Sunday, June 6, 2010

Madison, Wisconsin: Ride the Drive

When you live in Wisconsin, you have to make the most of good weather while you've got it. Perhaps this is why Madison is known for its summer block parties that happen nearly every weekend May through September, ranging from small neighborhood affairs to annual events large enough to be profiled on Wikipedia.

Today, a number of major thoroughfares in downtown Madison were closed to car traffic for another sort of party: Ride the Drive. In the words of the organizers, "This community event is an invitation for all citizens to leave their cars behind to experience some of Madison’s most scenic byways a whole new way - by riding, walking, skating, or strolling along some of our city’s most beautiful streets." Perhaps importantly, some of these streets are ones that would be challenging, or even impossible, to bike on during normal traffic. Scattered along the 6-mile route were various attractions—stages with live music, vendor tents with food and information, and activities for families. Quirky Madison at its best.

I think one of the key aspects of making an event like this work is to try to get buy-in from constituencies not directly served. To that end I was pleased to see two important bits of information on the official event website: 1) a map of the detour, which crucially still allows traffic along and across the city's narrow isthmus; and 2), a Getting There page with information on how to participate if you don't live within walking or biking distance of the party. This last shows a welcome sensitivity to the class issues that I suspect underlie a lot of driver hostility toward cyclists (and perhaps even toward environmentalists in general). After all, living downtown has costs—financial and otherwise—that not everybody can afford.

Of course, effective communication also requires identifying the right channels, and I'm not sure whether city websites and posters in downtown business windows were enough to reach the people outside the choir, so to speak. It will be interesting to see whether today's street closures attract any negative attention this week from the car conservatives in town.

-Guest post by Erin McMullen Jonaitis

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