Why Ride the Drive (Northside) is going to suck…

Edit Note:  Come prove us wrong.  Seriously.  Great time will be had by all.  This Sunday, North side by Warner Park, be there or you’ll just be proving us right.

Anti-cyclist Mayor Paul Soglin has had it in for cyclists, Ride the Drive, and pretty much anyone that actually enjoyed getting out and enjoying a gorgeous late spring or late summer day ever since he was elected.  It was almost the first thing on the chopping block after he took office, opting to cancel one of the (two) hugely popular events before the citywide outcry forced him to reverse course.  Since he wasn’t able to cancel it entirely, he just shrank the original course before going back and stewing in his office.  This weekend is another of his “grand ideas,” moving the Ride off to a far-flung area of the city that’s (mostly) out of the way of both people who would be inconvenienced by it as well as anyone trying to, you know, participate.  There’s been almost no media coverage of the event, no information getting out to people who (in the 10s of thousands) have shown up at the event in the past, and I’m predicting an epic fail of monumental proportion.

1.  People don’t want to ride down N. Sherman Ave.

Seriously.  The whole point of “Ride the Drive” was that you got to ride down one of the most beautiful, and busiest thoroughfares in the entire city.

  Normally reserved for traffic jams, backups stretching for miles and the occasional car accident, cyclists, rollerbladers, joggers, and the occasional Segway user were able to experience a glorious and gorgeous stretch of pavement that literally leads right into our downtown.  After it reaches the city, it continues along the lakeside before going under Monona Terrace, a gorgeous Frank Lloyd Wright designed/inspired building that is one of the jewels of our city.  Each year there have been orchestras playing along the route there, taking advantage of the acoustics of an otherwise pedestrian highway tunnel.  Turning onto E. Washington leads directly up to the Capitol Building, with an amazing view of the dome and our golden state statue on top.  The route then looped around the Capitol and down State Street, where plenty of cyclists could be seen relaxing at the outdoor patios and bars, enjoying both the atmosphere and a few cold and delicious WI brews.

The route for the upcoming “Northside” RtD is hardly has stellar.  One of it’s main roads will be N. Sherman Ave, which is only known about by cyclists as “that horrible 4-lane road without bike lanes and that’s not getting bike lanes even though it’s a conduit and a natural way to get from Madison to the North Side because the shop owners and land owners were petrified that any changes to the road might make it harder for customers to drive to their Subway/Walgreens/whatever.”  Maybe it’s being included in this route as a way to allow cyclists to see the forbidden fruit, to encounter meaningless strip malls in all their suburban-wasteland decay, and to view sights that would never be accessible from a simple “bicycle”?  Stellar sights such as the cars waiting in line at the local McDonalds, the “Mattresses on sale, 80% off!!” billboards, and joy of rolling past magnificent fields of asphalt, each in its own part of the “freshly-paved, fading, cracked, cracked with weeds, potholes, BIG potholes, and back to freshly-paved” cycle?

2.  There’s no way to easily access it by bicycle

Yep.  The RtD site encourages people to “ride a bike to Ride the Drive-Northside,” the fact of the matter is that to the best of my knowledge there is no direct route from downtown to the event.  Remember that whole bit about how N. Sherman Ave doesn’t have bike lanes?  Well, that also makes it a bit hard to get to the event, since the primary route to Warner Park is on N. Sherman Ave…  (**NOTE!  Google Maps shows N. Sherman Ave as a “Bike Friendly Road.”  Not sure who came up with that designation, but it’s certainly not bike friendly.)The best route that we can figure out would be Capital City Trail to the Yahara Creek Trail, to the Aberg Ave Trail.  Yes, that’s a couple miles out of the way, and most people won’t know to put that all together, but that’s ok, there’s going to be adequate parking for those able to drive to the event, right?

3.  There’s no adequate parking for those able to drive to the event.

From the RtD website:  “If you are driving to the event, please be aware that there will be NO parking in Warner Park or Warner Beach. You will need to look for alternative and available street parking.”  So the 20,000-50,000 people who have attended the event in the past are supposed to find “available street parking.”  Seriously?

4.  They’re not closing down *all* of the roads, only one direction in some cases.

Part of the joy of the previous Ride the Drives was the utter silence that thousands of cyclists going by makes.  No engine noises, no car honking, no screeching of tires, just the soft purr of bike tires on pavement, or the aforementioned orchestra playing in the tunnel below Monona Terrace.  It was noticeable when we had our booth up last year, as we didn’t really notice the silence till we were packing down and traffic was allowed back on the route.  Suddenly I was jolted from my serenity by a loud car honking at some other car for doing something trivial, and all of the normal sounds of a bustling city came roaring back.  This year they’re not shutting down all of Northport Drive, and they’re allowing “residential” traffic on Troy Drive.  No clue what that means…

5.  It’s just not the same.

Yes, part (most) of this is probably petulant grumblings of someone who *has* something and doesn’t want it taken away, but there’s something special about these types of rides.  It’s about riding through downtown, along some of the most heavily trafficked (and least bicycle friendly) places in the city with several thousand of your fellow cyclists.  It’s the same as when I used to do the NYC 5-Borough Bike Tour that not only ran through parts of the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, but also right up 5th Avenue, through Central Park, and on up into Harlem.  I rode on highways (FDR Drive), across the East River (twice, including across the massive 59th bridge) and on the BQE (Brooklyn Queens Expressway).  I rode through an urban jungle devoid of cabbies and buses, through Midtown Manhattan, and we took over an entire Staten Island Ferry boat (several of them, actually).  It’s about sharing the beauty of the city with thousands of other cyclists, and knowing that, for that one day (at least for the 5 BBT), cyclists are a priority to cars as opposed to it being the other way around.

This….  event holds none of the same allure when it’s transplanted from downtown to the North Side.  It’s as if cyclists are being pushed into an obscure and hard-to-get-to area in the hopes that we’ll realize just how foolish we are to be opting for anything other than a car for our transportation needs.  Or that even if we do show up in droves, we’ll do it somewhere on the outskirts of town where we won’t momentarily inconvenience those people in cars who just have to get somewhere right away because it’s very, very, very important.  We’ll ride around in our little circle, past parks, libraries and strip malls and go “weeeeeeeee” while the grown-ups go about whatever very important thing they have to do.  It’s removing the priority that cyclists are given for one or two days per year, and lumping it into just another bike ride.

So, we’re pretty disappointed in it, but…  BUT!!!!  I do hope it’s a good turnout.  I hope it’s packed with people, that it’s a great turnout and that everyone has a blast.  We’ll be there on Sherman Ave, with a tent and bicycles to test ride, so swing by and say hello!  And, you know, prove me wrong.  :)

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