GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — You either love them or hate them: As part of the effort to make Grand Rapids more bike-friendly, many city streets now include bike lanes, some of which replaced what used to be parking space.
But you can mark one street off that list thanks to the efforts of a city commissioner.
In late October, three parishioners at Saint Anthony of Padua Catholic Church were ticketed for parking in the bike lane in front of the church on Richmond Street NW.
Now that bike lane is gone.
Emails obtained by 24 Hour News 8 through the Freedom of Information Act show First Ward Commissioner Walt Gutowski, a member of St. Anthony, didn’t think the tickets were fair. He suggested the ticketed parishioners, who had long used the space for parking, didn’t know they couldn’t park there after the lanes were installed.
“If we really want to polarize people in regards to bike lanes, let’s continue this practice,” Gutowski wrote in an email to several city officials, including city attorney Catherine Mish.
Gutowski said he wanted the tickets nullified. That started a somewhat terse back-and-forth between Gutowski and Mish, who essentially told Gutowski that he couldn’t simply fix the parking tickets.
“You can’t justifiably ask City Officials to “Nullify” tickets just because they were written to people from your church,” Mish wrote in an email dated Oct. 26, the day after the tickets were written.
But Gutowski wasn’t done. Since he couldn’t get the tickets taken care of, he launched an effort to get the bike lanes on Richmond removed.
After getting backing from at least one other city commissioner, fellow First Ward representative Dave Shaffer, Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong ordered the dedicated bike lane removed from the section of Richmond in front of St. Anthony’s.
“A number of churches in the city utilize neighborhood on-street parking and we need to retain that as an option for St. Anthony’s,” Shaffer wrote in an email to city officials.
The solid white lines were scraped off at a cost of about $2,000 to taxpayers and replaced with what are called sharrows, the arrows indicating bikes should share the lane with cars, both moving and parked.
24 Hour News 8 reached out to city officials for comment. No one would go on camera.
But in an email to 24 Hour News 8, City Communications Director Steve Guitar said there were some other circumstances in the Richmond Street case that lead to the lane removal. Church members never got to put in their two cents before the lanes were put in, he said, and may not have been aware of the rules.
Guitar said the city notified neighbors before the lanes were put in, but that the notifications to St. Anthony went to the Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids and the information wasn’t communicated back to the church.
“The City of Grand Rapids has installed more than 70 miles of bike facilities, has achieved Bronze status for our system, we continue investing in bike facilities across the community and are in the process of completing a Vital Streets plan that will provide the framework for future advances,” Guitar wrote in the email. “Our record of accomplishment is significant. Our investment plan for bike facilities is substantial. I expect steady progress together as we implement the Vital Streets Plan.”
While not suggesting Gutowski did anything wrong, Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell told 24 Hour News 8 he’s concerned with the precedent removing the bike lanes may set.
“My first reaction was negative,” Heartwell said. “Yeah, I think we opened a can of worms with this situation.”
24 Hour News 8 reached out to Gutowski via both phone and email on Thursday, but didn’t hear back as of the late afternoon.