The following is a recap of our first open public meeting which occurred on October 13 at the Watertower Chop House in Sun Prairie.
The meeting started off with a quick introduction to Mayor Paul Esser who entertained while talking about how, when he was a kid, everyone desired to get a car and start driving. Gas was cheap then. He feels we, or at least our grandchildren, will see $8/gallon gasoline which may cut down on the amount of driving. He wants Sun Prairie to be ready for that day.
The Mayor wanted us to know he was there for two purposes; one political, the other personal. On the political side he is focused on transportation and wants to make sure these aspects of transportation are cared for:
- Residents headed out of Sun Prairie
- Residents moving within Sun Prairie
- Non-residents headed into Sun Prairie
He would also like to see alternative modes of transportation, non-passenger car, available to cover these aspects as well as a potential Park and Ride within Sun Prairie for those headed away from our city.
The Mayor brought up the recent creation of the ad-hoc Transportation Commission with the focus on studying transportation needs and presenting solutions. He informed the group that two people in the SPBAG were members of this commission, Peter Dettmer and Chris Clinton.
There was also a note about a future funded study on potential transportation options for the city of Sun Prairie.
Back to his goals of making Sun Prairie easier to move in and around for those not driving:
- He let us know his children live in large cities and don’t drive. It’s difficult to move a car around and parking, if found, is expensive. Thus they use mass transportation and other alternative means of travel, such as bicycles.
- He would like future road projects to consider alternative means of transportation and potentially allocate space for both people on bicycles and pedestrians.
He reminded us that he too is a bicycle rider, as is his wife, and our goals to make cycling safer are important to him personally. The Mayor then warned us that City Planner, Tim Semmann, had 400 plus slides and reminded us that $8/gallon of gas would definitely get more people on bikes.
Peter Dettmer thanked the owner of the Watertower Chophouse, Gary, for waiving the fee for our meeting and reminded everyone that the bar was open for both drinks and sodas. This followed with introductions by all in attendance. Some key observations:
- More than 40% of people in Sun Prairie cannot drive.
- Tamar, writer for The Star, lives in Cottage Grove and would ride to work but doesn’t feel safe on the roads between our two cities.
- We do have two children’s mountain bike programs in town, but no local place to ride
- Most of the people in attendance are commuters, casual and social riders, not competitors and athletes
- There seems to be a few tandems in town (Ed: future tandem rally?)
- Attendee Jim mentioned he would commute but fears the ride to campus would leave his children orphans
- Attendee Chris is surprised by the friendliness of local resident drivers who ‘get stuck’ behind him while he rides on Rattman.
Progressing thru the presentation various members of the steering committee stood and spoke:
- Nick Nigro spoke about Awareness of which a key piece has been awareness for our advocacy group. We are looking at the infrastructure for cycling in SP and do already have support from the Mayor, City Planner, the Bike Fed and more. Now we just need to grow awareness with the residents in Sun Prairie as we grow awareness of bicycle riding in town.
- Peter talked about the efforts made in presenting our first Bicycle Friendly Community application, our earning an honorable mention, and the areas where Sun Prairie needs to improve in order to earn the bronze level. He did point out that our data for the percent of paths on arterial lanes was wrong and we need to get a more realistic count of riders versus using an older census report. We will apply again, not sure if we will aim for Spring or Summer of 2017 yet. We will need help with the bike count and preparing the next application.
- Chris Clinton described our efforts so far with multi-user dirt trails (called by most as mountain bike trails) in Sun Prairie including showing where we are looking now. There was a quick discussion on the types of trails (narrow, slow and open to a wide variety of riders, not extreme mountain biking) and the levels of support we currently have with the SP Parks and Recreation Commission and local residents. Asked that everyone consider helping with the trail building once that gets underway. Attendee Wayne offered to chat afterwards regarding a friend who might be able to help with a flood water report for that space.
- Matt Ghiloni spoke about the activities we participated in this year including bike parking at various events, commuter stations on Bike to Work Day, and our own BBB cycling event in the spring. He described their success, support from the city and mentioned that we could do more with more help. The number of volunteers manning these events is pretty small and the amount of labor is as well. With more people, every could work less time spreading the load and potentially offer support to more events.
Sun Prairie's City Planner
Tim Semmann, Sun Prairie City Planner, kicked off his portion by letting us know that reports mention people don’t like three things: sprawl, density and change. So, “let’s not do anything and it will be fine”. We laughed and then he mentioned that he forgot the 400 slide presentation so we were safe from a long night.
Tim began with a slide showing the current bicycle lanes in Sun Prairie, both the on-street lanes, the off-street lanes and some future plans. One slide showed current projects including the extension of Main St to the west side neighborhoods (finished), the new section of Bird from Linnerude south (done) and another extension to add a path along Park St. to the high school. Plus, a quick discussion on the project on C where there will be both an off-street path and marked on street paths.
His future project slide included an off-street path thru Meadow Crossing on the east side making it easier to get to the high school, off-street paths thru the soon-to-be neighborhood on the west side near the upcoming Menards, and on street marked paths along the future re-done Brooks Drive and Thompson Rd. section between Grand and Main. He also mentioned extending the current path on north side of 19 (Windsor) to Grand (C). The existing path ends a short distance west of Thompson.
