COLUMBIA – With a long blast from a bike-mounted air horn, the Bike, Walk & Wheel Week Kick-Off Celebration began Saturday afternoon at Flat Branch Park.
The event, hosted by GetAbout Columbia, is the official start to the weeklong program aimed at promoting transportation alternatives to cars.
Originating with a 2001 challenge by Mayor Darwin Hindman to bike, walk or wheel to their destinations in an attempt to curb traffic congestion and promote healthier lifestyles, the event has seen participation grow annually. In 2008, the event drew 4,500 participants, a number event coordinator Janet Godon hopes will be topped this year.
“We really wanted to enhance the events this year. This year we have a booth on recycling, chalk drawing and the live music. We really tried to add art and culture to the experience,” Godon said.
Along with the performers (including “living statue” George Stevenson) the kickoff event hosted booths by several area bike stores, safety seminars by the Columbia Police Department, an appearance by MU basketball coach Mike Anderson and demonstrations by CoMo Polo, a Columbia bike polo organization.
“Bike, Walk & Wheel Week is all about being active and creative and incorporating other modes of transportation aside from your vehicle,” Godon said. “People shouldn’t always feel like they need use a car. Think about bicycling or walking for trips less than three miles.”
That may have been a sermon to the choir, as the vast majority of participants at Saturday’s even arrived by foot or self-powered wheel. In fact, the League of American Bicyclists, a nationwide organization of cyclists and affiliated organizations, has named Columbia a Silver Level Bicycle Friendly Community.
The award recognizes communities for their efforts to increase bicycling and community achievements in the categories of engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement, evaluation and planning. Columbia is the first community in Missouri to receive such a distinction.
“Columbia is pretty good to cyclists. My wife and I teach commuter safety and confident city cycling for GetAbout. We’re hoping for a modal shift to bikes,” said a laughing Tim Overshiner, owner of Overshiner Remodeling.
Overshiner rode around the event on a bike outfitted with a cargo trailer and homemade cargo bins, which he uses when buying groceries and when transporting tools to remodeling sites.
“It’s cheaper than running a big truck back and forth. Most everyone delivers materials themselves so there’s really no need,” Overshiner said.
That’s exactly the kind of mindset GetAbout organizers are aiming to promote throughout the week’s events.
“Alternative transport is not an all-or-nothing experience. Even I don’t do it when it’s inconvenient,” Godon said. “But there are many ways you can fit it into your day and into your lifestyle. That’s what this is about, encouraging people to be creative and active with their transportation.”
Bike, Walk & Wheel Week continues until Saturday culminating with a 7-mile ride to Twin Lakes Shelter on the MKT Trail. Registration is free and can be done at the week's events or online at GetAboutColumbia.com.