How about a bike-car truce?

From the pages of In Business magazine.

My brother Kurt is a dangerous fanatic. I mean that in the most respectful, loving — even admiring — way. But the fact remains, he’s cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. Or would be, anyway, if he ever allowed himself to ingest a nanogram of preservatives or a simple carb.

I say this not because he voted for Mark Neumann every time Neumann ran for whatever it was he was running for, but because he bikes something like 8,000 miles a year. How do I know this? Because he announces it on Facebook every year in December. Why does he do it in December? Because that’s when he takes his last bike trip for the year. Usually Dec. 31, when the rest of us are devising ways to burn off the metric ton of Chex mix and martini olives we scarfed down the previous week like Joey Chestnut on methamphetamine and medicinal hash.

Kurt lives in northern Wisconsin (Marinette), which is about as accommodating to bikers as Midtown Manhattan is to Amish stilt-walkers. I know. I used to live in Appleton and biked regularly. I got a lot of looks. People naturally assumed I was either a deeply dedicated environmentalist or on my eighth DUI — and in the Fox Valley, it’s a close call as to which of those is worse.

So I have an interesting perspective on the tension that often exists between bicyclists and non-bicyclists in this town. I commute to work by bike almost daily from April through November, and I find Greater Madison’s bicycling infrastructure to be a godsend, particularly compared to other places I’ve lived. But I also drive. And I’m often appalled by the behavior of Madison bicyclists.

Mayor Paul Soglin once joked, on his blog, that people who ride their bikes during snowstorms should be taken out and shot. But as Steven Elbow recently noted in a lengthy Cap Times feature on Madison’s surging reputation as a bicycle-friendly town, Soglin has picked up the pro-bicycle torch from former Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and run with it. Bikes aren’t going away — not in this city — and that’s a wonderful thing.

So how do we bridge the sometimes yawning gaps that exist between monomaniacal bikers like my brother Kurt — who has commuted by bike to work every day for something like two years, in blizzards, below-zero weather, and 100-degree heat — casual bikers like me, and car-centric folks who look down on and refuse to have any part of Madison’s world-class bicycle culture?

Easy. Mutual respect and tolerance.

I think Kurt is out of his mind, but I have mad respect for his bicycling prowess. (As a younger man, he once biked from Wyoming to Alaska, but that’s a whole other story.) When I bike, I also try to respect the rights and space of drivers by obeying our traffic laws. (That means stopping where appropriate, not drifting through intersections like a cloud of semi-incarnated smugness.)

(Continued)

 

And we bikers also need to respect the views of longtime business owners like New Orleans Take Out’s John Roussos, who says he has seen sales drop off in the wake of Sherman Avenue’s bicycle enhancements. NIMBY shouldn’t stand in the way of progress, but we also need to keep in mind where the tax base comes from that allows us to make these improvements.

At the same time, non-bicyclists should open their eyes both to bicycles on the roads and all the good that bicycles do. They lower health care costs, are easy on the environment, and are kinder to our roads. Bicycling supports numerous Wisconsin companies, including Trek Bicycle Corp., Saris Cycling Group, and Pacific Cycle, and according to Wisconsin Bike Fed, the $240 million our state has spent on bicycle projects since 1967 has helped boost our economy by $1.5 billion annually. In addition, a 2011 University of Massachusetts Amherst report concluded that bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure projects create 46% more jobs per $1 million spent than car-only projects.

So bicycling is a good investment, not just for our health and environment, but for our economy as well.

I understand if drivers sometimes think bicyclists are a little off-kilter — I think that sometimes, too. But we can surely learn to live in peace. If my brother and I can do it, anyone can. 

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