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Sep 3 / Elizabeth DiNovella

Ciclovia in Madison

This past Sunday goes down as a great day for biking in Madison. From 8 am to 2 pm, Madison closed off major avenues to cars, and opened up a whole new public space.

IMG_07 by newlow.
photos by newlow

Dangerous intersections became car-free zones. Art projects clogged the streets. Cyclists, and at least one skeptical skateboarder, owned six lanes of traffic rather than the measly strip of concrete between moving cars and parked cars or the curb.

It was our first ciclovia!


Bogotá, Colombia, is often credited with starting ciclovias, which means “bike path” in Spanish. Every Sunday more than 70 miles of Bogotá’s streets are off limits to cars from 7am to 2pm. The city of Madison marked off 6 miles, including the scenic John Nolen Drive, which lies between Monona Bay and Lake Monona.

The bike path on John Nolen Drive is a weekly route for me. But it was so different, so exhilarating, to be on that street–with no cars. It was like being in a science fiction movie, post-apocalypse. (I wasn’t expecting the apocalypse to be so tranquil.)
Musicians—a bagpiper, a drummer, and a saxophonist—took advantage of the acoustics of the tunnel below Monona Terrace.
IMG_09 by newlow.
The atmosphere was downright giddy. Creativity abounded—-dancers transformed the dreaded concrete island between traffic lanes into a performance space. Kids and adults drew pictures with colored chalked in the middle of the street!
For the most part bicyclists were cruising along. The lack of cars made everyone slow down.
Jovial cops held car traffic for us. The skeptical skateboarder snapped photos. Was the long-running battle between cops and skaters coming to an end? It was easy to think that since they both were so friendly to each other.
IMG_000 by newlow.
But the truce was short-lived. At 2:15 pm, cars and buses were back and the cops yelled at the skateboarder.
IMG_00 by newlow.
People were still talking about it at the eastside farmer’s market a few days later. One farmer kept saying how much fun she and her infant daughter had. Would the city do it again? We all hoped so. How about first Sundays of the summer months?
San Francisco expanded its Sunday Streets days from two last year to six this year. And NYC closed streets to cars from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. August 8th, 15th, and 22nd.
IMG_02 by newlow.
Madison is known to be a bike friendly town, but our ciclovia made us want more.

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