Is the Gran Fondo dead?
Last month cycling promoter Dale Hughes, working with the Woodward Avenue Action Association, proposed holding a Gran Fondo, or "big ride," in a long loop along Woodward avenue from Detroit to Pontiac and back on Sunday, June 30th. The event would have included a race for professional cyclists followed by a public bicycle ride.
Many other cities around the world hold Gran Fondos. They are often marquee events which draw many thousands of participants. This Gran Fondo, running the same route as the historic Dream Cruise, would have attracted enormous attention and could have grown to become one of the world's premier cycling events.
Unfortunately, smack in the middle of the Gran Fondo, like a cranky old white guy yelling "get off my lawn!", lies Royal Oak. And Royal Oak, true to its long history of anti-bicycle, anti-pedestrian public policy, killed the Gran Fondo.
Community cycling events like the Gran Fondo are not just fun celebrations. They also introduce the idea of biking into thousands of minds, in the same way that the Dream Cruise spurs classic car fix-em-ups. The consultants who produced Royal Oak's non-motorized plan last year explicitly noted the importance of community cycling events and called on Royal Oak to organize and encourage them.
So why did Royal Oak kill the Gran Fondo?
Again, Royal Oak has a long history of ignoring the needs of persons who bike and walk. The current atrocious state of our streets, which has scared much of the population away from walking and biking, was no accident. Engineers and planners deliberately created streets and intersections to move the maximum number of cars as fast as possible; bikes and pedestrians are seen as obstacles to the smooth flow of traffic.
To be fair, Royal Oak is a typical American city in this regard. Exceptional cities, with exceptional staff and exceptional elected officials, have bucked this trend. Here in Michigan Ann Arbor and Traverse City have thousands of people biking and walking along streets that have been deliberately re-engineered to encourage biking and walking. Exceptional cities have discovered: if you build it, they will ride.
Stick-in-the-mud, cranky-old-white-guy cities like Royal Oak find excuses. The excuse to kill the Gran Fondo was "safety." Royal Oak's city manager authored a polemic condemning the Gran Fondo as a "recipe for disaster, " filled with apocalyptic rhetoric and predictions of violent death. The city manager was so desperate to find reasons to condemn the Gran Fondo he even cited churches--apparently the few hundred people who attend Sunday service at Shrine and St. John's would been so flummoxed by the Gran Fondo that only mass carnage or the collapse of Christianity could have resulted.
Rhetoric like this poisons the well. It is unlikely, but someone could get hurt or killed at a Gran Fondo. When our city manager publicly condemned the event as homicidal it become impossible for the event organizers to proceed, even though they had already won support and cooperation from Detroit, MDOT, and various other government bodies.
Would a Gran Fondo really be dangerous? Well, groups of cyclists hold rides on Woodward quite often. I've never heard of anyone being killed. Of course it could happen. People on bikes get struck and killed all the time. But large groups of riders, even on Woodward, are pretty safe, due to their high visibility. The city manager's memo killing the Gran Fondo ignored this basic and well-known fact.
And if safety is your bugaboo, consider events like Dream Cruise, Arts Beats and Eats, or even a typical weekend in downtown Royal Oak, with the mix of alcohol, cars, testosterone, and open-carry buffoons. Sooner or later someone is going to get killed--but when you want to do something you find reasons to say "yes." When you view cyclists and pedestrians as obstacles to the smooth flow of traffic you find reasons to say "no."
Royal Oak needs a kick in the pants.
On Monday, January 28th there are two things you can do to help apply the kick.
First, join us at the Royal Oak city commission meeting, and let the city commission know that you expect them to deliver on the promise of the non-motorized plan. We want a town where people feel safe riding a bike. Let them know how disappointed you are that they allowed their city manager to kill the Gran Fondo.
Then, immediately following public comment, we will retire to a downtown restaurant and plan a "big ride." The Gran Fondo may be dead, but the event promoters are determined to hold a public bicycle ride down Woodward Avenue on Sunday, June 30th, the day the Gran Fondo would have occurred. The Gran Fondo needed cooperation from city governments, but a public ride down Woodward is perfectly legal and requires no Royal Oak approval. Join us Monday, January 28th immediately after the public comment portion of the city commission meeting and help plan this event.
The Royal Oak city commission meeting will be held Monday, January 28th, 7:30 pm at Royal Oak City Hall, 211 Williams Street Royal Oak, MI 48067. That is in downtown Royal Oak immediately south of the library.
Yes, the Gran Fondo is dead. Long live the big ride!