From Training Wheels to Advocacy

Grosse Pointe, Mich.—Steve Roach’s cycling career began when, at age 4, he wore out the training wheels of a hand-me-down bike and had to learn to ride without them.

Like many people, he left the two-wheeler in the garage when he got a driver’s license in high school, but took it along to college to navigate campus. After graduation, he bought a car and again stored the bike.

But when his daughter was about age 5 and he left Oakland County to live in the Grosse Pointes, a funny thing happened. He got back in the bike seat. He could ride with his daughter. He got some outdoor exercise. And the Pointes' wider residential streets traversed neighborhoods and business districts linking both he and his daughter to parks and the waterfront.

“Once I started riding, it was like having flashbacks,” says Roach, an attorney and partner with Miller Canfield law firm in Detroit. “I’d be riding along and think I was a kid again.”

He started doing longer rides and group events, meeting people involved with the League of Michigan Bicyclists, the statewide advocacy group, and riding in different locations around the state.

“The more I rode, the more I thought about how there are things that could be better, safer, have better facilities,” he says.

“Once I started riding, it was like having flashbacks,” says Steve Roach, an attorney and partner with Miller Canfield law firm in Detroit. “I’d be riding along and think I was a kid again.”

Raised with a sense of community service — Roach’s parents were involved and volunteered with numerous organizations, and his father was a University of Michigan Regent for 16 years — he found a way to focus his efforts with LMB. He became a board member in 2005, offering a legal perspective to many of the discussions.

Mode Shift talked to him about some of the LMB efforts and his involvement.

Mode Shift: Can you summarize your advocacy work with LMB?

Roach: I’ve been very active with the Complete Streets movement and on behalf of the board, I helped advocate for the adoption of the non-motorized plan in Detroit.

Mode Shift: What about efforts in your own community, the Grosse Pointes?

Roach: A few years ago, the Chamber asked the LMB to assist on planning bike paths and routes in the Grosse Pointes. There was an initiative spearheaded through the Live Well campaign by the chamber and a group of hospitals to advocate for healthier living styles which included the recreational activities. That’s where bicycling and bike routes came in.

Steve Roach

Mode Shift: The Pointes are still without bike lanes. Do you see that changing soon?

Roach: I’m sure there will be some painted bike lanes. The issues with not having them have to do with a number of the streets not being wide enough to be within the design specifications. Kercheval Avenue is wide enough, Lake Shore is wide enough. What is holding it up, I think, is just a fear on the part of the council members and mayors to really commit themselves, a fear that they’re going to upset someone who could hurt them somehow.

Mode Shift: All cyclists seem to report hostility, whether it’s resistance to marking bike routes or lanes to outright danger from aggressive motorists. Can you explain why that hostility is out there?

Roach: I’ve never figured that out. Part of it is, I think, the natural human tendency to fear anything that’s different than you. So cyclists and people riding bikes on the road are different than most of the people who are in cars. You also have some overreaction to bad behavior by cyclists. Some of the group rides are obnoxious and are bad for riders and everyone else. Another part of it is fear of change, fear of people taking resources away. It’s also jealousy that cyclists are out doing something. The people denigrating cycling, maybe they’re just jealous that aren’t out there having fun.

Mode Shift: Have you experienced “road rage” from drivers?

Roach: I’ve had motorists challenge my right to be on the road. The vast majority of the time, they’re seriously overweight and smoking.

Mode Shift: What advice do you give people who are looking to become better advocates for cycling or other community improvement initiatives?

Roach: The biggest part of advocacy is just showing up. It’s not that you have to come up with any brilliant suggestions, or be particularly well-spoken or come up with an idea. It’s just showing up and supporting or opposing things. There are so many people who complain about how things are done, how things are and then they don’t ever show up. They don’t go to the meetings. They don’t write anybody. They don’t send e-mails. I’ve really just been active in that way. I show up. I can’t really take credit for anything other than the fact that I’ll show up.

 

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