Gran Fondo bike ride up for more debate

Gran Fondo bike ride up for more debate

PHOTO: J Singleton

*** Update ***

Royal Oak, Mich. — The Royal Oak City Commission, working until 11pm Mon., Dec. 17, made no official motions to approve the the 54-mile Gran Fondo bike ride and race the Woodward Avenue Action Association is proposing to happen along Woodward on a Sunday sometime in summer 2013.

Royal Oak Police Chief Corrigan O'Donohue said the safety concerns the race, and particularly the slower, public ride, present to the city of Royal Oak are numerous and claimed the WA3 didn't have a safety plan, but rather are relying on an undeveloped safety plan the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) proposed for the ride.

The Association's Executive Director Heather Carmona was not at the meeting to discuss and present the plan, but rather was at a Birmingham City Commission meeting to pitch the ride and race to officials in that city.

Officials and Birmingham Police Chief Donald Studt said they didn't have a problem with the ride, but that they understood the logistical and safety concerns the ride may present.

And while MDOT has an idea for how police might handle the event, they also said they would only support the Gran Fondo if the 11 communities that share Woodward Ave. in Oakland and Wayne Counties support it as well.

The race and public ride, which would stretch from Detroit to Pontiac and back, presents unique problems for Royal Oak because a large percentage of Woodward Avenue is in Royal Oak's jurisdiction, who would be tasked with keeping intersetions and roads clear for riders as the Gran Fondo passed through their community.

Royal Oak City Manager Donald Johnson, who recommended a 'no' vote from the Commission before a meeting in early December, said the race, which would see 200 riders racing up Woodward at speeds up to 30 miles per hour, is not the problem. He said the public ride, which could host thousands of leisure cyclists riding at much slower speeds, would take too long to pass through Royal Oak and said there were safety concerns for both cyclists and drivers. 

No date has been set for an official vote on the ride yet, which would raise money for cyclist and pedestrian improvement along the 27-mile stretch of Woodward.

***12-4-2012***

Royal Oak, Mich. — A disputed ordinance outlining a large bicycle ride and race saw no official action among the Royal Oak City Commission last night. City administration will take up the issue again at the Dec. 17 meeting after further research and discussion.

The bike ride, called a gran fondo, would pass through 11 Wayne and Oakland County jurisdictions and stretch from Detroit to Pontiac and back on a 54-mile loop. Organizers say they are expecting up to 3,000 cyclists and as many as 200 professional racers for the June 30 ride.

City Manager Donald Johnson said the gran fondo was "an extremely high-risk event" that could jeopardize the safety of ride participants and Royal Oak drivers. He also said he was wary of the number of police officers a Dream Cruise-like event needs. 

"Our goal is to cover your policing costs," said Heather Carmona, executive director for the Woodward Avenue Action Association. She said through sponsorships and ride fees they would likely be able to compensate each municipality for their police resources.

She also said the gran fondo was "philosophically different than the Dream Cruise."

Much of the debate focused on how a police escort would function for the large race and ride along Woodward Ave. in Royal Oak, which Mayor Jim Ellison said is a unique challenge for the city because their police would be responsible for a large portion of the route.

Royal Oak Police Chief Corrigan O'Donohue also said his staff is getting more requests for all-hands-on-deck events, but said he might be willing to forfeit the job to the Oakland and Wayne County sheriffs, which Carmona said was a possibility.

Heather Carmona, executive director of the Woodward Avenue Action Association also said the gran fondo was "philosophically different than the Dream Cruise."


The Michigan Department of Transportation said closing Woodward for the event would likely make it more dangerous to cyclists and recommended just having a 80-100 escort vehicles acting like a buffer. MDOT officials are also considering drafting a safety plan, but O'Donohue said he wasn't comfortable being beholden to a safety plan he didn't create. 

There's also a bit of irony in this debate, too. 

The race, which requires special permits as it's an officially sanctioned bicycle race, has the green light, but the much larger, slower-paced public ride, which race organizer Dale Hughes said people have a right to, is under threat of being squashed if communities along the Avenue don't buy in.  

The ride also comes before the council at a time when these same 11 communities are trying to establish a 27-mile network of complete streets improvements along Woodward Ave. The race, Carmona said, would surely benefit the WAAA's goal to promote safe cycling and walking along Woodward Ave. 

All the commissioners agreed that they wanted the event to happen, however, and thought it would project a bad image of the city if they stood in "hardcore opposition" to the ride. 

The issue will come before the Commission again Dec. 17 after all parties have time to do more research and planning.

***

In slightly related news, Royal Oak commissioners took action on a ordinance that would allow police to start ticketing cyclists who ride on sidewalks downtown. The ordinance will reappear for a second reading and a vote Dec. 17, after language about bicycle impoundment is refined or removed.

Commissioner Patricia Capello said the ordinance should also include specifications for signage indicating that cyclists must walk their bike on downtown sidewalks. 

The ordinance would replace the existing ordinance, which bans bicycles, skateboards, dogs, and scooters from downtown sidewalks. It would grant access to dogs, scooters and other personal mobility devices, such as Segways. 

What do you think about all this? Do you live in Royal Oak? Let the Mayor, City Manager and Commissioners know what you think!