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European Transit Study Opens Eyes

Published April 26, 2010

MADISON, WI (BRAIN)—Chris Fortune spent four extra days experiencing bicycling infrastructure and culture in Germany and the Netherlands after a weeklong European study trip was extended by volcanic ash over Europe.

Fortune, Saris Cycling Group’s president, and 20 city leaders including Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, county commissioner Kathleen Falk and UW vice chancellor of facilities Alan Fish returned last week from a study trip to Europe to tour urban bicycle centers and bring best practices back to their hometown of Madison.

“It was a great trip. The extra time we had together, as our trip was extended due to the Icelandic volcano, bonded us as a group and gave us a real opportunity to immerse in the culture over there,” said Fortune.

“It’s amazing that 70 percent of people in Amsterdam bike. There’s this respect for each other. There’s a clearly defined space for everybody to operate in,” he added, noting that bikes play a big role in the transportation mix.

The delegation met with bicycle planning, engineering and design experts in Muenster, Germany, and cities in the Netherlands, including Amsterdam, Nijmegen and Utrecht. These cities were handpicked because they mirrored the demographics of Madison. The typical daily routine involved visiting a city office and reviewing the bike plan and transportation strategy for that city, then going out and riding bikes.

“The way they think about bikes is not an afterthought. It was an opportunity to learn from the best on how they do that,” Fortune said. “Muenster was ranked the No. 1 livable city in he world. There is an amazing quality of life; people are fit and you don’t see the obesity that you see here.”

In the European cities the group visited, 25 to 35 percent of all daily trips are made by bicycle. Currently, less than 4 percent of daily trips are made by bicycle in Madison. But the city has set a goal to reach 20 percent alternative mode share by 2020. Saris Cycling Group launched their 20 by 2020 initiative prior to the trip and set up www.20-by-2020.com (click on link) for people to follow the trip and this movement.

Fortune said the transportation study trip provided successful European models to help the city reach that goal. He said the delegation, which included a cross-section of city leaders, a traffic engineer, a city engineer and three of the largest developers in Madison, were active learners and participants who were willing to share ideas. The group spent long hours each day learning from city planners, brainstorming with each other and talking about how to apply lessons learned back to Madison.

Fortune said it was amazing to see the transformation among civic leaders whose eyes were opened to the opportunity that bicycles offered.

“The thing that most surprised me the willingness of civic leaders to come up with action plans, to take the lessons learned and apply it back to Madison,” he said.

Fortune said whether the trip is truly a success will be determined by whether the city is able to shift mode share. “I’ll let you know in 2020,” he said.

—Megan Tompkins

(PHOTO: Chris Fortune and Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz)

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