Mayor Soglin's Blog

Ride the Drive

June 2, 2011 4:52 PM

We want to make Ride the Drive fun for everyone. We need to examine the entire Ride the Drive event, including the impact it has on businesses in the downtown area, people who are traveling by car trying to get to downtown churches, restaurants, hotels as well as pedestrians. I did not come to the decision to hold only one Ride the Drive this year in a vacuum. Consider the letter I received from District 6 Alder Marsha Rummel.


“I feel like my concerns, expressed to staff for several years, have been ignored. I do share the pleasure of seeing major streets closed to vehicular traffic and appreciate that it's a popular event for bike riders but the city seems tone deaf to the impacts on local business, how annual road construction projects affect vehicular access to downtown or Willy St, and for the two past years created conflicts with the Orton Park festival, a major fundraiser for Wil-Mar our neighborhood center and Marquette Neighborhood Association programming. For two years and four Ride the Drives, I urged staff and the former Mayor to look at other routes and other weekends. I continue to have mixed feelings about this event.”

Alder Marsha Rummel, District Six


I want to thank Alder Rummel and other neighborhood leaders who brought up these concerns so we could do better planning for Ride the Drive. Downtown business owners have also been speaking out as exemplified by the letter I received from Sandi Torkildson, owner of A room of One’s Own on behalf of the Greater State Street Business Association.

Dear Mayor Soglin,

The Greater State Street Business Assoc. wishes to express our concerns with the current plans for the two Ride-the-Drive events that take place in the downtown area. Most of the retailers and restaurants that are part of our group have experienced a very steep drop-off in business on the Sundays of these two events. Even the Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream store on State St. does not have increase in sales. If anyone should see an increase in business you would think they would.
In addition, many businesses have shared that the customers they do see, have been confused and sometimes very upset with how hard it has been to find their way to downtown destinations. People from Madison may just not come downtown during these events, but visitors that have plans and/or are staying downtown get caught up in the middle of the ride and can't find their way around downtown.
We are in favor of all the recommended improvements that the BID has forwarded on to your office and the Parks Dept. Only do one event per year in the downtown, makes sure the date does not conflict with other events downtown, schedule it earlier in the day, keep as many street opened as possible to allow access to the downtown from every direction.
We all welcome the many events that happen downtown every year and hope we can work together to make this a great event for everyone.

Sandi Torkildson, Pres. GSSBA

Ride the Drive is a fun day for thousands of people but it need not be insensitive to the needs of struggling locally owned neighborhood businesses. Unfortunately the problem is systemic and planning needs to involve all the people who are impacted.

The concerns expressed by Alder Rummel and others are significant. If the planning for these events involve concerned neighbors and businesses we could have Ride the Drive without inflicting pain. In future years we can do this right and make sure the event is not scheduled for a football weekend. We can design routes that do not cut off a Willy Street, it’s residents and businesses already besieged by a summer long construction project.

Ride the drive needs cyclists, businesses and neighborhood activists to plan and design the routes – routes that do not choke off three quarters of downtown. Keep in mind that unlike events like the Crazy Legs Run, Art Fair on the Square, or the Madison Marathon Ride the Drive cuts off three quarters of the Isthmus, and not for two or three hours, but almost all day.


When planning is centralized and access to the decision making limited, we get two bad consequences...an event that is not as good as it could be and a decision that can only be reversed from the top down. We will work to start planning for next year’s events in the fall. I look forward to one event downtown and one in another area of the city so that those involved can explore our great community.

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