New bike bridge to offer amazing infrastructure

Work starts on new bridge across Yahara River...
New bike bridge to offer amazing infrastructure

I’ve been pedaling bikes around Madison so long I remember when we’d cross the West Beltline Highway at Old Sauk Road by waiting for traffic to clear and then dashing across four lanes of concrete.

Talk about an adrenaline rush. Old Sauk Road used to intersect U.S. Hwy 12 at the same level, with just a stop sign between riders and a 55 mile-per-hour kiss from a front bumper.

But in those days Old Sauk was the preferred “escape route” for cyclists looking to get on hilly country roads as quickly as possible. So despite the risks, we used it frequently on the way to Cross Plains and points beyond.

How times have changed. Old Sauk and the Beltline is now a tangled mess of SUVs, stoplights, fast food and strip malls. Only the most confident bike riders use it–and those who do must exercise extreme caution.

Fortunately, transportation planners in Wisconsin have continued to build bicycle paths, dedicated lanes, underpasses and overpasses that have more than made up for the increases in automobile congestion.

In fact, I’d argue that bicycle riding in the Madison area has never been better–or safer. Aside from a few small-minded drivers who still insist on shouting out the window or trying to intimidate cyclists by blowing clouds of black diesel exhaust, bikes and motor vehicles seemingly have reached a level of peaceful coexistence.

A big reason is that public officials have continued to create separate routes for bicyclists away from the roads. Everyone wins. Bikes get their own paths and drivers don’t have to worry about getting slowed down or hitting anybody.

The latest piece of amazing bicycle infrastructure is the new bike-pedestrian bridge across the Yahara River, connecting Dane County’s Lake Farm County Park with McDaniel Park in the Village of McFarland.

Due for completion next summer, the project includes over a mile of bridges and boardwalks. In fact, it will feature the longest pedestrian/bicycle bridge and boardwalk in Wisconsin that has never been used previously by trains or motor vehicles.

“We’re excited to begin construction on this long anticipated project and thankful to have the Wisconsin Department of Transportation as a partner to assist us with completing this very complex first phase of trail construction,” said Dane County Executive Joe Parisi in kicking off the bridge construction last week.

The $5.9 million “Lower Yahara River Trail” will eventually link Lake Farm Park with the city of Stoughton. Dane County has pitched in $1.3 million, with the balance funded by the Federal Highway Administration Transportation Alternative Program. The county has also provided another $593,000 for design and engineering.

A video of the future trail is here.

In addition to the bike trail, the project includes an accessible fishing pier near the railroad trestle on Lake Waubesa along with rest stops and observation areas. It also features historical markers honoring the Ho-Chunk Nation, which has long called the area home.

Personally, I can’t wait to pedal the new trail with the family. It sounds like a game-changer in terms of linking Madison to points south.

Schwinn provides bikes for Habitat For Humanity

Baby boomers zipping around on expensive carbon fiber bikes might not always realize that new bicycles can be cost prohibitive for many others.

But in an effort on that front, Madison-based Schwinn Bicycles is partnering with Habitat for Humanity of Dane County to offer new bikes to local families whose homes are completed by Habitat this year.

Since 1987, Habitat for Humanity of Dane County has built 241 solid and affordable homes. The homes are built in collaboration with the families, who provide labor and make monthly mortgage payments at a 0 percent interest rate.

“We want to thank Schwinn Bicycles for partnering with us,” said Valerie Johnson, Habitat CEO in announcing the program. “It’s a great gift to our families and helps make Dane County an even better place to live.”

Schwinn is looking to give away about 50 new bikes this summer so participating families will get a chance to explore Madison on two wheels and learn about the city’s incredible cycling infrastructure, says Milissa Rick, senior director of marketing for Schwinn.

“Our goal is to get families on bikes,” says Rick. “We want to encourage parents and children to ride together, as well as instill healthy habits and excitement around bicycles.”

Obtained by Pacific Cycle in 2001, Schwinn employs 93 people in Madison designing all of their bicycles. Pacific Cycle–located on Hammersley Road off the Beltline–also owns the Mongoose, Roadmaster, IronHorse, InStep and Kid Trax brands.

In addition to the Habitat bike program, Pacific Cycle has partnered with the Wisconsin Bike Federation on various local rides and programs, including the UW-Madison Department of Human Oncology/Carbone Cancer Center on the first ever “The Ride“, scheduled for Sept. 16.

Nice stuff.

Mike Ivey is a Madison-based freelance writer following a 30-year career at The Capital Times.