That's it. I'm boycotting the Wisconsin State Journal -- and also asparagus.
One of my favorite Madison writers, George Hesselberg, wrote a story that appeared on the front page of yesterday's paper with the headline "Rocky start for detour." It was about how some walkers and bikers are ignoring signs telling them to take a detour and instead passing through the John Nolen causeway as a bridge is being reconstructed.
The problem is that the detour adds another 1.4 miles to the trip as it winds its way around Monona Bay.
The overall cause is just. The bike and pedestrian path bridges on John Nolen were perilously narrow, and this project will give everyone another foot of space on the south bridge. So, as a cyclist, I'm inclined to endure a three-week dislocation for the long-term gain.
On the other hand, I bike that stretch for recreation. It's not part of my daily commute, but for those who bike this section to get to and from work, adding almost three miles to the round trip is a big deal. A one-and-a-half-mile detour might not be a big deal for cars, but it adds considerably more time for cyclists who rely on their bikes to get to work just as much as motorists do.
The Bike Fed has asked the city if there might be a way to accommodate bikes and pedestrians on the causeway during the construction. If they can't, then we should just remind ourselves that patience is a virtue and make it work until the wider bridges open in a few weeks.
But here's my problem with George's story. He stuck in a couple of gratuitous paragraphs on the amount of calories burned by bikers and walkers who do the extra 2.8 miles round trip ever work day. (It comes out to about 1,700 calories total over three weeks for cyclists.) It came off to me as a little snarky -- and I know snark, having written it many times myself. More specifically, it came off as "All those spandex types are always crowing about their CO2 savings and how fit they are, so let's give it back to 'em a little bit."
I called George and asked if I was being oversensitive. He was quick to point out that I was. He told me that snark was often his intention, but not in this case. He just wanted to liven up a story that was a few days old. I told him that I was still going to boycott the State Journal and also Matt Smith's asparagus stand at the Dane County Farmers' Market where George helps out on Saturdays.
Never mind that this boycott is meaningless, since I'm almost never awake in time to join Dianne at the market and she won't observe it anyways. The asparagus is very good and she likes George more than I do. But it's the principle of the gosh darn thing!
Also, I'm not canceling my State Journal subscription, but I won't read anything with Hesselberg's byline for, I don't know, maybe a week. So there.
Here's the serious point in all this. A recent U.S. Census Bureau report showed that cycling is up 60% in the last decade as a way to get to work. In Madison, bike commuting accounts for around 8% of all trips citywide and that's probably a higher figure in the isthmus. So, when there's a reconstruction on a major bike commuting route, it's important to take that into account and to try to accommodate cyclists on the path that is the shortest distance between where they are and where they're trying to get.
Yep, bicycling is great for your health and burning more calories is a good thing, but when you're late in the morning, you have to get to work just like every other commuter.
Dave Cieslewicz is the executive director of the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin.