City Living

Bike City, USA: Madison, Wisconsin


Merrily rolling along on one of Madison's dedicated bike trails. Photo by Luton hide caption

itoggle caption Photo by Luton

This Midwestern town is known for its capitol building, its farmer's market and the sprawling state university campus that blankets the isthmus between Lakes Mendota and Monona.

I just spent a few days there, rented a bike from the venerable Yellow Jersey and learned that this is also a great place to be on two wheels. The city's bike map lists bike lanes, bike paths and bike routes.

In short, it's a cyclist's paradise. I set off in search of a replica of the Statue of Liberty in Warner Park, five miles out of town. I couldn't find the lady with the torch, but wasn't disappointed. The bike lanes were well marked and drivers treated me with respect, not the incessant honking that's the norm in New York City.

That was just the beginning in a series of pleasant surprises:

A network of converted rail trails crisscrosses Lake City and provides access to lakes and outlying neighborhoods. At the entry point to a bike-pedestrian path along Lake Menona, I found a vending machine with cycling supplies, part of a pilot project by Trek. Then, I passed by the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired Monona Terrace. It's surrounded by a waterfront bike path and includes something I'd never heard of — or seen: a bicycle elevator to shuttle cyclists from the lake to street level, four stories above.

The next day after a big breakfast at Mickie's Dairy Bar, I headed back to the Union for a last look at Lake Mendota. En route, I found another site for a sore cyclist's eyes: University Avenue has two or three lanes in each direction and it's under construction. But the bike lane on right side of the main thoroughfare is intact. And, when I went to make a left onto Park Avenue, there was a turning lane just for bikes.

Now, that makes a biker girl feel welcome. And, funny, unlike in New York, I didn't find myself cursing at motorists. Not even once.

The clincher: on the ride back to the airport, my cab driver said he gave up his own car and uses his bike to get around on his own time.



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As a resident and frequent biker here in Madison, I can second Laura's feelings. They even plow the bike lanes as quickly as they plow the streets. When I finally finish my PhD, I will be sad to leave.

Sent by Stacy | 12:56 PM | 7-10-2008

I went to college at Madison. Every morning, 5 am, biking to rowing practice. Then biking to class, then biking home, then biking to the student center, and on and on. What a great city Madison is.

Sent by Erin | 1:25 PM | 7-10-2008

Wow. It's not quite up there with Madison, but Boulder is fairly much a bikers paradise as well. Many miles of bike paths reaching all through the city with many underpasses and overpasses which means little contention with cars. It is easy to ride from a few miles east of Boulder to a few miles west, right through the heart of downtown, and not come within spitting distance of a single car. The path conveniently leads right past Dushanbe, the best teahouse on the planet. Boulder imported the entire building directly from Tajikistan. (Tajikistan got an internet cafe in trade. I think they got ripped.) We'll happily act as guides to anyone who wants one.

Sent by Dave Wiley | 2:13 PM | 7-10-2008

Wow. That sounds amazing.

You think New York is bad now, you should have been riding here in the '80s, when cabbies wouldn't just honk at you, they'd swerve to hit you. I kid you not.

Biking in New York is getting better. And it's going to continue to get better, let's hope. In the meantime, maybe I'll vacation in Madison next year.

Sent by Sarah Goodyear | 2:58 PM | 7-10-2008

Maddison sounds awesome! I have just started riding a bike around Denver and have not learned where all of the bike trails are. Too bad I don't live up in Boulder like Dave.

Sent by Julia from Denver | 4:07 PM | 7-10-2008

Madison, yes, is a great place to bike, and Andy, at Yellow Jersey, knows everything there is to know about bikes, but the real secret starts 10 miles west of town. We have countless thousands miles of low-traffic, good-pavement, hilly, curvy, barny roads ripe for the road biker. Drivers are even tame out there. Find Black Earth on a map, ride in just about any direction. Bliss on 2 wheels!

Sent by Scribo from Madison | 6:43 PM | 7-11-2008

You forgot that Madison is known as a bastion of elitism that dumps on the rest of the state as being quaint and hick-ish.

Venerable? Um. Yellow Jersey. Yeah. I'm not going to touch that one.

The university "blankets" maybe a third of the isthmus. Maybe.

FYI, Warner Park is in town.

The only reason we weren't honking was because we didn't know you were from New York City.

You don't end sentences with colons: you should end them with periods.

"Lake City"? That's not something we call Madison.

Monona Terrace (which is next to Lake MONONA) WAS designed by Wright, but they can't say it because they turned the inside into a convention hall, keeping the exterior facade. There were a lot of fights and lawsuits in the building of that sucker.

Are you sore or are your eyes sore?

University Ave. has ONE bike lane going in each direction, and the West bound lane currently disappears for quite a bit of distance completely and shares quite a bit more with a bus/right turn lane. Thus, it is not "intact". Also, there's no specific turning lane.

And you shouldn't start two sentences in a row with conjunctions. But I guess you can if you want to. Usually, that is only done for emphasis. But like I said, you can do what you want. And you can like it.

Finally, it's Park Street. Not Park Avenue. Park Avenue is in New York City. Isn't that where you're from? People from the East Coast aren't welcome here. Not until you stop sending us all the jerks who attend the UW.

Sent by steve | 1:17 AM | 7-17-2008