A pack of politicians and bicycle enthusiasts hit the streets Wednesday night to get a look at the city from the two-wheeled perspective.
The ride was organized in the wake of a lengthy debate on whether to restripe Broadway Avenue west of Pines Road to include bicycle lanes.
“It was really meant just to be a show of support for cycling in the Valley and to kind of address in a more concrete way some questions and comments that came up in some of the recent council meetings,” said organizer Marc Mims. “There was a perception that bicycles don’t belong on the road, they belong on the sidewalks. We wanted to get some of the council members out and demonstrate to them that the roads were quite rideable.”
Mayor Tom Towey and Councilman Bill Gothmann participated in the ride. Councilman Gary Schimmels was scheduled to ride but couldn’t due to a knee injury, Mims said. He picked a 5-mile route and a 10-mile route that would be easy for beginning riders “so we could make it as pleasant an experience as possible.”
About 50 riders assembled behind City Hall for a safety presentation before riders hit the streets in small groups led by experienced riders. Four groups took the long route, the group with Towey and Gothmann went the short route and a group of more experienced riders completed the ride at high speeds to show how it isn’t appropriate for cyclists to use the sidewalks, Mims said. “They maintained speeds of 25 to 30 miles per hour all through their ride,” he said.
The group with Towey and Gothmann was led by Eileen Hyatt, a retired school teacher who is on the board of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington and is a certified bike safety trainer. Gothmann said he appreciated her many safety tips. “I learned so much from her,” he said. “Things have changed since I was a kid.”
Gothmann is an occasional bike rider and said he noticed that a new type of storm drain has diagonal grating that is safer than the old ones with grating that was parallel to the curb. “Your tires can catch in them,” he said of the old design.
Towey said he bikes a lot, but usually only on trails. “To go out on the streets was really different,” he said. He said he rode along Broadway on both sides of Pines. One portion has bike lanes and the other does not. “It certainly was different,” he said. He preferred the section with the bike lane. “You didn’t really have to be as aware of traffic.”
Neither Towey nor Gothmann were deterred from participating the long-planned ride after two bicyclists died recently. “It does make you think, to make sure you do take extra measures to make sure you’re visible to motorists,” Gothmann said.
“I’ve put thousands of miles on my bikes on our local roads,” Mims said. “There’s always some risk with riding a bike, but when you’re riding properly it’s a very low risk. Part of what we were trying to do (Wednesday) was demonstrate safe riding.”
Mims said he was pleased with the support he received from the City Council, city staff and the local cycling community, including two local bike shops. “I was happy with the turnout,” he said. “This was a brand new event. It was hard to predict who would show up.”
Having a large turnout allowed Mims to achieve his secondary goal of showing that there are plenty of cyclists out there. “It’s not a tiny fraction,” he said. “There is a pretty significant percentage of the population that ride their bikes on the road.”