Equitable travel: Resources for enjoying Midland on two wheels

Think for a moment about the first time you had the personal freedom of travel in your life. It might have been your first car, or the moment you were allowed to ride the bus on your own. Or, it may have been the first time you threw your leg over a shining metal bar and settled into the saddle of your first bicycle. You gripped the handlebars and started rolling, gaining confidence and momentum, feeling the breeze on your skin as you took off and realized that perhaps for the first time… you were free. You could go anywhere you wanted to, and no one could stop you if you just pedaled hard enough, fast enough and far enough. The world was yours for the taking.

Some among us never stopped riding and there are several resources in our community to make sure cycling as a mode of transportation is safe, accessible and most importantly, treated equitably on the road.

Even when other options are available, the feeling of freedom one enjoys on a bicycle is unparalleled. In our community, it is possible to ride daily – and there are those that do. They ride to work, to school, to the grocery store and beyond.

A teen rides at Trilogy Skate Park in Downtown Midland.

A bicycle can be locked easily, parked without a fee, and can go places most vehicles cannot. Bicycles are environmentally friendly, leaving no carbon footprint, and riding one provides heart-healthy exercise that strengthens the body. A person starts to breathe fresh air and appreciate the quiet hum of the wheels moving over the pavement.

So why don’t more people ride their bike as transportation?

Is it a safety issue, or is it the fear of a safety issue? Equipped with rules of the road, Midland may just be one of the safest places to get around on two wheels. According to Josh Stevens, Midland local and cyclist extraordinaire, Midland is a great place to commute by bicycle and only getting better.

Josh Stevens, Midland local and cyclist extraordinaire.

“One of the main strengths about commuting by bicycle in Midland is that there just isn’t a lot of traffic. There are people who say they would never ride their bike on Eastman or Saginaw Roads. I have biked in places like Chicago and Orlando, and the busiest streets in Midland would be a calm back-road in one of those areas. There’s just no place in Midland where cycling is remotely a challenge compared to anywhere else.”

And Stevens would know. He is a Midland-based instructor for Cycling Savvy, a national adult cycling education program created and run by the American Bicycling Education Association that teaches strategies and rules of the road with a mission of “Empowering for Unlimited Travel.”

Stevens helps enable people to not only be able to overcome barriers that might hold them back, but learn to use cycling as an attainable and preferred method of transportation.

A bicycle can be locked easily, parked without a fee, and can go places most vehicles cannot.

“Many of us got our first bicycle as a kid. You think of the freedom we had all of a sudden to ride places,” he says. “That feeling of freedom, we lose that when we become dependent on automobiles, gas, insurance, all of the expenses and hassles… we can recapture some of those feelings by being able to get somewhere under our own power.”

The program is for individuals generally over sixteen. “It’s a three-part course. Three hours of classroom, then three hours of skills training in a parking lot. The final part is the most important, where we get out on the roads and experience different features and traffic situations,” says Stevens.

Josh has biked as a primary mode of transportation for the last 20 years.

“We ride together to a particular place and demonstrate navigating that, and then each person goes through it by themselves. They experience the individual freedom and empowerment that they might not have had before they gained this experience,” says Stevens.

Stevens practices what he preaches. He rides his bike to work nearly every day during all four seasons. A supplier quality manager for DuPont Pharmaceutical Solutions, Stevens has been cycling as his primary mode of commuting for over 20 years.

“Once in a while I will drive if I have errands to run, or if I need to get there in a hurry. Otherwise, every single day, five days a week, I cycle to work and around town,” he says. “I got started when the vehicle of a friend broke down during the summer and he started riding his bike everywhere. I figured I could do that as well, so I started and never stopped.”

A bike getting tuned up at Bicycle HQ in Midland.

When asked if he had any advice for folks looking to start cycling more, Stevens advice was to just get out there and do it.

“It’s not as hard as people think. Everyone thinks they don’t have the right bike, or the right clothing… there’s a list of things we tell ourselves that stop us from taking that step,” he says. “To get beyond that and just give it a try is the big thing. If you get over that hurdle and do it once, then it’s not so bad. Take whatever bike you have, take it to get a tune-up and just give it a try.”

Midland is home to multiple cycling shops that provide everything one may need to get started, or keep rolling. Ray’s Bike Shop has two locations – Downtown Midland and City Forest, and Bicycle H.Q. has been serving the community since 1986. With its many cycling clubs and groups, these two businesses have supported the community for years.

Regardless if you’re an avid cyclist, or a beginner looking for another avenue to explore getting around, you need not look outside of your own backyard for most of what you need to stay on the road.

John Geminder, owner of Bicycle HQ in Midland.

John Geminder, owner of Bicycle H.Q. agrees that Midland is a great place for cycling, but wouldn’t mind seeing a few changes in the way that it is approached. “I would like to see more people using their bikes for transportation purposes rather than just recreation. A lot of people live just a mile or two from a store or work but they get in their car instead of riding their bike,” he says.

Cities and towns themselves aren’t always conducive to safe travel without a motor vehicle. There are barriers like busy roads and a lack of safe or sensible routes. “Community infrastructure and layout since World War II have been geared around automobiles. So, let’s say you want to go to Meijer… there’s just not a convenient way to get there via bicycle and that is something we should work to improve.”

John Geminder and his son Kevin.

Parking can also be an issue. Let’s say you get to a store, but you can’t find a place to store your two-wheeled vehicle safely. Geminder notes that “All of these businesses spend thousands of dollars on parking for automobiles, but there is a real need for planning and spaces to park a bicycle.”

Cycling can be beneficial to people with a range of abilities, but individuals with developmental disabilities may not get the training they need in order to learn how to ride. That’s where The Arc of Midland comes in with a program called I Can Bike Midland. Running now for 12 years for kids age eight and up, The Arc partners with an entity known as “I Can Shine” who brings in a fleet of bicycles and teaches children with disabilities.

I Can Bike Midland pairs kids that want to learn to ride a bike with volunteers.

“The fleet has a roller system, and roller equipment. The back wheel of the bike is removed and replaced with the roller equipment itself. They taper down to smaller and smaller lengths of roller bars that require the individual to gain balance more quickly than you would just learning on your own,” says Rachel Baker, Development Coordinator at The Arc of Midland. “It is a program that really makes riding a bike accessible for all.”

A girl learns to ride with the help of a volunteer and the I Can Bike Midland program.

Looking for more resources to get around and enjoy the city on two wheels?

Make note of the designated bike lanes on Midland streets and sign up for a class on safety. Bike Midland, the city’s bike share program is available at a number of different locations for daily or season-long rental.

There is also the BMX Track in Stratford Woods, mountain biking trails, City Forest, the Trilogy Skate Park, and groups to get involved with like Mid-Michigan Multisport and plenty more – all right outside your front door.

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Read more articles by Andrea Foster.

Andrea Foster is a writer for Catalyst Midland, and in her full time job an environmental educator for Little Forks Conservancy. She is a mother, a partner, an activist and a feminist. In her spare time she enjoys volunteering, kayaking, hiking, knitting, curling up on the couch with her cats and projects that benefit her community.