Madison lacks cycling opportunities the suburbs enjoy

Options for singletrack remain limited in Madison
Madison lacks cycling opportunities the suburbs enjoy

Despite being one of only a few platinum-level bike friendly communities in the nation, Madison lags behind its suburbs in providing mountain biking opportunities and has actually banned cyclocross from its parks.

For mountain bike singletrack in Madison, the only place to go is Quarry Park (not to be confused with Quarry Ridge in Fitchburg) southeast of University Avenue and Midvale Boulevard in the residential neighborhood behind Whole Foods Market.

A sketchy park for many years–where unsanctioned and dangerous rider-made trails snaked around equally illegal campsites–Quarry Park now has an official friends group and, as of April 2016, a formal trail-use plan. The friends group, made up of members of the Capital Off Road Pathfinders and the Rocky Bluff Neighborhood Association, are now working with the city parks department to implement the plan and make the park safe for bikers and walkers alike.

Less accessible is Northeast Park, just beyond Interstate 94 near the headquarters of American Family Insurance. In 2015, the city approved a mowed cyclocross practice course there.

A fall and early winter sport, cyclocross is done on snaking grass courses–with tight turns, sand pits and obstacles bikers need to dismount their bikes before jumping over. ‘Cross bikes have drop handlebars and skinnier tires than are found on standard mountain bikes.

While a dedicated ‘cross course exists there, Northeast Park lacks other amenities, such as bathrooms and shade. “We have a vision to build something like Valmont there,” said CORP member Rob Lewis, referring to a bike park in Boulder, Colorado, famous for its flow trails, slalom areas, jump lines, pump tracks, skills area as well as a cyclocross course.

“There’s not enough revenue for all that,” says Madison Parks Superintendent Eric Knepp. Nevertheless, he says his department has heard requests for a variety of off-road biking facilities during the ongoing process of updating the city’s park and open space plan.

Madison lacks cycling opportunities the suburbs enjoy

The feedback the city has received includes the results of a survey done last December by CORP. More than 86 percent of the 467 mountain bikers who responded say they want more flow trails (think biking trails with dips and banked corners), especially on the north and east sides of Madison where there are none currently. And while the survey showed support for a large bike park, the majority would be satisfied with singletrack in or near their neighborhoods.

Although city land for new biking areas is hard to come by, Knepp says it makes sense to develop a few mini mountain bike areas adjacent to the paved paths that crisscross the city. “I could definitely see as a goal over the next five years adding four such amenities, like community park-type assets with two to three miles” of dirt trails, Knepp says.

Those who answered CORP’s survey also say they want the ban lifted on cyclocross in city parks. In 2012, when ‘cross practices at Garner Park on the westside started attracting 50 to 100 cyclists every Wednesday evening, the city banned the practices out of concern for pedestrians and possible damage to the grass (which cyclocross organizers say they avoid causing by not holding practices when the ground is wet; and if they do, they reseed the grass).

The situation brought to light a city ordinance that bans biking in city parks other than on paved paths. “Our general policy toward bikes in parks is negative. It’s an entrenched policy,” Knepp says. “Without parks commission approval of a designated route, riding is illegal.”

But allowances can be made, like when dog parks and pickleball games won city approval. “I think cyclocross is pretty cool and a Madison sport,” Knepp says. “It is somewhat unfair that the city has not addressed it.”

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