Considering that Wisconsin is home to Trek Bicycles, as well as other companies including Saris Cycling Group and Hayes Brakes, it might be hard to think that the state would be anti-bicycle. However, recent news stories hit the online world claiming otherwise.
The story that kicked off the rumors said the State Assembly had approved a bill that would allow cars and trucks to go around bicycles and other slow-moving vehicles in no-passing zones. The story made it sound as if the State Assembly was willing to put riders at risk.
Not so, said Dave Schlabowske, communications director for the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin. “In Wisconsin there are lots of rural roads that are two lanes and are paved that have slow moving traffic,” Schlabowske told BikeRadar. “The law basically said that it was illegal to pass. So if you were out there and came up upon a handful of bicycles, a tractor or even an Amish buggy, and there was a centerline, you couldn’t pass. Even if you could see for a mile straight, instead you’d have to sit behind the slower moving vehicle as it was technically illegal to pass.”
All the bill does, says Schlabowske, is make it legal for people to do what they were already doing. This is part of what Schlabowske says is a bipartisan move to clean up old laws in Wisconsin, including one that said bicyclists could only legally signal with their left arm. “We're thinking practically about what make sense, and some of the laws on the book clearly didn’t make sense,” he said.
The other news that caused some concern was that a few rural communities were looking to ban bicycles, notably Hull. It was reported by The Stevens Point Journal that a proposed law could require bikers, runners and walkers in groups to register their travel plans or face a ban from using the city’s roads. But again the rumors were misreported. The Town of Hall did not look to ban cycling, as had been rumored. “Here was a lack of communication,” said Schlabowske. “Crucial information that was important wasn’t included as the story grew.”
Schlabowske spoke with officials and the truth is that the city was having issues with a number of people breaking the rules of the road. That included motorists as well as cyclists, runners and people on roller skis. “There were motorists who were speeding, and cyclists who didn’t so much as slow down at stop signs,” said Schlabowske. “The city basically was trying to enforce the laws.”
This included restated state laws as to what communities could do, including those governing bicycles. However, given how important cycling is to the state it's unlikely that there would ever be such an effort made to ban riders from city streets. On the contrary, use of bike racks on Milwaukee County buses has doubled, as ridership of bicycles in the state are up.
“This was made into a political issue where there isn’t one,” said Schlabowske. “It's really bike partisan in Wisconsin more than bi-partisan. Cycling is big in this state. We were the first to have a rails to trails bike path, and cycling employees 13,000 people. This is what makes it just a great place to ride and live.”