Discover West Hartford 2015, with Ideas for 2016

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DiscoverCT2015BikeWalkCT sponsored a Discover West Hartford bike tour on Saturday June 6th, 2015, the first of a new series of group rides in Connecticut. Riders had the option of an 11, 25, or 50 mile loop, and the staggered start times were designed to bring everyone back around the same time to the Celebrate West Hartford event. Thanks to Rick Thibodeau and many volunteers from Bike West Hartford, this was a well-organized event with over 200 participants (and perhaps more). Here’s some lessons I learned while riding as a marshall/mobile mechanic with the 25-mile tour.

Rob Dexter preparing to co-ead the 50-mile tour.
Rob Dexter preparing to co-lead the 50-mile tour.

Show safe and scenic routes to newer riders and they’ll come back for more.
While pedaling with the pack, my standard question was, “What’s something that you’ve never biked on before today?” The most common reply was that everything was new and different. Our 25-mile route took people through Elizabeth Park, down Quaker Lane to the Trout Brook Trail, and around Wood Pond, around the Cornerstone Recreation Area to the MDC Reservoir, then up Mountain Road and behind Bugbee School to the Center. Most of the cyclists I met had never biked on Trout Brook Trail (currently a tiny, beautiful route behind the Elmwood Community Center, which the Town is gradually expanding north to Albany Avenue). Some told me that they had never seen Wood Pond, despite living in West Hartford for several years. And while I’ve been biking around here for about a decade, the route took me on several roads in the Buena Vista area that I had never ridden nor driven on beforehand.

To help cyclists visualize the routes, I created an interactive map on the Bike West Hartford site (see below) and shared this shortlink to it (http://bit.ly/bikemapwh). Click “View Full Screen” and press the Layers icon to select the 11, 25, or 50-mile route. It’s mobile-friendly and works on smartphones, too, and you also can press the Marker icon to find your current location. The map runs on open-source code, which BikeWalkCT or anyone is welcome to copy, modify, and host on their own website. If you prefer turn-by-turn cue sheets, see the BikeWalkCT links to RideWithGPS for the 11-mile, 25-mile, and 50-mile routes. Also, the organizers handed out helpful paper guides and maps at the event, which could easily be uploaded to the website as a resource for riders unable to join us.

Explore this interactive map of the 11-25-50 mile Discover West Hartford routes

Continually educate cyclists about making our community a better place to ride. 
Our best cycling organizations do an incredible amount of behind-the-scenes advocacy to persuade local and state governments to improve routes for safe riding. One week before the event, I participated in a pre-ride for volunteer marshals, and heard up-to-date info on several biking initiatives from experienced advocates. But we did not have an effective way to communicate this information to the 200+ riders at the event or to mobilize their support. Next time, we could hand out a one-page advocacy sheet to riders at the finish line. Even better, we could ask riders to share their ideas on video at the end point, and ask them “what did you learn today?” and “what worked well and what could be improved about biking around West Hartford?”

At the finish line, Tracey and Ethan organized the Bike Corral for riders to enjoy the fair.
At the finish line, Tracey and Ethan organized the Bike Corral for riders to enjoy the fair.

Create easy ways to bring families with young cyclists back into the event.
Last week, my five-year-old neighbor (who’s always on his bike) and his mother asked me if there would be any bicycling events for children in West Hartford this summer. For the past two years, Bike West Hartford sponsored a “Wheel Fun Day” festival in mid-May, with a 2-mile ride down North Main Street to Town Hall, where many events were geared toward families with children. But organizing this event required many volunteer hours, and questions arose about whether the limited outcomes warranted such a large investment of time. This year, Bike West Hartford collaborated with BikeWalkCT to sponsor this 11-25-50 mile ride, timed to coincide with Celebrate West Hartford. This type of group ride is great for adults, but does not offer much for families with young children.

Next year, if it’s too challenging to organize a separate “Wheel Fun Day” event, might BikeWalkCT and Bike West Hartford create a special 1 or 2-mile ride for families with children? One route could be the Trout Brook Trail, which currently runs from New Park Avenue (right behind Hartford Baking Company) to Quaker Lane South, then crosses the road and goes up to Jackson Avenue (a brand-new addition), and is planned to go further north to connect with other existing pieces. Oddly, the newest segment of this bike trail was not included in any of our 10-25-50 mile rides, partly because it is too new, and not yet fully connected. If we draw attention and organize a family-friendly ride on this work-in-progress, perhaps that will create more pressure to bring it to a more timely completion.

Explore the newly expanded Trout Brook Trail, and help it grow.
Explore the newly expanded Trout Brook Trail, and help make it grow.

Interested in the next Discover Connecticut ride organized by BikeWalkCT? Learn more about the New Britain ride scheduled for Sunday, September 27th, 2015.

Published by

Jack Dougherty

Jack Dougherty writes about cycling adventures, advocacy, and his growing appetite at JackBikes.org.