Weekly ride makes city ‘cool’

Police concerned about safety issues

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published July 22, 2015

 Cyclists make their way down Jefferson Avenue on all types of bikes as part of the July 15 event.

Cyclists make their way down Jefferson Avenue on all types of bikes as part of the July 15 event.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Related: City bike ordinance modified

ST. CLAIR SHORES — Hundreds gathered in the parking lot of Roy O’Brien Ford on a recent Wednesday, ready for a great ride.

But they weren’t looking to get in a car, truck or SUV: These riders were using pedal power to get around the city with friends, family and neighbors, all as part of a weekly bicycle ride around St. Clair Shores, the Nautical Ride.

The Nautical Ride began June 3, organized by Tess Guyette, social media specialist for the Ford dealership, and St. Clair Shores resident Stephanie O’Brien.

And week by week, the crowd of riders has been growing, with residents from St. Clair Shores and neighboring cities taking advantage of the easy pace and camaraderie of the event.

“It’s something I like to do; it’s our day off,” said Gage Lamb, of Grosse Pointe Woods. He said that he and his wife have always been interested in participating in Slow Roll Detroit but don’t have time to make it down there. St. Clair Shores is much closer.

“We rode the 8 miles here,” he said July 15.

Crew member Eric Hermes, of St. Clair Shores, has been at each of the six Nautical Rides so far.

“I figured I’d give it a shot and now I’m addicted,” he said, explaining that he’s biking more than just each Wednesday. “You meet a lot of cool people.”

Weekly riders even include city officials like Councilman Ron Frederick, who was riding for the fifth time July 15.

“I like the fact that we get some exercise. We motor easy,” he said. “It’s a very social ride ... gives you a chance to catch up with some friends I didn’t even know had bikes.”

And with the beginning and ending at a different location in the city each week, he said it’s the ultimate way to “shop the Shores.”

Riders are asked to sign a waiver the first time they participate and have a colored zip tie put on their bike to indicate their participation. When the ride takes off, bicyclists of all sizes, skill levels and ages take off together, slowly at first as everyone pulls out of the parking lot, but picking up speed as the ride hits a main road.

Participants are asked to ride just two abreast in accordance with state law and to “mind the gap,” not leaving large chunks of space in between groups. The ride is a social affair, though, with conversations flowing through the group while some play music through Bluetooth speakers strapped to their bikes.

Volunteer “crew” members keep the riders together and help supervise riders through each week’s prescribed route. At each turn, crew members are pointing the way, shouting words of encouragement and reminding riders of the rules. Crew members also keep vehicular traffic from interrupting the ride, which continues through red lights and stop signs once the first riders pass through, like a funeral procession.

While Nautical Ride does not hire police protection for the route, there is some assistance from St. Clair Shores police.

In response to some department concerns, Police Chief Todd Woodcox monitored the July 15 Nautical Ride. He said that, while he applauds the efforts of the volunteer crew who worked hard to encourage participants to ride safely, “many of the participants failed to heed their warnings and suggestions.”

“On several occasions, I saw bicyclists riding four or five abreast. There are definitely safety concerns that have to be addressed.”

Woodcox said that he has concerns about untrained civilians blocking major intersections for more than five minutes at a time without safety gear like reflective vests, but that he will continue to work with the Nautical Ride organizers to make the event safer in the future. Any decision to halt the event would have to come from City Hall, he said, but the Police Department does not have the staffing levels available to provide full traffic control for the weekly ride.

Police have assisted with the ride at certain points, but Woodcox said officers are on the scene for only 10-15 minutes. During the July 15 ride, three patrol cars helped block traffic temporarily while riders were on 10 Mile Road near Jefferson, heading for the final destination of Pat O’Brien’s Tavern and Baffin Brewery.

Woodcox said there was one traffic crash during the July 8 ride when a driver became impatient and tried to make a U-turn, striking another vehicle attempting to do the same thing. He conceded, however, that there were not many official complaints made to police.

“I’m sure it would be fun to be in the ride, but for the motoring public around the ride, it’s a nightmare,” he said. “Each ride, we receive one or two complaints about bicyclists blocking traffic. We do not receive an outrageous number of calls.”

City Manager Michael Smith said the ride has been a great success for the city. It has called attention, however, to a city ordinance that

requires cyclists to ride single-file in the roadway. State law says that riders can be two abreast. City Council was set to consider an amendment to the ordinance to align it with state law at the July 20 meeting, after the Sentinel went to press.

“We are trying to be more bicycle-friendly. It is something that makes the community more attractive to active adults,” Smith said.

At times, he said, the Nautical Ride has had almost 500 participants, and “we do want to encourage people to ride.”

“Our ordinances were written, in some cases, 70 years ago. It was time to take a look at it,” he said.

Participants seemed genuinely pleased with the ride, which stops for a water break midway through each week’s 8- to 10-mile ride.

Kalei Sliwinski, of St. Clair Shores, said she enjoys hanging out with family members each week. This was her third time at the ride.

“I think it’s pretty cool just to see all these people on their bikes,” she said.

Passersby seemed to think the same, with some drivers honking horns as the huge trail of bikers passed and others sitting in traffic with cellphones out to capture photos and videos of the ride. Many residents also waved or took pictures from street corners and porches as the procession pedaled by.

“It’s nice. You ride around through town, see places you normally don’t see. Somewhere different all the time,” said Kevin Barker, of St. Clair Shores, on the ride for his third time with his daughter. “It got me riding because we don’t normally ride this far.”

Sharon Goerke, of St. Clair Shores, said she loves the pace, the people and that it’s an event that brings the community together. Riding with her and other family members, Jeff Goerke said that he appreciates all the work and planning that goes into each ride, and the fact that it stays in the city limits.

“A few years ago, they were trying to coin the city as being cool. With this, it is,” he said.

Those interested can follow the Roy O’Brien Ford Facebook page to find out where and when the ride will start and end each week through Oct. 28.