In this rough economy, a $50 bike can get you just as far as a $12,000 car, but maybe not quite as fast and on some days, not quite as dry. Bicycles have been in existence in all manner of forms since the early 1800s but their shape has since stabilized into the double-triangle diamond frame that we see on modern bicycles today. Still, cars dominate the road.
Most traffic laws have been shaped around motorized traffic and bikes have always fit into a grey area. Do bicycles need to come to a full stop at stop signs or can they slowly coast through? In Idaho they can coast and this law is coming under heavy consideration and scrutiny in Portland, Ore.
Are bicycles allowed to pass 10 cars stopped in a traffic jam? Technically no, because bikes are supposed to be considered "regular traffic" and equal to cars. Are bikes allowed the full lane on city streets? Yes, but only as long as they're not purposefully blocking motor traffic (though cars traveling at the same speed as a bike are allowed the full lane as long as they'd like). Are cyclists allowed to cross the Hoan bridge? The view is beautiful, but unfortunately no, bicycles are not allowed on the freeway.
Confused yet? It's safe to say that most people are, and that's where the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin comes in. OnMilwaukee.com sat down with Encouragement Manager Shea Schachameyer to find out how the Bike Fed works to help pass bike laws in Wisconsin.
OnMilwaukee.com: What is the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin all about?
Shea Schachameyer: We are a statewide non-profit organization and we were founded in 1988. We are the oldest statewide bicycle advocacy organization. Our mission is to make Wisconsin one of the best places in the world to be on a bike.
OMC: What are the recent projects you've been involved in?
SS: One of the biggest successes we've had happened recently. At the end of April we hosted Wisconsin's first state bike summit in Madison. At that summit we were able to bring together over 400 people from throughout Wisconsin to advocate for better bike policies at the state level. We advocated for three things and one was very gratifying because it passed that day when we were lobbying. It was dooring legislation, which means that for people who are parked and about to get out of their car it is their responsibility to see if a bicycle is coming up on their left and to not open their car door into oncoming traffic. So, it's a small thing to protect bicycles rights to be in the road.
The other things we were lobbying for, which we are going to continue to work for throughout the next year are, (supporting) a fair share of transportation funds for bicycle infrastructure and maintenance in Wisconsin and ... getting complete streets legislation passed at the state level. The meat behind (the fair share of transportation funds) is currently the federal transportation administration recommends that the state department of transportation spend at least 3 percent of their funding on bicycle infrastructure. Currently Wisconsin spends 1.4 percent annually, which is less than half of the federal recommendation. So what we're asking is for Wisconsin to increase that to 3 percent, which is right in line with the federal recommendation.
It would be substantial ... huge for Wisconsin because that's more than twice the amount of money that is currently spent. And getting complete streets legislation passed at the state level would mandate that anytime a street is constructed or reconstructed, bicycle pedestrian accommodations have to be considered. That doesn't mean that every street that's constructed is going to have a bike lane or sidewalk, but it would at least have to be a consideration because it's the least expensive time to install them.
OMC: How many people are in your offices?
SS: We have nine full time staff and a bunch of part time staff.
OMC: How is it supported?
SS: It's all membership supported.
OMC: What does a membership to the Bike Fed mean?
SS: Membership means you're adding your voice to our strength as an organization. It was huge when we just had this lobbying effort to say, "Well, we have these 450 people with us today, but really our organization represents over 4,000 voices from all around Wisconsin." As a member you get benefits as well. You get updates on what we're doing, action alerts for things that are really timely happening in your knack of the woods. We send them out depending on where people live. You also get discounts at bike shops, so you'll earn your membership back.
OMC: Is riding a bike just a fad? When gas prices started to rise, people began thinking about switching to fuel-efficient cars, but when they dropped back down, people seemed to forget about what had just happened and started buying the same old standard fuel driven cars. Do you think the bump in cycling will follow a similar pattern?
SS: I think it's here to stay. Interestingly enough, Wisconsin hosts an amazing percentage of the bicycling industry in the U.S., and even in the world, and the bicycle industry had it's best year ever last year, and that was a direct result from the rise in gas prices last spring that drove people to consider using bikes as transportation. The Bicycle Federation is currently working on creating the City of Milwaukee bicycle master plan and with that have determined where biking is currently at in Milwaukee so that when projects and programs are presented we can see the effect they've had on increasing bicycling. So with that evaluation we did at the beginning of the year we've been able to see the number of trips that have been taken by bike in Milwaukee just in this past year have grown by 30 percent. And that is more than five times the national average, which is just...phenomenal. So, bicycling has increased significantly in Milwaukee, and I don't think that it's going to decrease anytime soon.
OMC: What is the difference between what you guys do and what the Milwaukee's bicycle and pedestrian coordinator do?
SS: Dave Schlabowski, the city's bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, actually used to work for the Bike Fed. and one of the things he did was advocate that they should hire a bicycle and pedestrian coordinator. Now in that position, his day-to-day is to look only at Milwaukee and make bicycle and pedestrian facilities happen around the city, whereas a campaign that we ran in Milwaukee last year was the bike racks on buses campaign. It's not a Milwaukee-only campaign and it's going to have a large affect on many levels in the city of Milwaukee. We were working with the Milwaukee County board of supervisors as well as the transit system. So we're able to work outside of the city and be advocates for change whereas Dave Schlabowski helps out once that approval has happened. And as an organization, we're also state wide, so we've got offices in both Milwaukee and Madison, but we're definitely doing work all throughout the state.
OMC: What kind of bike do you ride?
SS: Oh, I have a number of bikes.
OMC: So, which is your current favorite?
SS: My favorite these days is a fixed gear that I built up that has the largest front basket ever created.
OMC: Well, thanks for speaking with us!
SS: If you haven't visited our Web site we've got tons of stuff on Bike to Work Week and all of our Milwaukee event listings. We also counted up the number of miles people pledged for Bike to Work Week. It's currently at 26,799 and we'll be updating that throughout the week.
Jason McDowell grew up in central Iowa and moved to Milwaukee in 2000 to attend the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.
In 2006 he began working with OnMilwaukee as an advertising designer, but has since taken on a variety of rolls as the Creative Director, tackling all kinds of design problems, from digital to print, advertising to branding, icons to programming.
In 2016 he picked up the 414 Digital Star of the Year award.
Most other times he can be found racing bicycles, playing board games, or petting dogs.