Critical Mass Bike Ride this Friday

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Critical Mass–a monthly bike ride promoting bicycle awareness–will take to the streets this Friday (May 29) in downtown Grand Rapids.

The rides have a long history in Grand Rapids going back nearly nine years, but in recent years, they have largely stagnated and been overshadowed by other events–such as the weekly Wednesday Night Bike Rides. However, there is still a place for a more politicized bike ride.

From the Facebook event:

For anyone who doesn’t know, Critical mass is a celebration of bicycle culture. On the last friday of every month a large sum of people get together on their bikes and ride through the city for a while (around an hour) the idea of a mass is that in numbers, we are strong, motorists yield to cyclists, and for one night a month we have free range of the streets.

Meet at Veterans Park on Fulton and Division, across from the library. It’s been too long since Grand Rapids has held a Mass, we need to show unfriendly drivers that they need to share the road.

Meet at 5:30pm at Veterans Park in downtown Grand Rapids.

There is also a Facebook group for Grand Rapids Critical Mass for those who would like to help organize and coordinate future rides.

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Bicyclist Killed in Grand Rapids

Ride of Silence

Yesterday, a 55-year old Grand Rapids man was hit while traveling on a bicycle in Grand Rapids.

According to media reports, the unnamed bicyclist was hit by a City of Grand Rapids dump truck who was pulling out of a driveway. The driver of the truck says he did not see the bicyclist but stopped when he heard an unusual noise and saw the man laying in the street. Witnesses at the scene said the man was not wearing a helmet and that he was in shock and struggling to breathe before dying.

The incident occurred on the same day as the “Ride of Silence” a bike ride held each year to commemorate the lives of cyclists hit by motor vehicles. According to the website M-Bike.org, there motorists struck 2,160 bicyclists–killing 18–last year in Michigan.

Unfortunately, this incident is a reminder that for all the talk about making Grand Rapids a bicycle friendly city and Michigan’s ranking as a bicycle friendly state, bicycling remains a potentially dangerous means of transportation. As someone who bikes on a daily basis, barely a day goes by where there isn’t a vehicle that passes too close or a car that fails to pay attention and almost hits me. Sadly, this almost always happens in conjunction with insults yelled out the window and obscene gestures coming from the driver, who always views the cyclist as an obstacle to be overcome rather than a legitimate user of the road.

M-Bike.org has a good overview of Michigan’s bicycling laws, which include cyclists’ rights to the road. The City of Grand Rapids’ Bicycling Information Sheet contains information about local laws.

Michigan Ranks 15th in National Ranking of Bicycle Friendliness

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Michigan ranked 15th this year in the League of American Bicyclists’ annual survey of bike friendliness. Michigan’s ranking fell three spots to 15. It continues to rank well for education, infrastructure, and policies and programs. The state struggles when it comes to legislation promoting cycling, ranking 43rd out of 50.

The annual “Bicycle Friendly States” list was started by the League of American Bicyclists to promote bicycling and policy changes at the state level. The group aims to track states progress and to create momentum for improving biking conditions. It also seeks to accentuate the positive and work with states to improve bicycling conditions.

The League argues that for states “Encouraging bicycling is an effective way to address the challenges of climate change, traffic congestion, rising obesity rates and soaring fuel prices, as well as improve traffic safety and economic development.”

Bike To Work Week

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As part of “National Bike Month,” this week is Bike-to-Work Week. May 15th has been designated as “Bike-to-Work Day.”

We’d encourage you all to participate in “Bike-to-Work Day,” if not the entire week. It’s going to be nice most of the week and the mild weather will make for a great introduction to commuting via bicycle.

The League of American Bicyclists has an introduction to commuting by bike that can be a helpful reference for first-time commuters. The City of Grand Rapids also has a map of suggested bike routes and an infosheet containing information on area bike laws. The League of Michigan Bicyclists also has a booklet titled “What Every Michigan Bicyclist Should Know” that offers more helpful resources.

