First GR Bike Summit a Success!

IMG_0344With 60 bicycles crowding the Bike Valet Parking area and around 200 attendees inside to learn how to make Grand Rapids into a Bicycle Friendly Community, I would call the first ever Grand Rapids Bike Summit a big success!  In the crowd there were young people, old people, roadies, mtn bikers, casual bicycle riders, hardcore cyclists, fixed gear riders, gov’t officials, politicians, and many others.

We had fantastic City Commissioner, Rosalynn Bliss, to start things off with introductions.  Ms. Bliss explained how the Bike Summit began as an idea over a cup of coffee between herself and Bob Zylstra.  They brought in help, including committee chairperson Kevin McCurren, myself, and many others.  With many Monday morning planning meetings and funding from our many sponsors, the result was this summit.

IMG_0395 editBill Nesper from the League of American Bicyclists was our keynote speaker.  Mr. Nesper is head of the Bicycle Friendly America program, and he was there to provide the inspiration for what Grand Rapids could be in the future as a Bicycle Friendly Community.  He provided plenty of examples from Portland, OR, Boulder, CO, and Davis, CA, the three current “Platinum” Bicycle Friendly Communities.  He explained that while we have an excellent start, and a lot of great things providing momentum, Grand Rapids has lots of room to improve our 5 “E”s, Engineering, Education, Enforcement, Encouragement, and Evaluation.  And he said that improvement will have to come from both the top and the bottom of our local city and county governments.  We need the support of the Mayor, through activities such as the first Mayor’s Bike Ride, and the support of the community, who showed up in great numbers for this summit.  I was also happy see that Interim City Manager Eric DeLong took time out of his busy schedule to attend and hopefully get an idea of what is possible with strong leadership and support within City Government.

IMG_0403Following Mr. Nesper was Ann Freiwald, from Alta Planning and Design, the national leader in bicycle friendly design and planning.  Ms. Freiwald was there to show us how to actually make our community more bicycle friendly.  She began by stressing that one of the keys to increasing bicycling is to create a welcoming bicycle culture that includes everyone from kids to seniors.  The bicycle culture must be visible and be accepted as part of the community to create a sense of pride.  To do this, you must convince the 60% of riders who are “interested, but concerned” that it is safe and healthy for them to ride their bicycles everyday.

After a break for lunch, we heard from Josh DeBruyn, who works for MDOT as our federally mandated state Bicycle & Pedestrian coordinator (every state must have one or they miss out on some federal road funding).   Josh talked about the reasons why Michigan ranked 12th overall in a recent League of American Bicyclists study ranking states on bicycle friendliness.  Our highest rankings were 7th, in Education and Encouragement, and 8th, for infrastructure.  In Michigan 35% of roads in the MDOT system, over 2,925 miles, have a shoulder 4 feet wide or larger.  Statewide we have over 1,576 miles of rail trails.  We placed lowest, 35th, in the legislation category, where we have no statewide complete streets policy, and bicycles are not considered a legal vehicle, despite being given all the rights and responsibilities to operate as one.

IMG_0392 After that we heard from Suzanne Schulz, our tireless Planning Director at the City of Grand Rapids.  She talked about the City’s efforts to improve bicycling after it came up in the talks for the 2002 Master Plan.  In 2004, the city developed a Bicycle Plan and have since put many roads on a “road diet” going from four lanes to three, with a striped shoulder.  However, many of these shoulders have not been wide enough to meet the technical standards to be labeled a bike lane, and in the past, the city has been concerned about liability for maintenance of a labeled bicycle lane.  These are two of the reasons we do not have a single marked bicycle lane in the City of Grand Rapids.  She talked about the money for implementation and maintenance being a large  obstacle to the widespread implementation of bicycle lanes throughout the city.  The city roads dept. is already beyond it’s budget just trying to maintain the status quo.  She did mention that shared use facilities, such as sharrows, may be an option because they do not require much extra plowing or maintenance.  She also said that bicyclists need to advocate strongly on their own behalf or the city will not budget for facilities that take them into account.

IMG_0368Ms. Schulz also mentioned that the Green Grand Rapids master plan process currently underway will be producing a new, more detailed Bicycle Plan.  A draft of this plan is available here.  I hope that the city will be able to use this plan to leverage funding.  Possible sources include the Transportation Enhancements program, and the next Federal Transportation Authorization Act,  which may specifically set aside $50 million for improving the bicycle infrastructure network in Grand Rapids through the Rails to Trails Conservancy’s 2010 Campaign for Active Transportation.

Next were the four breakout sessions to brainstorm ideas from community members on what priorities should be addressed and what actions we needed to take to improve bicycling in the Grand Rapids area.  The breakout sessions were:

  • On-Road (2 groups)
  • Off-Road
  • Policy, Law, and Enforcement
  • Advocacy and Education

I was moderating the Advocacy and Education, with the help of Barb Schmid and Ann Freiwald, and thought we had a lot of good ideas that were discussed amongst the four small groups in our session.

IMG_0336After the breakouts, our panel summarized the sessions and then we had some open question and answer for our experts.  Although the crowd had thinned out some by this time, we finished with remarks by Kevin McCurren and a big round of applause.

