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Riding with the Mayor

On Thursday, May 30, Active Wisconsin and AARP Wisconsin co-hosted “Making Connections in La Crosse,” a day of activities to uplift equitable transportation and street safety in the La Crosse area.

I (Susan) joined “Ride With the Mayor,” an annual bike ride showcasing new improvements and future challenges in the city. In fact, I was quoted in the La Crosse Tribune article covering the event!

Susan Gaeddert travels throughout Wisconsin to promote walkable and bikeable communities. She discovered that La Crosse likes its bikes. “It’s great to see so much enthusiasm for bikeability.”

Image: riders stop at a building on Front Street in La Crosse

The ride is organized by local advocates; chief among them is UW-L history professor and 1000 Friends of Wisconsin board member James Longhurst, who helped plan the route and led the participants on a 5.7-mile ride from City Hall to River Point, 2nd street, Isle La Plume, and the Powell-Pogue Hamilton neighborhood.

Image: James Longhurst gives a safety briefing before the ride

It was picture perfect weather for the two dozen or so cyclists, who included city staff, city council members, bike/ped safety committee members, Drift Cycle employees, out-of-town visitors (such as myself and a representative from the City of Baraboo), local advocates, and of course Mayor Mitch Reynolds himself. 

Image: Mayor Mitch Reynolds addresses the riders

Gaeddert said having the mayor lead the bike ride sends a positive message. “It shows there is support from the city,” she said.

Ride With the Mayor had a good amount of local news coverage from other outlets as well, including WXOW

While we didn’t contribute to organizing Ride With the Mayor, it was only logical to follow on that event with our Making Connections activities. About a dozen people convened at UW La Crosse in the afternoon to hear local speakers share about upcoming projects.

Image: from left to right - Jennifer Trost, Tamra Dickinson, Lewis Kuhlman, Erin Duffer

Erin Duffer, Transportation Planner at LAPC (La Crosse Area Planning Committee) described the role of MPOs in regional planning and the diplomacy required to coordinate with many jurisdictions to build a cohesive regional transportation system and regional bike routes.

Lewis Kuhlman, Environmental and Sustainability Planner with the City of La Crosse, talked about monitoring progress of the Climate Action Plan, which was passed in early 2023, and creating an inventory for greenhouse gas emissions. The City has also applied for TAP (Transportation Alternatives Program) funding to increase bicycle connectivity in the north side of La Crosse.

Image: Jennifer Trost holds up a poster highlighting the ReNew the Block project as Tamra Dickinson explains

Common Council members Tamra Dickinson and Jennifer Trost shared two very exciting initiatives. ReNew the Block is a project led by Habitat for Humanity to reimagine a section of Avon Street to provide public fruit trees, outdoor classroom and garden spaces at Logan Middle School, manage stormwater runoff, and fund needed building repairs for property owners. Additionally, Jennifer Trost is leading the city's efforts to update its zoning code to be more inclusive and forward-thinking about land use, parking, and affordable housing.

Image: Andrew explains the campus-commute study

Andrew Ericson, Sustainability Manager at UW La Crosse, shared findings from a campus-commute survey he and two interns conducted in the winter of 2024. Unsurprisingly, those with a longer commute are more likely to drive. Surprisingly, a significant number of students who live very close to campus still drive; one possible explanation is dangerous road crossings along West Ave and La Crosse street. Ultimately, the goal is to encourage fewer people to drive to campus and instead arrive by other means, such as walking, biking, or riding the bus. 

The day was capped with a screening of The Street Project, an award-winning documentary by Jennifer Boyd about the global, citizen-led fight for safer streets. We showed the film in the screening room at the historic Rivoli Theatre in downtown La Crosse. Following the viewing, a panel of five guests (bios are below) shared their response to the film and answered questions from the audience. The discussion was intense. While La Crosse is in many ways a leader in transportation access, especially for a city its size, there is still a long way to go to ensure that everyone can get where they need to go, regardless of ability to drive.

Image: Jeff Nylander (right) addresses the audience. Liz Fryseth and Brittney Hodson are on the left.

One example is Brittney Hodson. Brittney, who is blind, lives in Onalaska and works at Kwik Trip Corporation, which despite its relatively close proximity to her home, takes over an hour and requires multiple transfers to get there with public transit. Another panelist, Jeff Nylander, emphasized the importance of sidewalks that can accommodate equipment like his motorized wheelchair. Lack of transit options and accessible sidewalks are more than just an inconvenience for people like Brittney, Jeff, and others; those things are a serious impediment to living a full life.

Image: the audience waits for the film to begin

This is a long road (pun intended), but what keeps us going is the support and involvement of people from all walks (pun intended again) of life. We truly are making connections, not only with physical infrastructure like cycle tracks and safe street crossings, but with people in communities who use public space. I told a reporter from Channel 8 that we are committed to this work because transportation infrastructure - streets, sidewalks, bike lanes, even parking lots - are public space, which by definition belongs to all of us, and therefore we should all have more of a say in how that space is designed and used. I am encouraged by the turnout we saw for the bike ride and all the other events in La Crosse. Even if people disagree, sometimes vehemently, it is a sign that they care deeply for the community and for its future.

Image: Susan stands by the entrance to the Rivoli next to a poster for The Street Project

Panelist bios:

Liz Fryseth is a fierce transit and pedestrian advocate within the community. She serves on multiple committees and boards, dedicated to reduce barriers, be proactive for positive change, and equitable outcomes for all who walk, bike, and roll.

Brittney Hodson is a highly active wife, mother and community advocate who lives in Onalaska. Britney is also blind. She is a staunch proponent of equal access to local transportation, facilities, and employment. Britney is currently working for the Kwik Trip Corporation. She is proud to accomplish more than what her disability stereotypes. Brittney is also  cochair  of a visually impaired persons group promoting awareness and education to the visually impaired of LaCrosse county.

James Longhurst is professor of history at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse, author of "Bike Battles: A History of Sharing the American Road," and board member of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin. He is involved in a variety of active transportation advocacy both locally and statewide.

Jeff Nylander is a 38-year resident of the City of Lacrosse. He is a dedicated husband, father, and grandfather who has been tasked with a mobility limiting, progressive medical condition acquired while serving in the US Navy Seabees.  Jeff continues to work tirelessly to improve access, mobility, and accommodation in the community, through his volunteer efforts as vice chair and founding member of the Committee for Citizens with Disabilities for the City of Lacrosse. He has decades of experience and expertise in many career fields including special education teacher, firefighter, electrician, mechanical engineer, scouting, and veterans’ groups.  Jeff’s motto is “We learn it, We apply it and We teach it.”

Larry Sleznikow is a long-time resident of La Crosse and the City Council member for the 4th District. He is the chair of the city’s Bicycle and PEdestrian Advisory Committee and Committee for Citizens with Disabilities. Larry continually advocates for an accessible, walkable, and bike-friendly La Crosse for all ages and abilities.

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