A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Michigan St Forum…

Now where did I put my copy of that GVSU traffic and parking ordinance...

I got my first bicycle parking ticket in Grand Rapids.  Thanks GVSU.

Amy and I arrived at GVSU’s Center for Health Sciences from the south on Lafayette for a public input forum on the principles that will guide development along the Michigan Street corridor.  From across the street at the light, we could not see any bicycle parking, so we proceeded down Lafayette to the rear of the building.  They probably hid them there!  Nope.  Don’t see any.  Let’s go around to the east entrance on Michigan.  Maybe there’s some there.  No such luck.

Frustrated, we locked our bikes to one of the handrails at the main entrance on Lafayette and Michigan.

After the forum, Amy spotted our “tickets”.  Apparently we were supposed to park at some magical bicycle parking that we couldn’t find, despite the fact that we circled 75% of the building, looking for bicycle parking.

As it turns out, after asking the friendly but unsympathetic GVSU security officer, the bicycle parking is hiding in the parking garage on the east side, near the very narrow exit driveway with no sidewalk.  You can just barely see it in the background, right behind this big sign that says “Exit Only” with a big red cross.  There’s actually a bicycle parked in it.

"Exit Only, except bicycles, and try not to get run over by a bus or an exiting car."

The sign might as well say “Exit Only, except bicycles, and try not to get run over by a bus or an exiting car.”

Proper bicycle parking, the kind that says “We welcome bicycles here and want to encourage you not to drive your car and take up our super expensive parking space,” needs to be sited within visual distance of the entrance to the building it is serving.  There are plenty of spots along the street or in the small entrance plazas where these could be sited.

At the very least, the parking should be accessible by walking on a sidewalk from the the entrance and be well signed for anyone approaching the building who might be wondering where they should park their bicycle.

A very frustrated parking job of last resort.

Michigan Bicycle Summit Recap

Andy Clarke, Exec. Director of the League of American Bicyclists, and some guy with bike pins.

“There’s no better place than Michigan to show by example that things are changing.” — Andy Clarke, Executive Director of the League of American Bicyclists

Andy Clarke speaks with an English accent that gets your attention right away.  How did this short British chap get the primo bicycling job in America?  He is paid to speak on behalf of all cyclists in America and get people excited about creating change in American culture to create increased opportunities for bicycling.  He was the keynote speaker at this year’s Michigan Bicycle Summit on March 27th in Lansing.

His stump speech is a mix of positive examples from Portland, Europe, and elsewhere, mixed with the realization that change of this magnitude is like trying to change the direction of a glacier.  It’s going to take awhile.  But, he was quick to highlight the positive steps in this direction, such as the recent announcement by Ray LaHood, Secretary of the US Dept. of Transportation, that “This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.” (google search: “ray lahood bicycle”)

LMB merchandise for sale

Andy Clarke was not the only draw of the Michigan Bicycle Summit.  While at a session led by the charismatic Jean Doss on lobbying your legislature, I learned the importance of timing, that successful advocates are patient, persistent, and planful in their approach, and that the most important phrase working with politicians is, “I’m sorry that we disagree, but I look forward to working with you in the future.”   At a panel on the Complete Streets movement, we heard from the the bicycle and pedestrian advocates who played a key role in Lansing becoming the 100th city in the US to pass a Complete Streets ordinance.

In addition to the seminars, there was a Friday evening reception at the downtown Radisson where the League of Michigan Bicyclists handed out awards to some of the most active and inspiring volunteers promoting bicycling in Michigan.  Some of the other sessions that followed Andy Clarke’s keynote speech included:

In 2009, I attended my first National Bike Summit, and this was my first Michigan Bike Summit.  There are lots of opportunities to hear about all the great things that others are doing, but I think the best part is being around so many other people who “get it”.  They know how much fun bicycling is and they want to spread those feelings of joy and happiness to others, just like I do.

Bike parking at the summit

I invite you experience that same feeling on May 26th at the 2010 Lucinda Means Bicycle Advocacy Day in Lansing.  Join the League of Michigan Bicyclists, Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance, and the Michigan Mountain Biking Association for a day of lobbying your state legislators and fun (yes, those two things can go together).  It kicks off with a rally on the north lawn of the Capitol at 8:30am.  Visit http://www.lmb.org for more information.

