A bike route along the Yahara River from Lake Mendota to Lake Monona. Another along the west branch of Starkweather Creek, bridging East Washington and Aberg avenues. A safe route to Chavez Elementary School, on the southwest side. And the Marsh View Bike Path, skirting the marsh north of Madison Metro's east transfer point.
These are among recent and pending additions to the city's network of bicycle routes. With a red ballpoint, Arthur Ross, the city's pedestrian-bicycle coordinator, is penning them onto the 2006 bike-route map. "There's all kinds of missing links," he says.
In the context of the map's miles and miles of bike routes, these additions appear minuscule. But each time another missing link is identified and established, a neighborhood is connected to an adjacent neighborhood, to a school, park or playground, to a retail district or some other resource. And every link makes a great network that much greater.
Take the aforementioned Marsh View Bike Path, completed a couple years ago. Perhaps a mile in length, it flanks a small marsh adjacent to the east branch of Starkweather Creek before ducking under U.S. Highway 30 and coming out on Mayfair Avenue near Findorff Yard Operations. At least one cyclist has reported seeing cranes, herons and other waterfowl in the marsh.
"This was kind of an interesting project," Ross says. "It's a really important linkage for people to be able to get back and forth between neighborhoods." In this case, it provides a scenic route that lets residents of the Brigham Park and Hawthorne neighborhoods bike or walk to the east-side Woodman's, to Madison's main post office or the East Transfer Point. For anyone else, it provides a scenic bike route.
Another impressive addition to Madison's network of bike routes in recent years is the spectacular pedestrian-bicycle bridge nearing completion over East Washington Avenue at Clyde Gallagher Avenue.
"We've had the bike path from Shopko to MATC for quite a while," Ross explains, referring to the school's Truax campus. "The concept has always been that we'd have the creek connection to the Capital City Trail." The Capital City Trail encompasses a long stretch of the Lake Monona bike loop and links to Madison's Southwest Commuter Trail. When completed, the Capital City Trail will connect the Military Ridge and Badger State trails, southwest of the city, with the Glacial Drumlin State Trail to the east.
The link between the Shopko-MATC trail and the Lake Monona loop will be completed in stages, Ross says. The path from the East Washington Avenue bridge south to Milwaukee Street and the Capital City Trail should be completed this year. The path north from the East Washington bridge to Aberg Avenue will follow in 2009.
Less certain is the schedule for building the route's planned second bridge, spanning Aberg Avenue to complete the link to the Shopko-MATC path. "The bridges are expensive, and they're hard to come up with funding for," Ross explains. The East Washington span is the result of an earmark in the 2005 federal transportation budget, courtesy of U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin.
A number of other projects are in the talking and planning stages, Ross says. The city has applied for Safe Routes to School funding to finance a path that would approach Chavez Elementary School from the west, bridging Stone Creek.
Madison also has its eye on establishing a bike path south of the Beltline. It would run southwest along an abandoned rail corridor, from Coho Street to the vicinity of McKee Road's intersection with Nesbitt Road. Ross notes that this project could prove tricky to realize - in part because of the need to negotiate with overlapping jurisdictions, but also because of funding considerations.
"Funding is a big issue all around," he observes. "And in Madison it's an issue because all the easy projects have been done. Everything we do now takes longer to plan. It's more complicated to build, and it's more expensive."
Meanwhile, other jurisdictions are contributing to the infrastructure for local cyclists. For example, UW-Madison Transportation Services this month is opening a 10-foot-wide paved bicycle-pedestrian path parallel to Campus Drive. Featuring solar-powered lighting and a new bridge over Walnut Street, the new facility will extend from the Veterans Administration Hospital to the UW Dairy Barn on Linden Drive.
Such initiatives are a welcome contribution toward the continuing evolution of the area's network of bicycle routes, Ross observes. "The community continues to grow," he says, "so there's a need to expand the network."