NPR logo Bike City, USA: Madison, Wisconsin

City Living

Bike City, USA: Madison, Wisconsin

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

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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.

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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.