There will also be a group photo taken by the City of Grand Rapids for Bike to Work Day participants. The photo will be taken at Calder Plaza in downtown Grand Rapids at 7:00am on the 15th.

Grand Rapids Bike Summit Shows Possibilities and Limits

Grand Rapids Bike Summit

Yesterday, the City of Grand Rapids sponsored Grand Rapids first Bike Summit. The gathering brought together a wide variety of people–members of local government, regional planning groups, advocates, cyclists, and others–to discuss the state of biking in Grand Rapids.

Grand Rapids: A Bike Friendly Community?

One of the primary goals of the summit was to talk to about the possibility of Grand Rapids being designated as a “Bike Friendly Community.” The League of American Bicyclists certifies municipalities with a four-level classification system, bronze, silver, gold, and platinum based on how “bike friendly” they are. Among the things evaluated are a city’s planning for bikes, its plans to measure improvement, the amount of on-road and off-road facilities (for example, trails, bike lanes, and bike parking), and programs to encourage people to bike.

Bill Nesper of the League of American Bicyclists spoke to the benefits of biking, saying that many car trips in the United States are for short distances. He said that 40% of trips in the U.S. are under two miles and that 90% of those trips are made by cars. Aside from the obvious physical and environmental benefits of riding a bike, Nesper said it’s also cheaper for cities. $100 pays for parking for two bikes, but a space to accommodate a single car in a parking ramp can cost as much as $40,000. Moreover, Grand Rapids would benefit by becoming a “Bike Friendly Community” as it would provide recognition of its work thus far, a vehicle for promoting biking, benchmarking, and technical help for city planners.

Nesper said that Grand Rapids has some things going for it as it moves forward with its application for becoming a “Bike Friendly Community.” He pointed to statistics showing that more people in the city are riding bikes, said that the city has a good advocacy community, and praised the summit as an example of the kind of work that goes into making a city a “Bike Friendly Community.” He said that two easy things that the City could do to improve biking would be to adopt a “Complete Streets” ordinance that would require new road work to accommodate all users (i.e. bikes, cars, and pedestrians) and to build more bike parking.

Ann Freiwald of Alta Planning and Design also spoke, sharing a number examples of best practices from bike friendly communities. She said that bike friendly cities such as Portland, OR and Madison, WI have cultivated a “bike culture” in addition to facilities and policy improvements that get more people biking. She also emphasized that it is important for cities to focus on the 60% of riders who are interested in biking more but are concerned about their safety.

Biking and Policy in Michigan

Josh DeBruyn of the Michigan Department of Transportation spoke about bicycle transportation in Michigan at the state level. He said that in a recent survey by the League of American Bicyclists, Michigan ranked 12th in the United States for friendliness towards bikes. Among the reasons for this ranking, DeBruyn pointed to Michigan’s education and encouragement efforts (both through the state and independent advocacy organizations), trails in the sate, and the prevalence of bike routes.

DeBruyn said that there are areas for improvement, especially in the policy realm. He said that in Michigan bicycles are not classified as legal vehicles and that there is no statewide “complete streets” policy.

Biking in Grand Rapids

Unfortunately, when Susanne Schulz from the City of Grand Rapids spoke, it became clear that much of what was talked about during the day–bike lanes, changes to roadways, and incentives for people to drive instead of bike–were a long way off. She showcased a number of “traffic calming” devices used by the city, but no bike lanes. She said that there are very real questions about who would maintain bike lanes and where funding would come from.

Nevertheless, she said that the city does envision a network of bike trails and paths for the city. She pointed to the Green Grand Rapids process, the city’s bike map, the 2004 Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, and a recent ordinance change that requires bike parking to be built into new developments as examples of recent progress.

Bike Summit to Discuss Bike Communiting in Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids Bike Summit

Yesterday, we wrote about a millage to expand The Rapid to add a bus rapid transit (BRT) route and today we’re excited to share that the City of Grand Rapids is sponsoring a the “first annual” Grand Rapids Bike Summit next month.

The summit is free and will take place on April 24 at the Loosemore Auditorium on Grand Valley State University’s (GVSU) Grand Rapids campus.

