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February 6, 2013

Gran Fondo backers upset at lack of city support

Cyclists still planning for June 30 ride down Woodward Avenue

By Chris Jackett
C & G Staff Writer

ROYAL OAK — A proposed Woodward corridor cycling event has failed to gain support from several of the communities it planned to cruise through, but that may not be holding back a myriad of cyclists this summer.

At the City Commission’s Dec. 3, 2012, meeting, several local cycling enthusiasts were present to voice support for a 54-mile event called the Gran Fondo that was to stretch up and down the 27 miles of Woodward Avenue from Pontiac to Detroit this coming June 30.

The Woodward Avenue Action Association was leading the charge, but safety and logistical concerns from city officials about so many cyclists on such a busy road kept the commission from passing a resolution of support, as WA3 had hoped for. As part of a chain effect, city officials in neighboring communities have also backed out of supporting the Gran Fondo, despite support from the Michigan Department of Transportation.

“From our perspective with the city, we’re not going to do anything with it,” Mayor Jim Ellison said. “We’ll continue to talk. Our police chief bent over backwards to try to get this to work. He hosted at least two meetings of all the police chiefs.”

At the commission’s Jan. 28 meeting, several cyclists made both their displeasure and intent clear with an organized showing during public comment. Longtime Royal Oak Traffic Committee vice chairman Todd Scott even resigned in relation to the issue, “given the continued lack of commitment to bicycle safety.”

“The event would’ve been fantastic,” said Tom Regan, a resident who has been a champion of non-motorized transportation in the city for years. “It would’ve electrified the whole complete streets movement. It would have brought renown to historic Woodward Avenue. I’m really disheartened that we lost that event.

“But I think even worse than losing that event were some of the arguments put forth. The city manager wrote a memo that really killed the event, and some of those arguments in there are really, really destructive. The reason the memo is inaccurate and wildly exaggerated is because it ignores one really basic understood fact is that motorists change their behavior when they’re around a lot of bicyclists. Only a lunatic or psychopath would behave the way that memo describes. Motorists change their behavior when they’re around a lot of cyclists. That’s not my opinion, that’s a fact. You can even Google it.”

Regan said promoting safe cycling within the city is a vital role of local government and that the memo had the exact opposite effect.

Jon Hughes, owner of Downtown Ferndale Bike Shop in Ferndale, said he already knows several people who safely cycle on Woodward Avenue on a regular basis and that he would be riding with them on June 30 during the time of the proposed Gran Fondo.

“I was really disappointed that we didn’t get all the support we were hoping to get from you guys,” Hughes said. “I have customers and friends who ride Woodward on a daily basis as commuting. That’s how they get to work. That’s how they do different things.

“And I just wanted to say that on June 30 at 8 a.m., me and a couple thousand of my closest friends will be riding down Woodward. We encourage all you guys to join us. We’ll be following all the laws and it will be a great ride. Hopefully, next year, you guys will be on board for us.”

Heather Carmona, WA3 executive director, said she has been working with Parsons Brinckerhoff, MDOT, Beaumont Hospital, Mayor Jim Ellison and Woodward corridor police chiefs to try and make the Gran Fondo a reality. If the event does not occur this year, she would still like to see it occur in the future.

“It’s not a lost plan,” Carmona said. “I think there’s still some work we can integrate in the future for future uses, but I think it’s important as a document that can grow, hopefully.

“As everyone’s said, there’s no failure in not taking risks and moving forward, and taking that leap to really do something that’s different. The first time you do something, there’s always a challenge, there’s always the what-ifs. I think what we learned through this process is the need for education.”

For more information on WA3, visit www.woodwardavenue.org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Chris Jackett at cjackett@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1110.