I’ll end with another quote from Andy Clarke, via the League of Michigan Bicyclists’ eNewsletter.  When asked how to respond to people who ask why we should build bicycling facilities in places where people don’t ride their bicycles, he said “how many cars crossed the river before you built the bridge.”

Filling the Bike Shop Desert in GR

I am absolutely elated that Ada Bike Shop has purchased Fulton Heights Mower and Bike Repair and will be opening a satellite shop in the coming months at 1311 E Fulton near the Family Fare!  A grand opening is tentatively planned for sometime in the spring.

When I moved to Heritage Hill in 2006, one of the things that made bicycling and commuting more difficult was the lack of full service bicycle shops within easy riding distance. The two closest were Freewheeler on the NW side and Alger Cyclery near 28th and Buchanan. Both were about a 15-25 minute ride, depending on conditions.  Similar to the food desert many city residents live in, without access to a full service grocery store, Grand Rapids had a bike desert in much of the city.  Many of the other shops in Grand Rapids are between 5 and 7 miles away, and often located on busy 4-5 lane roads that aren’t very bicycle friendly.

lbs vs median income - before 2009
Local Bike Shops - Before 2009 vs Median Income
lbs vs median income - after 2009
Local Bike Shops - After 2009 vs Median Income
Local Bike Shops vs Population Density
Local Bike Shops vs Population Density

Why? Follow the money.

I created three maps.  The first shows full service bike shops prior to 2009, with a 2 mile radius surrounding each one. (I didn’t include The Motion Initiative on Godfrey because of their limited hours.)

The base map was created with the fantastic MAPAS application of GVSU’s Community Research Institute. The shading is for median income and darker is better, although the data from the 2000 census is getting old.

You’ll note a pretty big hole on the east side of Grand Rapids between Freewheeler, Alger Cyclery, Kentwood Cycling & Fitness, and Grand Rapids Bicycle Company.

The 2nd map, shows what it now looks like, with the addition of Commute Bicycle Shop on S. Division and the new Ada Bike Shop in Fulton Heights.

Dan Koert at Commute GR started with a bang and low overhead, selling a lot of used bicycles, some new, and a lot of parts, accessories, and repairs.  He was recently rewarded with the People’s Choice for Best New Business at the 2009 Neighborhood Business Awards.

The new Ada Bike Shop should do well serving the neighborhoods full of bicyclists that surround it and the affluent in EGR who were also in the bike desert.   Based on my talks with owner Jim Ippel last Tuesday, they are planning to do their best to continue to fix up some of the cheaper bikes that come in for repairs as well.

The third graphic shows population density.  The new shops added this year are within easy biking distance of some of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the metro area (>5,922 people per square mile.)

Finally, I wanted to share a few photos of the new space on Fulton St.  These photos are from 12/2/09 (when it was 50F outside!!!)  and when I was back on Tuesday, there was a nice window display with some youth bicycles and the entire peg board had come down.  They were planning to paint the walls this week.  The snowblower repair side of the business was also in full swing, with about 15 of them lined up in the main shop area, and more in the garage.

A Quiet Beginning Often Leads to Big Things

Last Wednesday, the Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition was officially created.  The seeds that were planted by the first ever Grand Rapids Bicycle Summit on 4/24/09 sprouted into this new organization in the backroom of The Mustache Gallery on South Division Avenue.  I have the honor of being a founding board member and official representative of the Rapid Wheelmen Bicycle Club.

The first executive board for the new coalition will be:

  • Chair: J. Kevin McCurren
  • Vice Chair/Chair-elect: Nate Phelps
  • Secretary/Treasurer: Michael Tuffelmire

Many other board members have stepped forward to serve, and huge thanks is owed to everyone who has contributed their time and effort.  Much work needs to be done, but a gathering is in the works to kick-off the group’s advocacy efforts following the return of our Bicycle Friendly Community application submitted to the League of American Bicyclists in August.

