Milwaukee’s open streets event, Ciclovía MKE and Southside Bicycle Day, closed out our Bike Week in the 414 yesterday. I got up Sunday, made coffee and immediately loaded up the camera gear I wanted to bring. As soon as I was packed, had formatted my cards, charged the camera batteries and cleaned the camera sensors, I headed straight to the office to pack up our portable Saris event racks (donated by Eppstein Uhen Architects) in our Sprinter van and went directly down to Walker’s Square to help all the staff and volunteers get ready. We had more than 500 bikes, helmets and Master Lock cable locks to give away, so I skipped my usual routine skipped reading the Sunday papers. I had so many details on my mind, I never even turned on the radio in the van.
The bikes were all donated used and fixed up by volunteer mechanics on a number of nights up in the Rebel Wipes warehouse where the bikes were collected. The whole bike giveaway was overseen by our friends at Rebel Wipes, who take the short ends of industrial cleaning clothes destined for recycling and instead package them for sale with 100% of the profits going to the bike program. The volunteer mechanics came from a number of area bike shops, clubs, and teams.
In fact, while the Bike Fed staff got the whole idea for an Open Streets event in Milwaukee going a few years ago with some funding from Bikes Belong, the event has really been taken over by members of the Walker’s Point and Walker’s Square neighborhood associations, the Chavez Drive Business Improvement District, The Sixteenth Street Community Health Center, Bradley Tech High School, the City of Milwaukee, the Zilber Foundation and a number of other grassroots organizations. Mirtha Sosa from our staff is one of the lead coordinators, but Ciclovia MKE has become a real community driven event.
This year the route went from Chavez Drive, east down Washington Street and turned the corner onto S. 3rd Street. Last year we crossed S. 2nd Street and connected to the Kinnickinnic River Trail. We had to turn out route at 3rd this year because Milwaukee’s Pride Fest Parade was taking place at the same time on S. 2nd Street. All the organizers actually thought the two events would have some great positive synergy since Ciclovías are kind of like disorganized parades. I saw quite a few people from the Ciclovía riding on 2nd Street after the parade had passed by and the street was still blocked off. I saw them when I did exactly the same thing.
Our Ciclovía ended at 4pm and I packed up the van with the now empty bike racks put them back in the basement of our office. Pedaling home from our office after such a successful day, I kept reliving the smiles of all the cute kids, the infectious beat of the Zumba, and generally basking in a day that made me proud to work for the Wisconsin Bike Fed and be part of such a wonderful, healthy, community building event. It was one of those days I couldn’t imagine living anywhere but Milwaukee.
Then I got home and my wife told me the news about the mass shooting in Miami. I am still in shock as I finish writing this at 12:30am. I can’t believe our event and the Pridefest Parade overlapped and I had no idea of the horrific attack on the LGBT community the night before. It has taken me until now even to write about it. At first I felt guilty for being so self-absorbed that I missed learning about the biggest mass murder in our nation’s history for a “bike event.”
After some reflection and a little time for the shock to wear off, I now feel like what we did at Ciclovia MKE and Southside Bicycle Day was even more important because it happened in conjunction with the Pridefest Parade. We started Ciclovia MKE to help improve bicycling on our south side, in a mostly Latino community where our Milwaukee office is now located. We believe that bicycling is part of the solution to our segregated society’s complicated problems. Bicycling improves people’s health, saves money, provides transportation that reduces congestion and pollution.
But perhaps most importantly, bicycling helps build community, strengthens neighborhoods and puts smiles on people’s faces. It allows people to move travel down streets while still feeling part of the neighborhood they are riding through. When you ride a bike past someone on their porch, you say hello. When you stop at an intersection and someone walks through the crosswalk in front of you, can comment on the weather or they might say “nice bike.”
Events like Ciclovia MKE also break down stereotypes proving “cyclists” are not all middle-aged white guys in lycra and proves that Milwaukee’s neighborhoods are mostly filled with nice, hard-working families. Ciclovia MKE promotes all the good that is bicycling and the good in our community. It turns out if you put them on bicycles, the Walker’s Point hipsters and LGBT community get along great with their working class neighbors in Walker’s Square and they all enjoy and benefit from the thriving business district on Cesar Chavez Drive.
So while we did give away 500+ bikes, helmets and bike locks, at the end of the day, Ciclovia MKE is really about so much more than bicycling. Thanks again to the Bike Fed staff, to all the sponsors (listed on the route map above), to shops Wheel & Sprocket, Southshore Cyclery, DreamBikes, Coast In Bikes and to the Boys and Girls Club for supplying top-knotch wrenches to do repairs, to Bublr Bikes for opening a station on Chavez, to the hundreds of volunteers, Alderman Perez, Mayor Barrett and the staff at the City of Milwaukee, and especially to the neighbors and business owners who make Milwaukee a wonderfully diverse and inclusive place to live.