Monday, May 24, 2010

Living In A Bicyclist's Paradise

Presumably, the $147,000 the City of Madison will spend on the latest bike-friendly scheme – “bike boxes” at busy intersections – will just come out of some department’s operating budget. Because if you put this latest scheme up to a vote, I’m convinced it would be soundly rejected.

Briefly, here’s the story: Dave and Kathy and 19 of their friends went to Germany and the Netherlands a few weeks ago on a “fact-finding” mission. The facts they were looking for, apparently, were related to making bicycling a more safe and appealing thing for the folks back here in the People’s Republik of Madison.

I’m not grousing about the junket or its cost, most of which was picked up by sources other than the city and county coffers. And they came back with some good ideas after spending some time in bike-friendly cities on the other side of the big pond – like pointing out that the typical bike sold in the U.S. is anything but “commuter friendly”. 15 speeds and those low-raked handlebars don’t make for an easy jaunt to work. You need old-fashioned stuff like high handlebars and chain guards.

But the bike-box thing? Please.

The first one went in a week ago today on Williamson Street at Wilson, an isthmus neighborhood where you KNOW the homies loved it. The bike-box is a huge red box on the pavement, with a separate “stop” line for bikes and cars. The bikes are allowed to queue in FRONT of all the motor vehicles, and when the light turns green, the bikes move out ahead of the cars and trucks.

So far, it’s just another one of those things that make Madison one of the most interesting cities in the nation. The topic got a workout on local radio talk shows all week long, with people grousing about how it’s another example of how cars take a back seat to bikes in Madison, blah blah blah.

We know that.

But I didn’t hear anybody discussing the COST of this latest bike-friendly program: EIGHT THOUSAND DOLLARS per. It’s not just red paint; it’s some sort of thermoplastic material that’s affixed to the pavement with a blowtorch, and it includes reflective glass beads in the mix. EIGHT THOUSAND DOLLARS????

The company that’s hawking this bike-box scam is a North Carolina outfit called Flint Trading, and they’re being so kind as to charge the city “only” three grand of the 16 grand the first two bike boxes will cost. And the city has plans for 18 more of them, presumably sans the friendly discount. That’s 147 grand.

Isn’t THAT stylish?!

Just another day in bicycle paradise. But you gotta wonder how this special hi-tech red reflective box will stand up to a winter’s worth of salt, sand, and plowing. Perhaps the good folks of the Willy Street neighborhood will just ban salting, sanding, and plowing this winter.

Oh, so what. It’s only money. And it’s for the bicyclists.


  1. This 'red box' is not mentioned in my state driving manual. I haven't a clue how to comply with the intent of the ordinance. If I end up in the box due to traffic pressures, do I have to surrender the right of way to a bicyclist who demands that space? Are there points or fines? If this is on a state or federal roadway how does this rule affect commerce and uniformity?

  2. So when can we start licensing bicycles to help pay for their roadways...