At City Hall tonight, the Royal Oak City Commission will be advised to reject any special event permits that would encourage people to come to town and cycle down Woodward Avenue in June 2013.
In a memo to commissioners, City Manager Don Johnson said the Gran Fondo event promoted by the Woodward Avenue Action Association (WA3) is unsafe and a drain on city services. The event would consist of a professional bicycle race from Detroit to Pontiac and back, followed by a massive community bike ride. Cities along the route are encouraged by WA3 to come up with special events to coincide with the ride.
“The staff and I are in complete agreement with our position. We see this as a very high risk/low reward event,” writes Johnson. “We think Royal Oak has little to gain from a successful event and much to lose should an accident occur, which the likelihood of an accident occurring is relatively high and the potential for any bicycle-motor vehicle accident to be deadly is very high.”
Royal Oak Police Chief Corrigan O’Donohue has attended several meetings and has consistently expressed his safety concerns about the community bike ride since the event would occur without closing Woodward to motor vehicle traffic.
O’Dononue, has few issues with the professional race event. "We can easily handle that," he said, however, he appears to be the lone voice in opposition to the community bike ride.
“The organizers have the full support of Wayne County, Detroit, Ferndale and Birmingham. Other law enforcement representatives are less enthusiastic,” O’Donohue wrote.
During the event drivers will be encouraged to drive 25 miles per hour and stay out of the right two lanes, however, the official speed limit will not be changed and the lane designation is not legally enforceable, according to O’Donohue.
The chief is concerned about Woodward churches, such as Shrine of the Little Flower, that will have services during the Sunday event. Many elderly drivers only drive once a week and that is to church and back. They may be confused, he said.
Staffing for the Gran Fondo will also be problematic, according to O'Donohue. Officers are not allowed to take vacations or other planned time off during the Woodward Dream Cruise or Arts, Beats & Eats and this event would require the same restrictions.
Support for the Big Ride
Heather Carmona, executive director of WA3, doesn't disagree with any of O'Donohue's concerns.
"The chief has come to all our meetings and has been very helpful," Carmona said. "But this event is done throughout the country and can be done here. Issues can be addressed."
Carmona said the WA3 will work with communities, including the 37 churches along Woodward Avenue, to address their needs, costs and safety issues.
Longtime cyclist Tom Regan of Royal Oak believes the Gran Fondo is a good idea and has the potential to be a marquee event for the entire region.
“The Royal Oak Police Department recommends a 'no' vote on pretty much everything because they are short-staffed, so I don’t put much weight on it,” Regan said. “I am hoping the city commission provides leadership here, because once you say no to something like this the opportunity never comes back.”
Rather than coming up with reasons not to support the event, Regan hopes the city commission will request staff to come up with solutions for their concerns.
In any case, Regan notes that it is not illegal to ride a bike down Woodward so it is unlikely the city can prevent the Gran Fondo from occurring.
“If Royal Oak is the only stick in the mud, I hope it happens anyway,” Regan said.
What is the Gran Fondo?
Gran Fondo is an Italian term for the ‘big ride.’ The WA3 is proposing a 54-mile route starting in downtown Detroit that would go to Pontiac and loop back. The Gran Fondo would pass through 11 communities, including Royal Oak, and two counties.
Organizers hope 200 national and international caliber racers will participate in a race and thousands more will participate in community bide ride, which would have a $35 entry fee.
The professional race would occur from 8-10 a.m.; the group ride from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. on Sunday, June 30, 2013.
The WA3 is encouraging Royal Oak to host a city stage, along with Detroit, Ferndale, Birmingham/Bloomfield and Pontiac, which would act as an entry point for bikers to join the route.
The goal of the event is to raise money to fund WA3 initiatives, such as the beautification of .
Organizers say the event will also showcase historical sites, and retail destinations, such as the Royal Oak Trek dealer on Woodward, the largest in the state.
For more information, see the WA3 fact sheet on the Gran Fondo attached to this article.