During the QnA phase attendee Jim suggested the city consider motion sensors or lights at crossing near the 151 to add some safety to riders attempting to move from one side of Sun Prairie to the other. (Ed.: this might be something to consider at Reiner and O’Keefe)
Wisconsin Bicycle Federation
Mayor Dave (Dave Cieslewicz) then spoke on regional projects. Dave is currently the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Bicycle Federation and previous the mayor of Madison (thus the nickname). He described our Bike Fed as the largest state-based bicycle federation in the country and one of the few advocacy groups that is continuing to grow. He also mentioned how having a Bicycle Friendly Community rating can help with drawing active and social people to a city.
He wanted us to know that cycling advocacy groups should not be against cars and driving, that the goals should be to offer freedom, freedom to choose which form of transportation a person uses to move around. He described how the country has spent billions improving roads and automobiles so drivers feel safer. The same types of efforts can be made for cycling and pedestrians for a lot less money.
He mentioned reading the new county budget which includes a lot of work in favor or support of cycling. Some of that includes paving over twenty-five miles of county highway shoulders, filling the gap between the Glacial Drumlin Military Ridge trails, and creating a planning position solely focused on cycling infrastructure. He suggested we attend the Oct 19th public hearing on the budget and let our local politicians know we support the planned budget. Well, suggested we read it and then offer support.
Dave spoke about Safe Routes to School starting off with a note that today only 15% of children ride their bikes to school. A couple decades before over 60% of children rode their bicycles to school. With the growing issue of childhood obesity, our society should do what we can to reduce suffering, and in the long run save money, by teaching children to be healthy. Getting more children to ride to school is one effort toward improving our youth’s health.
Safe Routes to School has been re-funded for another two years with the next program starting in the fall of 2017 for Dane County. This program is open to any elementary school in the county. They just need to apply for the curriculum which is a week-long program aimed at 4th and 5th graders.
Dave is also working with a program in the county, along with the Madison Community Organization, to collect and offer free bikes to children in need. More details to come as that program gets underway. They will need volunteers as existing programs in other cities resulted in offer bicycles, helmets and locks and the bikes will need to be prepared and fitted, helmets sizes and fit and children taught how to use them.
He asked us to reach out to State politicians and remind them that the Bike Fed sent them a survey regarding their programs for cycling and pedestrians. They have not heard from either. In particular Representative Gary Hebl and Senator Mark Miller. Many seats in the house and senate are up for vote. Time to think about what each candidate stands for. Our Mayor, Paul Esser, reminded us that local politics aren’t up until Spring so focus that energy on the national and State level for now and then start poking the local folks this winter. This was made in a joking manner with everyone laughing.
Dave wanted us to know that there was an effort to get Complete Streets back on the ballet as it had passed but was repealed in the last budget. He feels this will be difficult to pass. However, local governments can enact similar ordinances requiring new road projects consider money being spent no cycling and pedestrians. He also reminded us that this is not anti-car, it’s about given everyone an opportunity to move along a particular corridor.
He suggested we consider a ‘slow roll’, an all-inclusive bike rider with the whole group moving at a leisurely pace thru town. The idea is not to block traffic, like Critical Mass events. The goal would be to let people know they are okay to ride a bicycle in town, that there are others like them, that we are all one big group and maybe this could be used to tell folks about various parts of town and the history of Sun Prairie. All they need is a helmet and the ride could be anywhere from one mile to ten. The better Slow rolls have started and finished at an establishment in town allowing for everyone to congregate before and after and support the sponsoring establishment by purchasing food and drinks.
Dave also described the State Bikeways Program that is currently underway. Run by Adventure Cycling, this is a bicycle highway network across the country using numbers similar to our roadway system. In Wisconsin, the DNR, DOT and Bike Fed are working together on a study to determine the safest routes for bicycles thru the state and offering recommendations for connections that should be created. The routes will eventually be marked using signs.
Open Floor for Discussions
During the open discussion portion attendee Christine mentioned events in Port Washington and Milwaukee where beer and food tents were set up and the bicycle paths allowing folks to stop, mingle, enjoy the sites and then continue riding. The events were supported by, and proceeds went to, the local Parks and Recreation groups.
Another attendee, Chris, mentioned the Love to Ride program, which his company just finished, as a way to get staff at local businesses excited to commute via bike.
The Mayor suggested the SPBAG reach out to the city TV and radio station. Maybe consider a cycling specific program.
A couple people mentioned liking our logo and the availability of t’shirts, decals and magnets.
The Slow Ride idea was a hit and it was suggested that we consider adding technical courses to that event such as how to maintain your bike, flat tire repair, etc.
We also received potential support toward setting up a non-profit status and discussed bike racks for businesses within town.
The Steering Committee asked for help with the following:
- More support/volunteers at events
- Spreading the word regarding our advocacy efforts
- Growing attendance at our future quarterly public meetings
- Open communication with the Lions Club, the Chamber of Commerce and other local groups
And that’s a wrap. Thanks to all who attended and participated. Thanks also to everyone who has supported us along the way. We hope you will continue to support us as we grow awareness of cycling in Sun Prairie and work toward building a safer and friendly place to ride.
The Sun Prairie Bicycle Advocacy Group Steering Committee