City employees finding other ways to get to work

From a story on WQOW-TV, Eau Claire:

Eau Claire (WQOW) – Eau Claire rolls out a contest to get more city employees out of their cars and onto public transportation.

May is bike month. In honor of that, Eau Claire is holding a contest called Rack n’ Roll for city employees.

Wednesday morning’s commute to work was unusual for Colleen Shian. She took the bus.

“I hadn’t ridden the bus, I did once before, but I thought it would be fun to try and see how it worked,” says Colleen Shian, City of Eau Claire Risk Manager.

Shian often thought about taking the bus to work, but never made it part of her daily routine. The three week Rack n’ Roll contest gave her the extra incentive to try it out.

“The Rack n’ Roll event is a great way to tie not only sustainability, but active living, physical fitness together in a fun way to come to work using maybe your bike or bus or combination there of or carpooling,” says Ned Noel, City of Eau Claire Associate Planner.

Employees are given a ‘trekker card’ with eight activities on it. Those eight activities are:

-Participate in a City wellness program
-Walk for 20 minutes, 5 days in a row
-Use City trail system
-Bike to work
-Use bike and bus to reach a destination
-Use City bus
-Take bus to work

Employees have until May 20th to do five of the eight activities. If they complete them, they are entered to win prizes such as golf lessons or passes to Fairfax Pool.

DOT ridesharing Web site goes statewide

A news release from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation:

Any commuter in Wisconsin who would like to find someone to “share the ride” to work, may now access the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s (WisDOT’s) interactive ride matching service online. A program that was originated several years ago for residents of the heavily populated southeastern region of the state is now available statewide.

“We are pleased to offer this interactive service to commuters across the state,” said WisDOT Secretary Frank Busalacchi. “Ridesharing saves money for commuters, reduces the number of cars on the road during the busiest hours of the day and reduces pollution from car exhaust. Now, commuters in areas that are faced with some of the longest commutes will have an equal opportunity to find carpool matches.”

Karen Schmiechen, program manager for the Wisconsin Rideshare Program, said the program is easy to use, free and without obligation. Commuters enter their commute information and immediately receive matches for carpooling, vanpooling, park and ride lots and even biking. The computer shows matches with similar commutes and work hours. Bikers are also matched by level of expertise. Users make their own contacts with matches to set up ridesharing arrangements.

The program was computerized two years ago, and has become so popular WisDOT decided to make it available to all state residents.

Wisconsin is one of many states and municipalities across the country offering this service. As gasoline prices fluctuate, and the economy remains unstable, ridesharing is a viable alternative, saving dollars and the environment.

For more information go to the state’s Rideshare Web site.

New law gives cash incentives to bicycle commuters

From an article by Chris Hubbuch in the La Crosse Tribune:

With his yellow rain slicker, reflective vest and helmet-mounted headlight, it’s hard to miss Kurt Oettel as he pedals to work.

“There’s no doubt I’m a bike commuter,” he said. “I look like a geek.”

Oettel, 44, rides about 21/2 miles each way from his home on 24th Street to Gundersen Lutheran, where he works as an oncologist.

He rarely misses a day.

“I took off those three days when there was a 35 below wind chill,” he admitted.

For Oettel, who with his wife has three kids, one car and 11 bicycles, biking to work started as a necessity but continues out of a passion for biking and for conserving energy.

A new law that took effect Jan. 1 provides a monetary benefit for commuters like him and an incentive for others to get on their bikes.

According to the law, commuters can collect $20 a month for bike-related expenses; employers can deduct the expense from their taxes.

The credit, which extends benefits already available to parking and public transit users, was included in last fall’s controversial $700 billion financial industry bailout.

Ironically, the measure’s sponsor, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, voted against it. The Oregon Democrat, who wears a bicycle lapel pin and spent years pushing for the credit, opposed the rescue bill, calling it too expensive and ineffective.

Exactly how the law will be applied — how often do you have to ride to work to be a bicycle commuter? — isn’t clear. The IRS has not issued specific guidance on the rule, said spokesman Christopher Miller.

“A lot of things are not completely explained yet,” said Meghan Cahill, communications director for the League of American Bicyclists, which applauds the law.

Employees will have to produce receipts to document they spent money — on a bike, accessories or repairs — said Mary Jo Werner, a CPA with Wipfli LLP in La Crosse.

