This article originally appeared on KeepMECurrent.com
Posted: Thursday, August 21, 2014
WESTBROOK – For Westbrook, chosen as this year’s host city for BikeMaine 2014, a weeklong trek around the state, the event is another chance to bring in people who are largely unfamiliar with the city and display what it has to offer.
City officials haven’t shied away from the opportunity. On Saturday, Sept. 6, some 300 cyclists will descend upon Riverbank Park, where they will camp for the night, to prepare for “Pedaling the Waterways,” which will take riders a minimum of 348 miles past notable bodies of water such as Sebago Lake, Great Pond in the Belgrade Lakes region, and, of course, the Atlantic Ocean.
Since it was announced in February that Westbrook would act as host community, meaning the trek will also end in the city on Sept. 13, City Clerk Lynda Adams has been preparing for the event, which includes organizing meals and entertainment for the large crowd. One activity, however, has some people worried – closing a portion of Main Street for five hours Saturday afternoon.
The City Council voted unanimously Monday to approve the closure of Main Street between Bridge and Pleasant streets. The closing, not often popular with downtown merchants, will take place from noon-5:30 p.m., and was requested by event organizers, the Bike Coalition of Maine.
BikeMaine comes just two weeks after an outdoor obstacle course event known as Tough Mudder, which is expected to bring some 15,000 people into Westbrook. That event, to be held this weekend at Sunset Ridge Golf Links, will also attract a crowd largely unfamiliar with Westbrook.
During the council meeting Monday, Adams said the road closure coinciding with the BikeMaine event is a way to increase awareness of the “walkability and bikeability of our city.”
Known as “open street” events, which have become popular in municipalities both on a local and national level, Adams said, coalition members came to the city with the idea.
Abby King, of the Bike Coalition of Maine, said Monday that the open street event, especially intertwined with an already high-profile athletic event, can bring promotion to streets “as a place that can invite and encourage people to use them for biking and walking and not just driving their cars.”
“This open streets idea really came about because of the power of active transportation, to engage community members with each other and expose them to local businesses that are within biking or walking distance of their house,” she said, adding that it also promotes healthy exercise.
King said that the coalition, along with partners in a group known as Public Health in Transportation, will handle all logistical aspects of the event, except for the street closure itself.
“We’ll be doing all the promotion, newsletters, and programming along the event,” she said.
She said that along Main Street there will be a range of physical activities for all ages, including hula-hooping, a bike safety rodeo, and Zumba and yoga classes.
“Everything and anything you can think of that you could do in that type of street space if there weren’t cars blocking your way,” she said.
King gave councilors Monday a list of 38 downtown businesses that she had asked to support the event. Of the 38, 20 gave a notice of support, but many of those businesses are closed Saturdays.
Andrew Warren and his wife Corey DiGirolamo, the owners of Catbird Creamery on Main Street, said Wednesday that they’re looking forward to a different type of event downtown, but said they’re a little concerned for new customers finding their store on a day that is normally busy. However, the couple said they hope that the event will attract enough people to Main Street that it won’t matter.
James Tranchemontagne, the owner of Frog & Turtle restaurant, said in his response that he “was not against it,” but was concerned a poor turnout could look bad for Westbrook events in general.
Jaime Parker, director of Portland Trails, said Monday that the open-street event would be another way Westbrook can display the downtown area as a “hub” for active living and recreation.
“We think it can let people see the downtown in a different way, and sort of celebrate the community,” he said.
Portland Trails will be on hand during the event to promote its work in the city, where the organization is working to extend two separate river trails from Portland into Westbrook, eventually to connect to the riverwalk.
Bruce Wallingford, owner of Ernie’s Cycle Shop on Conant Street, also spoke at the meeting Monday to express his strong support.
Adams said Monday that Saturday’s festivities will include a parade down Main Street, traveling from Vallee Square to Riverbank Park at 5 p.m.
“The park will be closed to the public during the day of Sept. 6 to set up for Bike Maine, but they are welcome to come to the park after the parade,” Adams said, referring to Westbrook residents.
She added that the evening will include food vendors and some additional vendors from the park’s Maine Market, and will be headlined with a performance by the band North of Nashville, which will perform from 7:30-9 p.m. Adams said the event is open to the public.
Sunday at 8 a.m., the official start of BikeMaine begins for the riders with a ribbon cutting. According to Adams, the public is welcome and encouraged to attend. She said the riders will travel down Main Street toward Gorham and will be led by a police escort. The road will only be closed temporarily while the riders go along the route.
Adams added that at least half of the riders participating are from out of state, with some traveling from as far away as Japan and Australia.
She said BikeMaine organizers “want to leave a lasting impression with people who have never been to Maine before,” and that Westbrook wants to accomplish that same goal.
Cyclists will return the following Saturday, when there will be a traditional barbecue for the returning bikers, marking the end of the event.