Officials head out on bike tour to improve Madison biking - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Officials head out on bike tour to improve Madison biking

By Teresa Mackin - bio | email | Twitter | Facebook | Blog

DANE COUNTY (WKOW) -- Madison's the seventh most bike-friendly city in America, and some local companies want to up the ante.

A local bike group, along with other biking foundations, are taking Madison and Dane County officials and nearly 20 other business and civic leaders on a ride: a bike ride, through different European cities.

The goal is to never step foot in a car: rather take public transportation the entire week of the trip. They're visiting numerous cities including Muenster, Germany, where people take a third of their trips: by bike.

Madison city and Dane County officials say they're taking this trip as an opportunity to learn about bike-friendly communities.. and even to add jobs here.

Mayor Dane Cieslewicz says, "Biking is a billion dollar industry: so it's important in terms of economic development, and it's also important in terms of getting around the city... the idea is to learn about what they've done to make their city more biker-friendly."

County Executive Kathleen Falk is going in hopes of meeting with developers and bringing more jobs to the area. Falk says, "One of the purposes of this trip is to be meeting with distributors to help grow businesses that are important here in Dane County."

Taxpayers won't pay a dime, rather the trip is funded by bike foundations and groups, including Saris Cycling Group in Madison.

Officials going on a privately funded trip, some say, is a slippery slope.

Wisconsin Democracy Campaign Executive Director Mike McCabe says, "When all these trips are being paid for with private dollars, that does give those interests a special ability to have the ear of elected officials... Inherently along with that comes a great risk of conflict of interest, because a company might have a development project they want to deal with.. or business before local board or council."

Bike company Saris says that's not true: they're in it to help the city.

Chris Fortune, the president of Saris Cycling Group, says, "99-percent of our business is outside of Madison, and so we're not going to see any financial gain for doing that. And that isn't our reason. It's we, as a company, how do we bring the power of cycling to life."

Fortune says he hopes to combat obesity and also just make Madison more bike-friendly.

For officials, when it came to taking a privately-funded trip, the County Exec checked with the county ethics committee. Dane County ordinance says "County officials, employees and citizen members may accept and retain anything of value.... if the official, employee or citizen member can show by clear and convincing evidence that the same was incurred or received primarily for the benefit of the county and not primarily for his or her private benefit..."

Falk adds, "They said go, it helps our county, so go. Trade missions are common."

Mayor Cieslewicz adds, "I checked with the city attorney before moving forward with it, and it isn't really a private company it's a foundation. So the city attorney looked at it and he blessed it."

Watchdogs say they're not even mainly concerned with who's paying at all: rather, it's who's going on the trip with the officials.

Brenda Konkel, a former Madison alder, says, "It concerns me that elected officials and RTA members are going on trip with six or seven paid lobbyists for other organizations throughout the city."

Mayor Dave Cieslewicz adds, "Anytime you have an opportunity to look at other communities... it's a good thing."

27 News talked with some Dane County union representatives who say they have no problem with the trip if leaders aren't using taxpayer money, which they aren't.

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