually insignificant ($.02/linear foot), adding bike lanes is proven to improve safety for all road users, reduce traffic speeds and get more people bicycling, so why not add them where they fit and add the neighborhood greenways on side streets, protected bike lanes where they fit, and trails where they fit? It is no different than adding Interstates, state highways, arterial roads, collector streets, town roads and local streets.

            The City of Milwaukee first signed green bike routes on side streets, long before they had any bike lanes. Those did very little to get people riding. Bicycle use increased 300% since they began adding bike lanes. Now that many of the streets where bike lanes fit are painted, Milwaukee needs to get those neighborhood greenways in to get the majority of bike riders riding more. I think we want the same thing here. Take a look at the city bike plan I linked before and look at the draft network of bicycle boulevards we suggested.

          • PS I was talking to a global warming true believer a few days ago. He equated it to extinction. I pointed out how many miles I bike a year and asked him why he does not bike commute to work. He is too intimidated. I mentioned that we were in a downtown restaurant and I had just arrived by bike.

            You dismiss bike lanes in residential areas as unnecessary. Your model is to make the more dangerous streets safer. You cater to people I consider idealists who think cars and bikes should be splendidly intermixed. But I like the idea of bikeways on safe routes made safer. I think some neighborhoods would welcome local car and bikes only designation. I don’t like cars coming up from behind me. You loose many potential riders who think bike commuters are suppose to mix it up on main roads.

          • Copenhagen is the ultimate model the Bike Fed promotes, I thought you liked what they have. We have to get there one step at a time though, and of course we are a long way from there and don’t expect that to happen any time soon. I don’t dismiss bike lanes in residential areas, I am just saying bike lanes don’t fit on local streets without removing parking, and you don’t have to remove parking and add painted bike lanes. Local streets don’t have any pavement markings, but they don’t need them if you turn those local streets into bicycle boulevards, which we advocate for.

            I still don’t see what we disagree about. You say you don’t like riding in bike lanes on arterial streets and many other people who like bicycling don’t either. We understand your dislike and have long recognized most people who ride feel the same way as you, hence our support for higher level facilities, like trails, protected bike lanes and neighborhood greenways. Because we support facilities for 80% of the riders does not mean we should ignore the other 20%. Pretty much every street is an arterial in any major city downtown, bike lanes and protected bike lanes are the only facilities that you can put in those locations. In many rural areas, highways are the only road for miles and the only way to get to many destinations. We need bike lanes and protected bike lanes on arterials, paved shoulders on highways and bicycle boulevards. We advocate for the appropriate facility for each location. We would love to have protected lanes everywhere, but as I mentioned, it took Copenhagen 20-30 years to remove all that parking to add cycletracks. We are not there yet, but we do advocate for it when we can.

            Sorry if I still don’t see where we disagree. We remain glad you ride a bike and glad you are a bicycle advocate.

  5. I never saw any part of Copenhagen that was like the single-family home neighborhoods we have all over Milwaukee. You say the pro-parking lobby won’t give you space to build protected lanes. So Milwaukee bike infrastructure might need be different than Copenhagen.

    Your workshop on greenway bike boulevard planning last month is very good news. Possible routes were noted. This is the closest Milwaukee has come to its first neighborhood to neighborhood greenway. I’m glad you and I are thinking in the same direction.

    • I know the City is looking at a neighborhood greenway on S. 37th Street to connect the Silver City area to the Menomonee Valley Passage and Hank Aaron State Trail. I also know that there is a group in Riverwest advocating for a Fratney Street neighborhood greenway. Kristen Bennett, the City of Milwaukee Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator gave me that information, but I’m sure she has other ideas. I have always thought we could have our first official bicycle boulevard or neighborhood greenway on Cambridge, north of Locust, virtually at no cost. It already has all the traffic calming you need, the only thing we would have to do is remove the stop signs at the intersections. Cambridge Woods already has lots of traffic calmed streets, but it still has too many unwarranted stop signs. Remove the unwarranted signs and that neighborhood could have our first pilot network.

      The residents have resisted removing the stop signs to date, but their opinions might change. In the meantime, people on bikes just blow the stop signs, which is unfortunate, but going to happen when you install stop signs to stop cars from speeding rather than for right of way control.

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