Registration is required and is possible online.

The agenda:

  • 8-8:45 RegistrationWelcomeIntroductions–Rosalyn Bliss

    8:45 – 10:00 Keynote: Bill Nesper, League of Bicyclist: Becoming a Bicycle Friendly Community

  • 10:00-10:15 Break
  • 10:15-11:30 Speaker 2: Ann Freiwald,ASLA, Alta Planning and Design, Designing a Bicycle Friendly Community
  • 11:30-12:30 Lunch–Grouped by Breakout Groups
  • 12:30–1:45 Speaker 3: Susanne Schulz, City of Grand Rapids Green Grand Rapids
  • 1:45-2:45 pm Breakout sessions
    • On Road Facilities–status of on-road facilities; develop recommendations.
    • Off Road facilities–status of off-road facilities; develop recommendations.
    • PolicyLawEnforcement–status of current policies and regulations in Grand Rapids Metro area; develop goals recommendations
    • Advocacy and Education–status of current programs to promote and encourage biking; recommendations for current and future programs
  • 3:00-4:00pm Reports and Conclusions; Panel Discussion

Hopefully, the summit will lead to actual commitments by the City to do things like creating bike lanes.

Study Ranks Michigan 12th in US for Bike Friendliness

A recent study by the League for American Bicyclists has ranked Michigan 12th in the US for bike friendliness.

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The League for American Bicyclists recently released a report on bicycling in the fifty states and ranked the state’s according to their “bike friendliness.” Based on an evaluation of six categories, Michigan ranked 12th overall in the national survey.

Michigan placed 7th in education, tied for 8th in infrastructure, tied for 14th in planning, tied for 15th in enforcement, tied for 19th in policies and programs and ranked 35th in legislation. The survey’s brief summary of Michigan’s ranking reads:

“Michigan has a rumble strip policy with a minimum 4 feet of clearance and dedicated state funding for bicycle projects. However, there is no routine accommodation or complete streets policy.”

The only city in the state to receive a designation as a “bike friendly community” was Ann Arbor.

Michigan’s Department of Transportation took partial credit for the ranking, stating:

“Michigan’s high ranking was achieved through the many partnerships we have in our state between state and local government, nonprofit and private agencies, and the thousands of dedicated citizens and bicyclists across the state.”

For those interested in taking steps to improve the state’s biking, the League of Michigan Bicyclists has an “advocacy center” with details on a number of bills designed to improve bicycling in Michigan. These bills range from ones that enhance penalties on drivers who injure or kill cyclists to bills requiring that the state provide more funding for pedestrian construction projects.

Interested in Helping to Organize Critical Mass? Get To It!

A final announcement from Mediamouse.org on Critical Mass Grand Rapids and a call for people to step up and organize it.

Mediamouse.org was the driving force behind the first Critical Mass bike ride in Grand Rapids. We produced flyers, advertised, and coordinated the ride formally for several years before it finally became a separate project. While we have continued to maintain a website and a listserv for the ride, none of the folks involved in Mediamouse.org have been actively involved in the ride for several years.

With that, we’re formally announcing that we are ending our ties. We have updated the website to say that we no longer do it and have sent out a final email to the listserv.

That said, we still think Critical Mass is a worthwhile project and encourage others to take it up. We have been heartened by the fact that we have seen flyers up this year that we didn’t put up and that a Facebook group has formed to coordinate rides in Grand Rapids. While Facebook isn’t by any means perfect, if you use it we encourage you to join the Facebook group at:

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=9960952858

We will be keeping the website online should the flyers be useful to folks, but we have added a notice making it clear that is no longer updated and is not a current site.

Finally, please consider attending the “No War, No Warming” Critical Mass ride that ACTIVATE (Grand Rapids SDS) is organizing next Thursday, July 17. It meets at 4:45pm at Veterans Park (corner of Fulton and Sheldon).

Bike to Work Day

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We’re a little late on promoting this, but we wanted to take a minute to let everyone know that today is “National Bike/Walk to Work Day.” While biking is only an individual response to the destruction of the environment and cannot make up for organizing against the systemic destruction, it is a good and healthy first step towards reducing your ecological footprint.

