MADISON, Wis. -

With a noticeable upswing in the number of bikers on Madison’s streets in recent years, city officials said the number of biking accidents has increased along with it. A frequent cause of these incidents, according to city bike specialists, is the dangerous tendency of cyclists to run stop signs and red lights.

Lt. Carl Strasburg of the Madison Police Department’s Traffic Enforcement sector said riding through stop signs and red lights is the most frequent citation his officers issue to cyclists. Refusing to make the appropriate stops at intersections, said Strasburg, both threatens the safety of all citizens on the roads and causes unnecessary tensions with local drivers.

“The goal of our enforcement is to allow cars, bikes and walkers to all safely use the city’s roadways, sidewalks and bike paths,” Strasburg said. “There’s no reason why all three of those groups can’t safely use the streets, but it requires the bikers to be just as cautious as the drivers.”

To protect the safety of all Madison residents, Strasburg said, it is becoming increasingly important for cyclists to know the rules of the road.

These rules should be easy for bikers to remember, because Madison’s Pedestrian-Bicycle Coordinator Arthur Ross said the traffic laws regulating automobile use in Madison also apply to bicyclists.

“For any traffic violation you can get in a car, you can get on a bicycle,” Ross said. “This sometimes comes as a surprise to people. But running a stop sign, not yielding to a pedestrian, riding without lights at night, all of these can receive citations.”

Ross said the most common bike violations he sees are cycling at night without proper lights and improper use of the sidewalks while biking. Bikers can legally use the public sidewalks but must yield to all pedestrians.

Although bicycling violations do not result in any point reductions on the rider’s license, as is the case with driving violations, all traffic citations come with a monetary fine.

Strasburg said citizens aren’t always aware of the off-road biking rules either. A Madison city ordinance requires all bike-owning residents to have their bikes registered with the City of Madison. Registering a bicycle can be done at any Madison fire station or online at the city’s website for $10, and is good for four years.

Noting an increase in the number of reported bike thefts and accidents since the spring, Strasburg said bicycle registration has a number of benefits for cyclists. When police recover a lost or stolen bicycle, they can seek its owner by matching the bike’s serial number to those in the city’s bike registration records. Recovered bicycles that aren’t found in these records often cannot be returned to their owners. In the event of a biking accident, city officials can also identify any unidentified injured riders by cross-referencing the bike’s serial number to the city’s registration records.

With the winter season approaching and safe biking becoming more difficult, Strasburg said his department expects to see a rise in abandoned bicycles that can result in a public nuisance. Many local bike shops offer cheap storage options, a valuable resource for those wanting to protect their bikes from winter conditions.

Budget Bicycle Center, a company with four separate retail locations on Regent Street, provides bike storage throughout the entire year. Kyle Abernathy, a Budget Bicycle sales associate, said cyclists can store their bikes for up to six months at any time of the year for $18. He said the winter season is the most common time for bike storage requests but added the company’s warehouse has never reached capacity and has ample space for new customers.

In 2012, Bicycling magazine named Madison the sixth-best biking community in the country for its impressive network of bike paths, which make biking a convenient and enjoyable mode of transportation. Ross said with the expenses of other modes of transportation, he is happy to see many residents appreciating the biking opportunities the city has to offer.

“The number of bikers goes up all the time. We see it anecdotally, in our bike counts, and there are constantly more people looking for city bike information, which is good to see,” Ross said. “There are a whole host of reasons why people are attracted to biking, and all of those reasons can be satisfied in Madison.”

--Lauren Tubbs, special to Channel3000.com