Birmingham Throws Its Support Behind Gran Fondo Bike Race
The 54-mile Woodward Avenue bike race from Detroit to Pontiac and back is sponsored by the Woodward Avenue Action Association and is tentatively scheduled for June 30, 2013.
Despite early controversy in Royal Oak, Birmingham threw its support behind the Gran Fondo, a bike ride along Woodward Avenue tentatively scheduled for June 30, 2013.
The race is being organized by the Woodward Avenue Action Association (WA3) in conjuction with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT). The Gran Fondo, Italian for "big ride," would feature a 54-mile race route starting in downtown Detroit that would go to Pontiac and back.
Organizers hope more than 200 national- and international-caliber riders will pariticipate in the professional race, following by a community bike ride.
The purpose behind the race and ride, organizers say, is to promote healthy living, showcase Woodward Avenue and raise funds for sustainable infrastructure and other beautification projects along Woodward.
WA3 executive director and Birmingham resident Heather Carmona came before the Birmingham City Commission Monday night looking for its informal support for the race. She received that support from both commissioners and Birmingham Police Chief Don Studt, with a few concerns about safety.
"I think it's important to note that cars will be next to the riders (during this race)," City Commissioner Rackeline Hoff said. "And there will be young riders."
Commissioner Tom McDaniel agreed, noting he doesn't have a problem with the professional race but the community ride could be a problem, particularly if riders are entering and exiting the route at various points along Woodward.
"It seems to me that you're biting off more than you can chew," McDaniel said. "Maybe you can try the community ride in smaller areas, like Ferndale and Pleasant Ridge, or Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills. ... I can't conceive this working from the Detroit River to Pontiac."
Carmona assured commissioners that there will be a lane of 80-100 pace vehicles driving alongside the riders during the race, protecting them from Woodward traffic (since the road will not be closed to traffic during the event). Cyclists will also be expected to obey traffic laws during the ride, and police will be stationed at intersections to make sure cyclists and drivers are safe.
The required police presence around the Gran Fondo is a problem for some Royal Oak officials, including the Royal Oak police chief and city manager.
"One thing that was clear at the meeting is (the organizers) currently have no plan. They refer to a plan that's been approved by MDOT. There actually is no plan," the Royal Oak Police Chief Corrigan O'Donohue told the Royal Oak City Commission during their meeting Monday night.
"MDOT was there and they said they have an idea, but they want help from local law enforcement with problem intersections. I brought up the fact that just about every one of our intersections is a problem intersection and they had no idea how to deal with it," O'Donohue said. Royal Oak took no action on the race Monday.
Carmona admitted the race was contentious in Royal Oak, though she noted the WA3 doesn't technically need special event permits — or official approval — from communities along Woodward. MDOT, however, is requesting WA3 receive this support for at least the community ride.
Studt, meanwhile, said he doesn't have a problem with the Gran Fondo — at least, the Birmingham part.
"I don't see a problem with our little corner of the world," Studt said on Monday night. "There are lot of problems I can see, but those aren't mine to address."
Studt noted potential problem areas include the 8 Mile overpass, the 696 overpass and the intersection at 13 Mile and Coolidge. There could also be problems with several of the churches along Woodward — the race is scheduled for a Sunday morning.
Several city commissioners agreed that the race was a good thing for Woodward and the surrounding communities.
"I'm not uncomfortable with the race," City Commissioner Gordon Rinschler said. "This is a really cool idea."
City Commissioner Scott Moore agreed. "Anything that brings awareness to Woodward Avenue ... I think we need to support. This is going to be a big part of our future."