It’s not clear from the law whether it’s mandatory for employers to offer the benefit.

“I don’t know why an employer wouldn’t want to do it,” Werner said. “You’re giving an employee a benefit and it doesn’t cost anything. Plus it kind of breeds good will.”

Carl Johnson, owner of Smith Cycling and Fitness, hasn’t figured out how it will work but plans on offering the credit. He has about 10 employees who could qualify as bike commuters.

Milwaukee gets high marks for sustainability, energy, water

From an article by Jeff Sherman posted on

According to a story today from, Milwaukee is the 12th most sustainable city in the country. It is first in a ranking of “water supply” and second in one of “natural disaster risk.”

The health and sustainable living Web site says, “America’s 50 biggest cities are thinking green and the 2008 SustainLane U.S. City Rankings-topped by Portland, Ore.-reveal which cities are increasingly self-sufficient, prepared for the unexpected and taking steps toward preserving and enhancing their quality of life.” said this about Milwaukee, “Since Milwaukee inaugurated its first office of sustainability in 2006, green momentum in the Midwestern city has picked up steam. Located on the western shore of Lake Michigan, Milwaukee has invested in New Urbanist redevelopment, consciously folding sustainability into it’s planning and design (one green public housing development nabbed a Sierra Club honor in 2005). It has also taken great care to manage storm water and reduce runoff into the lake and area rivers. And that’s not all: In 2006, five percent of its fleet vehicles ran on alternative energy. A year later, more than 40 percent of the city’s fleet are powered by alternative fuel. A 2006 energy audit of the City Hall complex led to power-saving measures that reduced energy use there by nine percent and saved the city $35,000 in one year. The city also has public outreach campaigns for recycling, composting, and water conservation. The city’s updated bike plan may help get the near-75 percent of car commuters heading out to work…riding their bikes instead!”

Bike lanes earn equal billing

From an article by Sean Ryan in The Daily Reporter:

Vehicles, sidewalks and medians are stuck in a battle for right-of-way as the state and cities push for new bike lanes with road projects.

On the 76th Street reconstruction project in Milwaukee, for example, the state and city might need to take a chunk from the median to make room for bike lanes, said Dave Schlabowske, Milwaukee bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for the Department of Public Works. But the city and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation must weigh priorities, such as whether a narrower median leaves enough room for cars to wait while making left turns, he said.

“You have to balance everything out,” Schlabowske said. “So we’re taking a closer look at it, and it looks like WisDOT is willing to flex a little bit on their lane widths.”

WisDOT is making bike lanes a priority on its projects along local roads because the Federal Highway Administration is tying its money to complete street requirements, Schlabowske said.

The desire to create complete streets for walkers, bikers and drivers is stirring up residents in Shorewood who don’t want trees cut down to widen the right-of-way. Shorewood is considering a long-range plan for a network of bike routes with bike lanes and directions sending bikers to roads that are wide or quiet enough to be safe.

Bikes are a hot topic, and many communities are creating long-range plans to establish bike routes because it’s politically correct and gas prices are driving more people to pedal, said Mary Beth Pettit, project manager of the Shorewood plan for Graef, Anhalt, Schloemer and Associates Inc., Milwaukee. She said the focus on bikes creates problems if the right-of-way doesn’t have enough room for bike lanes.

And a story by Dorie Turner in The Chicago Tribune reports that Ripon College, among others, will provide bicycles to students who don’t bring a car to campus:

Cycling already has a foothold at many colleges, where hefty parking fees, sprawling campuses and limited roads make it tough to travel. Still, most students are reluctant to leave their cars parked.

“They’re using them to drive from residence halls to class, which is a two- or three-block commute,” said Ric Damm, an administrator and cycling coach at Ripon College, which is giving away $300 bikes to freshmen who leave their cars at home. “We thought, ‘How can we provide an incentive to get them out of that behavior?'”

Damm’s school, outside Oshkosh, Wis., has spent $26,000 on its free bike program, which so far has signed up half of the 300-student freshman class, Damm said.

“I think a big draw is the just the environmental aspect,” said freshman Regina Nelson, who readily signed up for a free bike. “And, honestly, I think that anything free when you’re in college is good, especially something like a bike that is worth something.”