By Chris Wachowiak
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to participate in the Tour de North End (TDNE) bicycle festival. This event is simple in its concept, and excellent in its execution.
TDNE’s concept, according to founder Zak Rotello, is as follows:
“Raise awareness and encourage safe cycling habits through the whole city.
“To get people outside, active and patronizing North End businesses showcasing that the North End is a great place to live, work and play.
“And last, but not least, have fun in the process.”
I did all three, and so did 500-plus others. I also discovered something from this event, and that is that Rockford really isn’t “bike-friendly.”
Rockford, at the city level, is falling short in providing a safe, friendly environment for bicycles. And with ever-increasing gas prices, and a city tipping the scales on one of the most obese cities in the nation, maybe it’s time we took some action on literally paving a way to a healthier and more environmentally friendly transportation option.
Rob Sinks, owner of Kegel’s Bicycle Store, volunteers his time at events like this to help support the social fun scene Zak is creating. Rob mentioned that he loves this event “because it pairs the recreational riders with the furry riders (Team Fur Bandit) to the serious riders, creating a melting pot of fun and memories.”
On the flip side of this event, Rob said many of his customers would feel safer if there were more dedicated 3-foot marked lanes with better signage with painted bike symbols on the road reminding people they share the road with others.
But, Rob’s No. 1 complaint is “the current bike paths are not tied together.” “More people would ride their bikes if there were safer routes to travel,” he suggested.
One example: The bike path from Harrison to Charles is disconnected at Mulford, and there is no safe, easy access at the moment to connect the two.
Recently-elected Ald. Kevin Frost, R-4, joined friends from the east side of town to ride together in their second TDNE. One of his buddies lives over by Midway Village, where he was able to safely ride up the Perryville Path to Spring Brook over to Kevin’s house, and then figure out a way to make it to the North End in a safe and expedient manner. This sparked up a conversation between Kevin and myself at the Olympic Tavern. Kevin believes there needs to be a better connection to the North End, downtown to the east side, north side, south side and all other disconnected bike paths. He is willing to work with the public and coordinate with the city to develop greater access to all for connecting and activating a bicycling option in this city.
I’m grateful that people like Zak Rotello create events that showcase parts of our town that would easily get lost if we didn’t take the time to just cruise around by the power of our two feet, and allow us an opportunity to join friends on an adventure and create a positive movement in our everyday lives.
I was excited to visit with people who travel back here from places like Chicago because they want to participate in this experience. I’m grateful that new aldermen are participating in unique events and want to make a positive impact in their community. And, I am excited to hear that Zak wants to activate a bigger Rockford bike event in the near future, and help promote our need for more bicycle awareness, safety, access points and connections for a better community.
Events like this help us discover new businesses, however old they may be. I stopped in to the Barn for my first time. Last year was my first year even hearing about this place, and it was because of the TDNE. Mike Dupree, the owner of Der Rathskeller, said, “This event was a huge success for our business and our community, which provided us our busiest Saturday afternoon this year!”
Now, your part … meaning you reading this. If you wish to see more bike lanes and better-marked lanes, then get involved. It can be as simple as a phone call to your alderman and telling them bike lanes are important in our community! It can be as simple as riding a bike. Literally, get on your bike and join others like the Facebook group “I bike Rockford.” Or, ride during a “critical mass” ride, where hundreds ride together in solidarity for fun. BART, or Bike for the Arts, takes place Saturday, Sept. 7 (before Screw City Beer Fest, which provides free bike parking), and keep your eye out for Zak’s new biking event, “The Great Rockford Ride.”
(Note: Plenty of photos of the July 6 Tour de North End event can be viewed at http://www.flickr.com/photos/kryptonitebar/9232131417/in/photostream/.)
From the July 10-16, 2013, issue