The GGRBC will serve as a single voice representing the interests of all bicyclists in the Grand Rapids metro area.  The group is still working out where they will focus their attention for 2010.  Their plan is to work on projects that will make a visible difference in improving and promoting bicycling in this great city!  A simple look outside will tell you that more people are choosing to ride and the GGRBC wants that trend to continue.

The GGRBC will be represented at the Park(ing) Day festivities downtown this Friday, 9/18, on Ionia Ave at Monroe Center.  Twenty four groups and businesses will be  transforming parking spaces all over downtown from automobile storage into spaces for people to gather, learn, and have fun!

Feel free to come and visit and sign up to get more information on the GGRBC, get your bicycle registered, and get your tires inflated.  We’ll have a DJ station playing music and may have another couple of surprises in the works.

Grand Rapids Bike Park Launches new website

Other big things are starting with a bang.  The Grand Rapids Bike Park launched their new website and established a presence on Facebook and Twitter on Saturday night, 9/12/09.  In less than 3 days they have already garnered 272 friends and that number keeps increasing.

The park will be located near the GR BMX track in a section of Plaster Creek Park near Burton and US-131.

You can find them on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/grbikepark and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/grbikepark.  Please friend or follow them and show your support!

The Western Chapter of the Michigan Mountain Biking Association has been working on this park for quite awhile, and it’s great to see those efforts pay off.  They have demonstrated success at building sustainable trails all over the West Michigan area.  They have improved recreational opportunities region-wide and helped introduce many people to the sport of mountain biking.

Building from the success of this park, I would love to see more opportunities for house-to-trail-to-house mountain biking for all the citizens of Grand Rapids.  Remove the car from the equation and get more people out for some fun, addictive exercise on some singletrack.  It’s a win-win.

To Helmet or Not To Helmet

I was interviewed yesterday by Grand Rapids Press reporter Jim Harger about whether or not Grand Rapids should pass a mandatory bicycle helmet law requiring ALL bicyclists to wear helmets. I said I would not support this ordinance. (Edit: Here is the article. It turns out that Mr. Harger did not choose to quote me.)

Unknown to many, helmets can be a hot, controversial topic in the bicycling community.

Ken Kifer, a cycling advocate who was tragically killed by a drunk driver in 2003, lays out some of the main arguments for helmet use:

1) Bicycling accidents are frequent and unavoidable, and head injuries and death are likely to result from these accidents.

2) Many cyclists have attested that a helmet saved their lives and even have battered or broken helmets to prove it.

3) Scientific evaluations have been made of helmets which ensure that they will protect the head against almost all injures.

4) Researchers have determined that up to 88% of head injuries or deaths could be avoided by wearing a helmet. A drop in the number of cyclists killed each year is further proof that bicycle helmets work.

5) Any protection is better than none, there is no handicap involved in wearing a helmet, and no advantage comes from not wearing one. Statistics show that when bike riders are given a free choice of whether to wear helmets or not that most of them don’t.

He continues on with the reasons he does not believe those arguments are valid. See his article here.

There are many other sites opposing mandatory helmet laws as well, including the
League of Bicycling Voters, an Austin, TX group that formed to oppose a proposed mandatory helmet law in that city.

The bicycle helmet debate has extremely passionate and convincing advocates on both sides. There are two main websites that will be referenced by each side.
The pro-helmet side: Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute
The helmet skeptics: Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation

Each is packed with data and scientific studies that supposedly back up their point of view.

Who is right? As with many complex issues there is not a clear-cut answer.

A bicycle helmet is a tool for bicycle safety and can clearly help prevent some types of injuries in low-speed crashes. This is why I wear one nearly every time I ride a bicycle, and I encourage others to do so as well. However, it may be of little help in many bicycle/motor vehicle accidents that happen at higher speeds, which are the ones that typically result in serious injury and death.

Crash prevention is the best way to avoid these situations. We need widespread education of both drivers and cyclists on the causes of car/bike collisions and how to avoid them. We need “Complete Streets” that safely accommodate all road users. We will have to work together with local governments, educational institutions, and the bicycling community to implement these changes and others.

Doing these things will be a lot harder than passing a mandatory helmet ordinance, but it will be more effective in encouraging people to get out and ride, continuing to build a bicycle culture in Grand Rapids, and making our city a Bicycle Friendly Community.