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Gran Fondo: 'Big Ride' or Big Headache for Royal Oak?

Supporters of the race say it has the potential to be a marquee event, while city leaders worry a massive community bike ride down Woodward Avenue is unsafe.

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. 

Doug H December 03, 2012 at 09:59 PM
Someone from the RO city government might want to contact their peers at Santa Rosa, CA to gather a little input about their Fondo. A RO Fondo would not likely be as successful the first year as Santa Rosa's Fondo but they have 7000+ cyclists AND the city working on the event because it benefits the city, draws visitors, generates interest in the city, etc. The easy alternative is always ....do what we've always done (or not done). Take some initiative. Try it, then decide.
Tom December 03, 2012 at 10:21 PM
Let these bikers drive on I-75! Or why not plan the route through all the vacant property in Detroit where it won't further disturb our community like the Dream Cruise and Arts Beats and Eats does.
Dave Armstrong December 04, 2012 at 06:02 PM
Don't forget: Woodward Avenue (and all other roads) were originally designed and intended for horses, pedestrians, and cyclists. Cars came later........
RedTop December 04, 2012 at 07:35 PM
Cars could only go 35 mph at one time too, Dave, so your point is kind of ridiculous.
RedTop December 04, 2012 at 07:39 PM
This proposal is great if we had unlimited public safety resources, and could station a cop at every intersection, but we don't. If your lawnmower is stolen out of your shed, we don't have enough police to come to your house to take a report anymore. One has to go to the police station now to report such a crime. I don't want to use my police resources in this fashion. I want them in the neighborhoods.
Reddest Wing December 04, 2012 at 08:02 PM
Maybe if we paint a bunch of "sharrows" on Woodward it will be safer, just like on Catalpa!
RAM December 04, 2012 at 08:57 PM
"We see this as a very high-risk/low-reward event". Couldn't the exact same thing be said for the wasteful Dream Cruise? Yet a significant amount of resources are allocated for it, and we're all expected to put up with at least a week's worth of inconvenience. But all of a sudden when bicycles are involved it's a problem?
Leon December 04, 2012 at 11:02 PM
Dream Cruise is a tremendous drain on our employee and city resources, but two wrongs still don't make a right!
Ape Zilla December 05, 2012 at 02:23 PM
Ronald: WA3 has told the communities that they will be reimbursed for any overtime as a result of police staffing for this event. Cost should NOT be an issue. I agree with your comments about groups of cyclists. Royal Oak wants to appear as a bike friendly community (with the Sharrows painted on Catalpa) and this should be supported to further that image of a bike friendly community. Agreed with the Dream Cruise and AB&E. The amount of headache that those events place on local residents/businesses is huge. An event like the Fondo would not bring crowds of 1 million like the Dream Cruise, and in my opinion, this 6-7 hour event would be easy to manage for the city. Detroit, Ferndale, Pleasant Ridege, and Huntington Woods have unanimously supported this event, why wouldn't Royal Oak want to do the same?
Ape Zilla December 05, 2012 at 02:24 PM
That's an ignorant comment : "Let these bikers drive on I-75!" A bunch of people riding bikes along Woodward is a huge disturbance? Unreal. Why not cancel any/all community events as they may be a "disturbance" to the community......
Ape Zilla December 05, 2012 at 02:25 PM
Read above. Do your due diligence on this issue. WA3 has stated that they are going to reimburse participating communities for associated police support. This is a non issue.
Ape Zilla December 05, 2012 at 02:31 PM
Agreed. The Dream Cruise is not only a week long headache for the community (over time is tax-payer funded), but it does bring many people of questionable character to our communities. Ever walk Woodward during/after the cruise? It's littered with beer cans and trash and burnout marks all over the road. I'm all for the Dream Cruise, but let's be realistic, Royal Oak; an event like the Gran Fondo (read: BICYCLES) is an extremely low risk event. What benefit (truly) does the High-Risk/Low-reward Dream Cruise provide to the community? Surely is isn't injecting a high amount of cash into the community, as the event hurts many businesses along Woodward because of the traffic, and creates an obscene amount of traffic/headache for residents across the region. Yet, year after year it's supported.
Clyde Esbri December 05, 2012 at 08:01 PM
What many people likely don't realize is that there are already large organized rides which occur along the full length of Woodward. These rides include well over 100 riders and occur without incident. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uFhSVXPELlY Here is a video clip from the 2010 Woodward Loop ride...look for yours truly at 10:56 mark!
Ken E. December 05, 2012 at 08:33 PM
Clyde, is this why we passed a public safety millage, to pay our police overtime to patrol intersections on Woodward for bike races? This event will require all our police to be blocking intersections and playing traffic cops for 6 hours on a Sunday. In the meantime, we don't have enough police to come to my house to take a report when my snowblower was stolen. I didn't end up reporting it stolen because I didn't have the time to go to the police station, and it was a wash with my insurance deductible. But I wanted the theft reported for policing sake. Good grief!
Jeanne December 05, 2012 at 10:35 PM
Great point Ken E. I voted to increase my taxes for more public safety officers to patrol and service my neighborhood, not to patrol more and more special events around town.
Reddest Wing December 06, 2012 at 03:01 PM
Wednesday evenings there are a gaggle (lol) of bikers tooling through our neighborhood... way too much spandex and attitude! Some dog walkers were almost hit, yet the dang bike brigade was complaining..? They are usually strung out down the road so be careful if you encounter them. (The stragglers are the worst. They cant keep up with the core group so their a bit tired and cranky, I guess.)

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