A big thanks to all who  came out to make the first Grand Rapids Bike Summit a success.  We’ll be looking at our feedback forms, compiling the data from breakout sessions, and trying to figure out how to move forward and implement the ideas spurred on by this Summit.  Watch PedalGR for ways to get involved in this process.  I think we can make Grand Rapids a better community for bicycling and a better community for living!  See you on the road!


Check out the very good story that Fox 17 News did on the Bike Summit.  Thank you Carl Apple and crew:

GR Bike Summit Recap in the LAB E-newsletter

A very positive review of the first Grand Rapids Bike Summit was sent out to thousands of League of American Bicyclists members around the country today in the American Bicyclist Update eNewsletter.  Here’s what it said:

Grand Rapids Bike Summit Recap

The inaugural Grand Rapids Bike Summit took place last Friday, April 24th in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The event hosted by the newly formed Bike Grand Rapids Coalition had the goal of putting together an action plan for making the city into a Bicycle Friendly Community. The turnout of over 200 people was just one demonstration of the enthusiasm for these efforts from the city’s active bicycling community. Bill Nesper, the League’s Director of the Bicycle Friendly America program spoke at the event and expressed how inspiring the event was for him. “The community has a lot of the ingredients of a great cycling city but most importantly they have the thing that someone from out of town can’t teach at a workshop – a grassroots bicycling culture. [At their summit] it was clear that the community has the people at all levels, from city staff to club cyclists, who want to transform their city for cycling. They have come up with a plan of action which was the goal…and I can’t wait to see what happens next.”

Thanks to Bill Nesper and the League staff for this positive exposure to bicyclists all over the country.  We should be proud of the bicycling culture we have in Grand Rapids and continue to build and push to make our city more bicycle friendly.  The potentional economic and health benefits are huge!

GR Bike Summit Pre-Registration Ends Soon

2009grbikesummit_logoAs of this afternoon there were 189 people pre-registered for the first ever Grand Rapids Bike Summit, this Friday, April 24th at Loosemore Auditorium on the downtown GVSU campus.  Due to the deadline of the catering service, free registration will stop at 200 225 and any attendees after that will have to sign-up on the day of the event and pay a $10 fee for the box lunch.   The capacity of Loosemore Auditorium is only 232, so get there early if you’re not pre-registered.

I’m very excited that over 200 people will be joining us to kick off our effort to make Grand Rapids bicycle friendly.   Back in the early planning stages, our committee was optimistically hoping to get 100-150.  I think this really shows that the demand for increased access to bicycling for transportation and recreation is there.   We just need to help our cities and the county along in developing and implementing a solid bicycle plan, make the case for building complete streets, and work to nurture new bicyclists and get more people out riding!  The City of Grand Rapids is well on it’s way, with a new Bicycle Plan being drafted through the Green Grand Rapids master planning process and using input from this summit.

After the Bike Summit, there are more things planned, with the start of my PedalGR rides and the first ever Mayor’s Bike Ride on May 6th at 6:30 at John Ball Park!  With a short kid’s ride at 6pm, kid’s activities during the adult ride, and a bike polo demostration afterwards, this promises to be a fantastic event!  Mark your calendar and join hundreds of your closest friends and the Mayor!  Longer routes will also be available for those that want to continue after the 5 mile ride with Mayor Heartwell.

Also, there are still plenty of spaces in my Smart Cycling – Street Skills 101 courses.

I am ecstatic at the possibilities for bicycling Grand Rapids!!!

Clean Bikes are Happy Bikes @ The Meanwhile

Check out this cool event at the Meanwhile Bar on Sunday. Drink beers, fix up your bike for the season, and enjoy good company.  And, it will probably be out in their beer garden where I don’t have to deal with the cigarette smoke.

This sounds like fun to me. I’ve been needing to get over there to buy a “Michigan…America’s High Five” t-shirt to send to a friend. And, they have a new t-shirt with that dinosaur logo on it.

Looks like they will also be starting a monthly Sunday group ride in May.  I get happy when I see events like this going on in Grand Rapids.

Black Hills/Butterworth bridge construction delayed

The City of Grand Rapids will likely reject the two lowest bids for the renovation of an old railroad bridge connecting the Black Hills Neighborhood to the future Butterworth Park (2mb .pdf of preliminary site plan) because the contractors were not properly pre-qualified to receive a contract of this type and amount. The third bid they received could have been an extra $200,000 once contingency costs were factored in. Because the contractors thought they had all their paperwork submitted, the city has decided to advertise for new bids for four more weeks. This will allow the two low bidders to get properly pre-qualified and re-submit their bids, along with any other interested contractors. Construction on the bridge is still expected to be completed by the fall, with landscape finishing work taking place next spring.


This bridge is a key connector between SW Grand Rapids and the West Side. It will eventually connect with the Plaster Creek Trail and allow someone to ride all the way from Ken-O-Sha Park at 32nd and Kalamazoo to Millennium Park, mostly on beautiful, wooded trail. You can read my first post about it from January, including an additional map, here. The city staff I communicated with were VERY excited to get this project done. I am, too!