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Building bike culture in Madison County

Building bike culture in Madison County

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Spokes and Folks

Denny Henke discusses Spokes and Folks as well as Livable Streets at the Madison County Commission meeting, Feb. 24. Henke also spoke to the Fredericktown City Council later in the day.

Spokes and Folks along with the MU Extension office are looking to make Madison County a community supportive of active living.

Livable Streets is a program offered through MU Extension, which is a design approach that makes communities more connected and open to people regardless of age, ability or mode of transportation. 

Denny Henke has a long history with cycling going back to when he lived in Memphis 10 years ago and walked or cycled everywhere. Unfortunately a knee injury knocked him down for a few years until recently when e-bikes (electric bicycles) have become popular.

"I took it (e-bike) on 217 one day and decided oh I'm going to see if I can peddle and I started peddling," Henke said. "Eight miles later I was at Scoops having coffee via 217, it was awesome."

This one ride reignited the spark for cycling which Henke once had and the next few days he returned to Scoops for coffee and Dairy Bar for some ice cream.

"217 is a beautiful county road to ride on and I come into town and I'm sort of exploring town for the first time not in a car," Henke said. "That was all starting in December and as of now I have almost 1,000 miles I've ridden in two and a half months."

Henke said, as he was researching, he came across many recommendations of places to ride and all of them kept bringing up the term livable streets and complete streets.

"For myself I'm fine, I've got what I need, but I start thinking about Fredericktown, and as I'm reading about livable streets, I see the CDC is involved with this," Henke said. "I start looking at the health aspects of it, and I start thinking this is perfect for Fredericktown. We should do this."

Henke said when you look at Missouri and Madison County and their rankings when it come to obesity problems, it is not good. 

"We talk about health problems and what we want to do to fix them but we're not making a whole lot of progress and getting people out of obesity," Henke said. "I don't want to single that one thing out but that is a big part of relating the problems to what we have."

Henke said the way to get passed that is to engage in active transportation.

"After World War II we built our communities and our towns and our cities around cars," Henke said. "At the time we didn't think well in 50-60 years what that might mean. What it means is we have people that are not engaging."

Henke said livable streets and the cycling program is a desire to get people active in a way that they have not been in a long time.

"We were taught to view bikes as toys," Henke said. "In America, you have a bike when you're a kid and then when you turn 16, you get a car and the bike gets put in the garage. Then maybe you'll get one as an adult and it stays in the garage and collects dust bunnies."

Henke said Madison County is perfect for livable streets. He said most county and city roads are relatively quiet and safe to ride.

"What we need to do and what Spokes and Folks is going to do is basically begin building bike culture here," Henke said. "We want to do safety classes. We are going to be doing group rides starting in April. Take them into the county and let them explore a little bit."

Henke said he sees adult riders unaware of how they are supposed to ride a bike on the road and the rules they are supposed to follow.

"You're supposed to ride a bike in that you are supposed to follow the rules of vehicles," Henke said. "I see people going the wrong way against traffic, I see people on the sidewalks, I see people who basically don't know how to ride bikes like vehicles."

Henke said the goal is to get adults back on bikes, help them feel safe and create an environment where it is socially acceptable to chose to ride a bicycle over a car. 

Spokes and Folks plans to offer rides twice a month, bike clinics to help with cleaning chains and flat repairs, a free helmet program and work towards getting bike racks placed around town. 

Henke said, when applying for grants, most ask if they are engaged in livable streets.

"It (livable streets) doesn't cost us anything," Henke said. "We are going to be talking to the city and encouraging them to be a part of livable streets. It can be adopted as a resolution. It cost nothing to do and what it does is it opens the door to a lot of funding because they are going to be asking if we are a part of it."

Henke said livable streets is just looking at how they can add to the town and make it more friendly for pedestrians and cyclists.

For more information visit spokesandfolks.org or contact Denny Henke at 573-944-1557

Victoria Kemper is a reporter for the Democrat News. She can be reached at 573-783-3366 or at vkemper@democratnewsonline.com

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