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Madison's Former Mayor Leaves Large Imprint

Published August 11, 2011

MADISON, WI (BRAIN)—Dave Cieslewicz might have lost his Madison mayoral re-election bid earlier this year, but Trek World attendees probably never sensed that—after all he was still being referred to as “Mayor Dave” by many including Trek president John Burke.

The Milwaukee native and University of Wisconsin graduate was at Trek World earlier this week with a simple message to retailers: your town can be as bike friendly as Madison.

But before you can talk the talk, you must walk the walk—or in Cieslewicz’s case, bike the bike. Cieslewicz, who served as mayor for seven years, said getting more people on bikes in Madison was at the top of his priority list when he entered office.

“We talked about it during the campaign,” he said. “The biking community was a big part of my campaign. Lots of my volunteers were part of the bike advocates’ community, and so we made it a priority right from the start.”

But even Cieslewicz admits that Madison wasn’t starting from scratch when he won in 2003—the capital of Wisconsin already had a solid foundation. “It already had a good base of bike trails, and on-street bike trails,” Cieslewicz said. “We took it from a six or a seven and made it an eight or a nine.”

One of his most important accomplishments came near the end of his tenure as mayor. “In my five-year capital budget (last year) we put $50 million over five years for bike and pedestrian infrastructure,” he said. “It was the first time we created a dedicated budget for bike and pedestrian projects.”

It was actually Burke who came to him with this idea for a massive increase in bicycle infrastructure, originally with a price tag of $62 million.

“We got that number down, but it inspired me to say, ‘If we did this over five years, $10 million a year. We’re spending five times that on streets.’ I was convinced that infrastructure was the way to go,” he said. “If you make people comfortable and safe they would bike more and the best way to do that is to make them feel like they own the space, whether it’s on a dedicated bike path or part of the street.”

One of the most popular rides in town is the Southwest bike path. Why? Because Cieslewicz fought early on to build a new piece to the trail called the Missing Link, where riders would be able to stay on the path and not be diverted to the street.

The results? “The Southwest bike path has 5,000 bikers a day, and when I took office it was maybe a 1,000,” he said. Cieslewicz has other numbers in mind as well. “We’ve also established a goal of 20 by 2020,” he said. “We want 20 percent of all trips to be made by bike in 10 years, up from 4 to 5 percent today, depending on how you measure it.”

This goal just might be attainable considering Trek’s recent donation of a full B-cycle bike sharing system to Madison. By the end of the summer there will be 35 stations set up and a total of 350 bikes. That should come as welcome news to University of Wisconsin students, who will be coming back to school over the next several weeks.

“I think it was another really big step,” Cieslewicz said of B-cycle. “John Burke deserves the credit for that. He essentially donated it to the city. I worked with Trek, but Trek came in here because it’s their hometown, and they wanted to do something good for the city. Part of the deal was that they’re right here, they can test it; they can watch it. Trek provided us with the bikes, the bike stations, the whole deal. And it works beautifully.”

Cieslewicz hopes that the new mayor Paul Soglin carries all of this bike momentum into the future. “He’s been a recreational cyclist for years,” Cieslewicz said. “I didn’t lose the election over biking. He didn’t win the election because he was anti-biking. It didn’t have anything to do with the outcome.”

—Jason Norman

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