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Listening session: Bicycles on Picnic Point

March 16, 2011 By David Tenenbaum

Bicycle use and abuse on Picnic Point will be the subject of a listening session at the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Memorial Union from 7-8:30 p.m. on Monday, March 21.

“Bikes and pedestrians sometimes come into conflict on the narrow path running down the spine of Picnic Point,” says Bill Barker, chair of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve Committee. “Six years ago, we tried to encourage better cooperation on the part of bikers, but we feel the need to revisit the issue.”

To deal with the issue, Barker says, the Lakeshore Nature Preserve Committee will reconsider the appropriateness of bicycle access to Picnic Point at the session. Check Today in the Union for the room location, or add your thoughts via e-mail to Barker at

Picnic Point is part of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve, located where the campus meets Lake Mendota.

“Several large tracts of woods and savanna sparkle like jewels strung along a necklace, along with an active alternative transportation corridor, the Howard Temin Lakeshore Path,” says Barker. “Thousands of people use the preserve daily, in education and research, searching for spring wildflowers in Muir Woods, birding on Picnic Point, running and walking the wooded paths, sitting quietly by the lake or commuting to and from campus.”

With more than 300 acres, the preserve also serves as essential natural habitat, Barker adds, and is a legacy of the intellectual and political contributions of former Badgers John Muir, Aldo Leopold and Gaylord Nelson, who helped form the foundations of modern environmentalism.

The 2005 policy on bikes at Picnic Point was driven by concerns that a few inconsiderate bikers were riding too aggressively, and causing erosion and spreading invasive species by riding off trails. At the time, the Lakeshore Nature Preserve Committee opted for infrastructure changes and a trial period of education to encourage bikers to ride responsibly or consider enjoying Picnic Point on foot.

“Since then, in part due to changing trends in biking, as well as greatly expanded bicycling infrastructure in the Madison area, walkers and runners are now the majority of Picnic Point path users,” says Barker. “Nonetheless, recent user surveys indicate that a few bikers continue to ride without concern for safety and the ecological health of Picnic Point.”

He adds: “The question is, how do we ensure that the Lakeshore Nature Preserve best serves the research, teaching and outreach mission of the university while simultaneously protecting it from overuse and abuse? An open and transparent decision-making process best serves all these goals, and the public is definitely invited,” says Barker.