Why they stand out
Fitchburg should inspire suburban communities that came of age during the car-centric era of wide boulevards and strip malls, because they show that becoming a bike friendly community is possible with intentional planning and community engagement. They boast a growing network of bike lanes and an equally impressive off-road paved path system that provides low-stress routes to reach destinations, whether for retail, services or recreation opportunities. In 2016, Fitchburg achieved a Silver Bike Friendly Community designation. They’ve set their sights high, and the city continues to make improvements aimed at boosting their rating.
One of the lead catalysts in the city’s progress is Bike Fitchburg, a 501(c)3 local coalition that promotes improved bike safety, access and infrastructure by convincing residents and elected officials that bike friendliness increases quality of life and improves the city’s competitive edge. They do this through community organizing methods, working directly with the city on street design improvements, and through popular programs, such as portable bike playgrounds, loaner bikes/helmets, organized bike rides, and maps of bike infrastructure across town. They have successfully advocated for multi-use paths and bike lanes on key connector roads, including an upcoming reconstruction of major thoroughfare, Fish Hatchery Road. Bike Fitchburg also collaborates regionally, having formed new partnerships with county-level public health and transportation partners, and becoming part of a learning collaborative with other Dane County cities who also applied for the Bike Friendly designation. And although they primarily focus on biking, they are concerned about the related issues of walking and transit, and are exploring their potential to expand their scope into transportation choices more broadly.
Advocates in Fitchburg know that progress sometimes requires a willingness to address controversy. In 2016, for example, Fitchburg began planning the reconstruction of a key 1.7 mile road that connects to city hall. Some leaders rallied residents against design elements that would better serve bikers, walkers, and public transit users. Bike Fitchburg and other advocates were able to diffuse some of the controversy and bring the community to a consensus on the design. In 2017, the road was built and successfully featured a multi-use path, a traffic roundabout, a speed radar display, and buffered bike lanes. While decisions don’t always go their way, Bike Fitchburg members continue to advocate for walk- and bike-friendly design solutions on every possible project. We look forward to their awesome work ahead. Keep at it, Fitchburg!
Approach to Equity
Bike Fitchburg approaches equity by extending the benefits of biking across low income areas of the city. They collaborate with local organizations and donate resources for different events. For example, they worked with the Boys and Girls Club and other organizations for a Community Night that featured a bike playground, loaner bikes, and free helmets for youth to enjoy. They formed a new partnership with the City to build a pump track in a lower-income neighborhood near an elementary school. They also successfully advocated for a multi-use path that connected two lower-income neighborhoods into the city’s low-stress bicycle network. Strategically choosing locations for event and infrastructure advocacy are preliminary methods that Bike Fitchburg uses to improve equitable access to physical activity.
Bike Fitchburg recognizes that they have more work to do to better address and improve equity. They intend to implement a definitive focus on equity into their strategic plan. This would include setting goals such as diversifying their leadership, looking into changing meeting locations and times, and finding new ways to elevate the voices of people who are not traditionally at the table when determining advocacy targets and building communities.