Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Dangers of Americade

This past week marked the 25th Anniversary of Americade, one of Lake George’s premier tourist events. The motorcycle rally, billed as the world’s largest for touring bikes, brings bikers of all stripes to pack Lake George streets and bars. It also brings locals from nearby towns into the village on what, for some, is one of the only trips they’ll make there all year.

There’s an excellent article on Americade and its founder Bill Dutcher by Associated Press sports writer John Kekis. It gives a nice history of the rally’s founding, touches on the boon in trike riders (that’s good for Chestertown’s Adirondack Ural) and the event’s economic impact. It also, makes some pretty crazy claims about how safe the event is.

Here are some highlights:

Upward of 60,000 motorcycle enthusiasts – most on two wheels, but many now on three – will ride into town this week and transform this village of fewer than 1,000 full-time residents into a motorcycle heaven.

The rally, which once filled the economic void between Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, is now the mainstay of the whole year. Past estimates of Americade’s economic impact have been pegged at anywhere from $20 million to $40 million, though Dutcher hopes to get a more accurate figure this year from research to be conducted by the Technical Assistance Center at Plattsburgh State University.

“It is our largest single week economically,” longtime Lake George Mayor Robert M. Blais said. “It takes up every road and byway. People have come to accept it.”

Indeed we have. In fact they are still rolling by our house 20 minutes north of the village right now, days after the rally officially ended.

Blais was in office when Dutcher originally came to the village board with his idea. The moment remains etched in his mind.

“I thought it was a great idea,” Blais said. “I understood fully it was the touring folks that would be coming, but when I brought it to the attention of the village board, they were apprehensive. They didn’t want another Sturgis. They were concerned it was going to be loud, troublesome, boisterous.”

It wasn’t. Americade is about as peaceful as a motorcycle rally can be. And it certainly is no Sturgis, the massive South Dakota rally where 11 of the 300,000 people who showed up at the ride’s 50th anniversary in 1990 died. Dutcher said he is aware of only one death among the hundreds of thousands of bikers who have registered for Americade over the years.

That’s stretching the truth to say the least. Any local you ask will tell you about the riders killed every year at Americade time. They may not all have been officially registered for the rally – which costs anywhere from $57 to $95 per rider, depending on the package – but many visitors to Americade have been killed coming and going, and in tooling around locally in the days before and after the event.

But while the Americade website offers no safety advice or links, it does take pains to remind a certain class of riders that:

Americade… [is] a convention of riders and passengers who enjoy riding tourers, sport-tourers and cruising motorcycles.

Americade is a gathering of friendly, fun-loving folks, for whom motorcycling is a social hobby, but not some form of rebellion. It’s NOT the place for shows of speed, hostile attitudes, or illegally loud motorcycles. Americade supports the AMA position that “Loud Pipes Risk Rights.”

Nowhere does it remind riders that, unfortunately, riding a motorcycle is dangerous in our car-centered, self-absorbed world. It’s one of the most important issues facing bikers (as well as pedestrians, joggers, and bicyclists) today. It’s probably safe to say that every bike club in America has a memorial to one of their riders killed by a car or truck.

New York has the highest number of pedestrian and cyclist deaths and injuries in the U.S. What’s more, pedestrian and cyclist deaths make up a majority of traffic deaths in the state.

Just this past week a car-bike collision hit close to home when we learned the news that Alan Gregory, author of Alan Gregory’s Conservation News was hit by an 85-year old driver while bicycling near is home. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and is in long term hospital care.

Although Alan’s home is in Conyngham, Pennsylvania, until he was run-down in the street by a car, he was a regular writer on topics Adirondack and a staunch and intelligent defender of the Adirondack wilderness. His concern for the Adirondack environment is the kind of concern that has helped make Lake George such a great place to have a touring rally. The natural beauty of the Adirondacks is, in fact, one of Americade’s main features.

The promoters of Americade need to be reminded that it isn’t the rebellious who are the danger at Americade. The danger is that Americaders, and others, have to share our common roadways with highway hogs.

Americade’s promoters and participants have the perfect opportunity to engage us in serious ideas about sharing the roadway with people using other forms of transportation – bikes, cars, trains, buses, and feet.

Denying that there is a danger to Americaders, is not the first step.

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John Warren

John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for almost 50 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded the geolocation services company Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John remains active in traditional media. His Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on the stations of North Country Public Radio and on 93.3 / 102.1 The Mix. Since 2008, John has been a media specialist on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute.

John is also a professional researcher and historian with a M.A. in Public History. He edits The New York History Blog and is the author of two books of regional history. As a Grant Consultant for the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, he has reviewed hundreds of historic roadside marker grant applications from around New York State for historical accuracy.




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