Birmingham considers new bike festival

By: Mary Beth Almond | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published March 7, 2011


Avid bicyclist Jeff Surnow, of Surnow Co. in Birmingham, hopes to make the city more bike-friendly by holding the first Birmingham Bike Festival downtown Aug. 28.

Surnow appeared before the City Commission Feb. 28 seeking approval for the new event, which the commission unanimously decided to postpone consideration of to give the Principal Shopping District and the businesses affected by the proposed street closures a chance weigh in.

The event is slated to feature a bike safety and activities area for children, professional bike races on downtown streets, community bike races, and vendors in Shain Park.

Surnow said he has been “working diligently” with police and city officials to pick a racecourse for the professionals that would be the most acceptable to residents and businesses.

Initial plans show racers traveling along portions of Martin, Pierce, Merrill, South Old Woodward, Maple and Bates — all of which would be closed — for anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour.

Police Chief Don Studt said the proposed course is similar to that of other bike-racing events held in the city in the early to mid 1990s.

“We can close the streets and make this happen, but it is a big impact in the downtown,” he warned the commission.

Since the event would be held just a week after the Woodward Dream Cruise — which closes down many city streets for activities — the majority of the City Commission had concerns about how the additional street closures would affect the downtown merchants.

“We’re piling on more and more of these events on the commercial district, and while I think this can be a great event, we’re asking a lot — particularly of the people on Woodward, where there is something going on almost every month,” Commissioner Tom McDaniel said. “I think this one should be run past the PSD; somehow, I think we need to get a reading.”

Commissioner George Dilgard said the event shouldn’t affect too many merchants, because it will be held on a Sunday, when many of the businesses are closed.

Commissioner Mark Nickita disagreed, stating that many businesses are still open on Sundays and would be greatly affected by the street closures, especially businesses in the middle of the course.

“I surely think that we need to have an understanding of what the affected businesses are going to say about this,” he said.

The PSD board, which had no concerns with the event, unanimously supported the festival’s plan at its March 3 meeting.

“Given that the event is on a Sunday, and that sidewalks and access will be maintained, there would be minimal negative impact on the retailers. The hope is that the event brings in 1,500-plus visitors as well,” said John Heiney, executive director of the PSD. “The PSD board was supportive of the event, and thanked the organizers for such a thorough, well-thought-out presentation.”

The plan will head back to the City Commission for consideration March 21.

Surnow said he just wants to help make Birmingham — which has already been recognized as one of top 20 most walkable communities in the country by Walkable Communities Inc. of High Springs, Fla. — a safe and friendly place for bicyclists.

“We’re hoping, if we do get this approved, that this can be a longstanding tradition and add one more wonderful thing to the many wonderful things that go with the benefit of being associated to Birmingham,” he said.