To that end, Mediamouse.org highly encourages folks to consider commuting via bike, especially now that the warmer months have arrived here in Grand Rapids. Surprisingly, the City of Grand Rapids has some useful resources for folks commuting via bicycle:

* Grand Rapids Bicycle Map (1, 2)

* Bicycle Information Packet (laws, tips, etc)

* How to Take Bikes on City Busses

Finally, it’s worth remembering driving costs an average of $7,823 per year — and that doesn’t include hidden costs such as the destruction of the environment via emissions and other car-related pollution.

“No War, No Warming” Bike Ride Visits Hoekstra Fundraiser and Hummer Dealership

On Monday, a “No War, No Warming” bike ride organized by ACTIVATE/SDS visited a fundraiser for war supporter Pete Hoekstra and a Hummer dealership to highlight the connections between the Iraq War and global warming.

On Monday, ACTIVATE/SDS held a Critical Mass bike ride in solidarity with the “No War, No Warming” protests taking place in Washington DC. That morning, around 60 protestors were arrested attempting to block access to Capitol Hill in Washington DC to highlight the links between the Iraq War and global warming. Here in Grand Rapids, the Critical Mass bike ride visited a fundraiser being held in East Grand Rapids for Representative Pete Hoekstra as well as the Harvey Hummer dealership on 28th Street. Similar solidarity protests were held around the country, including in Detroit.

pete hoekstra campaign sign

The Critical Mass ride began shortly after 5:30pm, following the distribution of stenciled patches reading “No War, No Warming” and a brief announcement explaining that the bike ride would be going to a fundraiser being held for consistently pro-war Congressman Pete Hoekstra. The 25-35 cyclists then assembled on Sheldon before beginning the ride to the Hoekstra fundraiser. The ride to the East Grand Rapids home of Dave and Linda Mehney was fairly uneventful with the Mass received generally favorable reactions from motorists and pedestrians. When the group entered the East Grand Rapids neighborhood of the Mehneys, energy rose considerably, with the group chanting “No War, No Warming” and telling people in SUVs to ride a bike instead. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the Mehneys have given over $90,000 to Republican candidates for federal office. This fundraiser featured a $1,000 per couple “private reception” with Hoekstra and a general $250 per person reception. Once the group arrived at the Mehneys’ home, they were greeted by signs for Pete Hoekstra’s campaign featuring a bike and the slogan “Securing America’s Future.” Some of the cyclists rode through the circle driveway, booing and chanting “No War, No Warming” and “Stop Funding the War,” while others in the group placed leaflets on the cars of attendees criticizing Hoesktra’s continued funding of the occupation of Iraq ($462 billion) and his opposition to the recent State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) legislation ($35 billion). Hoekstra’s staffers–who were chatting somewhat frantically on their cell phones–quickly came out and told the group to get off the private property. Before the inevitable visit by the police, the group departed en route to the Hummer dealership.

no war, no warming at hummer dealership photo

The ride continued south towards the Hummer dealership, cutting through Calvin College’s campus before moving onto the East Beltline. Despite the 55 mile per hour traffic, the group brought traffic on the Beltline to a crawl by taking up one southbound lane between Calvin and Woodland Mall. The group then cut through the Woodland Mall parking lot before continuing westbound on 28th street, taking up the two westbound lanes before turning into the Harvey Hummer dealership. Participants rested while a number of people in the group scaled a “mountain” in the dealership parking lot and attached a banner reading “No War, No Warming” to the grill of a Hummer parked atop the “mountain.” A confused employee came out and told the group they couldn’t be there, although at that point, the riders were already heading back out towards 28th Street. As the ride headed west on 28th, participants were able to witness the salesman scale the “mountain” while talking on his cell phone and with his eyes moving from the banner to the departing cyclists in frustration.

The ride continued on back to Eastown with no intervention from the police before concluding at the “Hub Lot” on Wealthy Street.