Here’s some meaty stuff right before the holiday weekend.
Earlier this week I sent out an e-mail blast to our database notifying everyone of the news of our drop in the League of American Bicyclists Bicycle Friendly State Ranking. I received the following e-mail response from a member of our community:
Kevin, I appreciate your passion for bicycling and support through the Federation. However, the State of Wisconsin has only recently recovered from a near catastrophic financial disaster. It may be better to develope a database of private donors and seek to self fund as time goes on. There will be fewer funds available from the state. I too am enthusiastic about bicycling in Wisconsin and would contribute but I do not expect my neighbor to be as enthusiastic and I feel I have no claim on my neighbor’s money in support of my interest(s). Add my name to the database.
Below is my response. I’d enjoy hearing your feedback in the comments below.
Enthusiastic Wisconsin Bicyclist:
Thank you very much for your response.
The Bike Fed is aggressively bi-partisan and we work diligently with whomever is in office to promote and grow the great asset that is Wisconsin bicycling. It’s not only great for our health, great for our communities and great for attracting the sort of talent businesses need to stay competitive, it’s also great for our bottom line. Wisconsin bicycling delivers an economic return of $1.5 billion annually (read more here).
Wisconsin has large financial challenges however amidst these challenges our political leaders do make investments on assets that they feel will yield a return. I feel strongly that Wisconsin bicycling is not only one of those assets but it also has proven to consistently yield significant return. Please consider:
- The country’s first rails-to-trail project, the Elroy-Sparta, was built in Wisconsin in 1967. Wisconsin now has one of the country’s best trail networks and one of the country’s largest tourism economies.
- Thanks to continual investments to support our dairy industry Wisconsin has a near fully paved rural road network. This rural road network provides some of the greatest cycling in the country.
- For all intents and purposes, the nation’s bike industry is based in Wisconsin. Trek is the country’s largest distributors of bikes to bike shops. Pacific Cycles is the country’s largest distributor of bikes to the mass market (Walmart, Target, etc.). These companies are only the largest of many bicycle-related businesses in our state. These companies employ thousands of people.
- There are over 300 bicycle-related events in Wisconsin every year. These races and events (run on our trail network and our exception rural road) drive returns to lodging, retailers, restaurants, etc.
The current biennial state transportation budget is $6.5 billion AND Bicycling is an integral component of our state’s transportation system. In this budget however zero state funds are allocated to bicycle education, bicycle planning or bicycle infrastructure.
I would never argue for a “government will just fix it” solution. The unstoppable trend, as you know, is to find effective public/private partnerships. However, I’ve concluded that public investment (a piece of that $6.5 BB transportation budget) is absolutely crucial to the continued development of Wisconsin bicycling. If Wisconsin does not make investments we will lose the lofty bicycle standing we have held for 40+ years, we will have roads that are less safe for people on bikes, we will lose the bicycle companies and we will become a less attractive, less desirable and less competitive state.
Please also consider the following: over 11% of Wisconsin adults (18+) do not drive an automobile. Would you allow these over 400,000 neighbors to apply the same standard to automobile-infrastructure investments that you are applying to bicycling? How shall we then look at investments in freight, rail, transit, aviation or ports? How do we align our neighbors’ individual enthusiasms and interests against the investment in each of these modes? Is transportation a “cost” or is transportation a critical investment that the government is uniquely positioned to shepherd?
I don’t want to suggest that the answers to the above questions are black and white nor do I want to suggest that the Bike Fed’s work is solely about chasing the state piggy bank. The Bike Fed also lobbies for bicycle-friendly legislation that improves safety. We educate thousands of adults and children every year on how to operate their bicycles. We work closely with schools around the state to improve walking and biking conditions for children. We also spend much of our time simply encouraging people to get out and ride their bikes.
Most importantly, we work with people like YOU who care about Wisconsin bicycling and want to come up with creative ways to make it better. I’d enjoy meeting you and even better yet riding with you. I’d like to hear your perspective.
Please also consider subscribing to our blog here. This would give you an ongoing update on our work to promote and grow Wisconsin bicycling. I hope you will find what we do to be thoughtful and diligent.