I met Ron Scott on the stairsteps of the old Detroit Police Department (DPD) headquarters on Beaubien in 2008. I didn’t know much about him except that he was interested in helping organize a bicycle ride against the police department’s suddenly announced enforcement of mandatory bicycle registration ordinances.
Along with fellow advocate Tawanna Simpson, we organized a bike protest ride while simultaneously working to make the bike registration ordinances voluntary.
From my limited policy perspective as the MTGA Detroit Greenways Coordinator, the ordinances were archaic and and burdensome. For Ron, it wasn’t a coincidence that DPD starting enforcing the ordinances. It was a tool for targeting certain types of people who happened to be on bikes. Unlicensed bikes were an easy way to write $75 tickets. This was an issue of fairness and equity.
Along the way, Ron bought a bike and was rapidly absorbed in the fun and health aspects of bicycling. He spoke of bicycling’s ability to build inclusive community, perhaps foretelling Slow Roll. He certainly brought a more broad perspective to the discussion.
At the Detroit City Council hearing on the registration ordinances, I was taken aback by the respect and admiration each council member gave Ron as they entered the room. Still not knowing his past, it gave me a great deal of confidence. Council called Ron and I to the table where he spoke elegantly and introduced the need to remove the city’s unnecessary bicycling restrictions. He then introduced me as his brother, which elicited some chuckles. While we’re both Scotts, we don’t look much like siblings. I proceeded to outline the specifics of why mandatory licensing didn’t make sense from a policy perspective.
More people spoke against the ordinances with only DPD speaking in support of them. City council not only moved to make the mandatory bicycle registrations voluntary, they thanked us for bringing this issue before them. Our protest bike ride was then turned into a bike ride celebration that even saw the Detroit Police Chief Ella Bully-Cummings riding with us.
Seizing on this political momentum, we decided to bring the Department of Public Work’s non-motorized master plan before council for their approval. Council passed it unanimously before we could finish our presentation. More success!
In the end, DPD gave us a gift that not only led to Ron’s involvement, it fostered a relationship with Council that made Detroit more bike- and trail-friendly. Our positive relationship with Council continues to this day.
Belle Isle State Park
Another issue dear to Ron was the lease of Belle Isle to the State of Michigan. With that lease came an increased state enforcement that made many long time park users feel unwelcomed. This included many Detroit’s bike clubs that no longer felt comfortable holding their events on the island.
We worked with Ron and the bike club presidents to have DNR State Parks Director Ron Olson and the DNR Chief of Southern Field Operations Scott Pratt ride together for the 2014 fireworks. It was an opportunity to make introductions and an initial attempt at changing conditions and perceptions.
The following month, Ron and I spoke before the Michigan State Parks Advisory Committee. Per the meeting minutes:
Ron Scott, applauds the state for what they have accomplished so far with Belle Isle and the increase in Recreation Passport sales just in the Detroit area. However, he encouraged the DNR Parks and Recreation Division to reach out to other stakeholders in the City (i.e. businesses, organizations, the districts, and the general public) and the surrounding areas. For whatever reason, some groups or individuals have not felt comfortable or welcome on the island. He feels that if the department were to reach out to these groups (i.e. have public meetings, discussion or interaction), regarding what would encourage them to visit and enjoy the island, it would not only benefit the island with increased revenue, but it would also help the city and local businesses. He also recommended reaching out to surrounding communities to encourage interest in Belle Isle and point out what it has to offer on a more localized level. Organizations like the Detroit Greenways Coalition, the state, and others would benefit by meeting, having these discussions and figuring out ways to attract more visitors to the area. He also reminded the committee that the state needs to be sensitive to the way enforcement is handled on the island.
At an event just last month Ron reiterated the need to resolve this issue. We’re still working on it.
Certainly Ron contributed much more to Detroit than bicycling advocacy. Others will write much more about that. I just feel so fortunate that our causes overlapped, to have worked with him and be inspired by him, and to be called his brother.
Thank you, Ron.
On November 30th, 2015, Ron Scott passed after a battle with cancer at age 68.
[More about Ron Scott]