The city of Menomonie is using a European idea to improve bicyclists' safety at intersections: It's the second city in the state to build a "bike box."
The box looks exactly like it sounds - a rectangular box painted on the street in front of where cars stop at a red light. The "bike box" is designed to let bicyclists get out of the bike lane and get in front of cars before the light turns green.
Menomonie Public Works Director Randy Eide says a member of their bicycle and pedestrian committee brought up the idea after a trip to Europe, and the city decided to give it a try at a busy intersection near UW-Stout. "It's a very simple theory: we're just trying to give a little bit of priority to the bicyclist when they get to that intersection, that they can get up to the front and then clear the intersection first, whether they're going straight ahead or taking a left turn."
Eide says they're trying to be more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly: the change cost the city less than $1,500 to install.
For bicycling enthusiasts like Matt Andrews, seeing bike boxes spring up outside major metropolitan areas means a lot. "It's a huge deal," he said. "A small community as Menomonie putting in advanced infrastructure like this is really fantastic to see."
Andrews is the Western Region Director for the Wisconsin Bicycle Federation. He says while it's only one intersection in a small city, the practice is part of a larger trend. "The increase in bicycling just cannot be ignored... A new generation of city engineers and planners are coming into play and they realize it and they see it."
The only other city in Wisconsin to have bike boxes is Madison, which saw them installed in 2010.