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  • Writer's pictureTyisha Blade


A Special Report By: The East Clevelander Magazine

Every bikeable Thursday at 8 a.m., Mayor Brandon L. King meets representatives from every City of East Cleveland department at the police garage. They get ready to go on King’s weekly tour of East Cleveland, neighborhood by neighborhood, called “Thursday Bike Rides with Mayor King.”

Service Supervisor Antonio Marshall can be found just after dawn on Thursdays, checking that East Cleveland’s fleet of electric police bikes are charged up and ready for the King administration. “All the directors and some of the staff members go out weekly and ride e-bikes around the community just get a look at the community from a closeup,” Marshall said. “And sometimes we talk with the citizens about issues they’re having in the community so that we can actually see them, visually.”

King’s administration is convinced they can reach their hardest-to-reach residents by mounting e-bikes, themselves, and meeting East Clevelanders on their own streets. “It’s usually Building and Housing, Service, the Law Department, HR...pretty much the whole staff. We do it early in the morning...and who’s out early in the morning, mainly? Elders. The demographic of our city is made up of predominantly seniors. Mowing their grass or going to the store, supermarkets, or getting gas. That’s when you see them, and they see us out there. All the questions they want to ask, they can give it to you right then and there.”

Where did the idea come from? “The Mayor,” said Marshall. “He always liked to reach out to the people; touch them. So, when he became mayor, he actually made it personal: every week we get on e-bikes and we go out and touch the community.”

We asked Mayor King how he got the idea to take his departments and staff on Thursday Bike Rides with the Mayor. “This got started as a result of COVID-19,” King said. “They closed the gyms down and, as a way to get some exercise, myself, I started riding my bike around the city. I was riding around by myself on my own bike, and I got to see the city at a much slower pace. You don’t see all the stuff you see riding a bike in a car—no matter how slow you’re driving in cars, you’re looking at traffic, trying not to get in accidents, stuff like that—you never really get up close and personal with the residents.” King explained, “We had maybe one or two of these e-bikes here and one day, I came in and took former Executive Assistant Belinda Kyle and Chief of Staff Mike Smedley out in the community on e-bikes.”

The Thursday biking program evolved organically. “For the first couple rides, it was just us three,” said King. “I was trying to explain the benefit of doing it. As we rode, they could see it. And then we started bringing out service departments to address stuff on the spot...that is how it got started. Then, we brought in a couple more bikes. We’re up to seven bikes now, so that we can take out the full complement of staff to address issues whether it’s potholes, vacant and abandoned housing, people doing work with no permits, cars that are parked illegally or dumped.”

King has found the response to his Thursday Bike Ride rewarding. “When you pull up on residents and you’re there, you’re taking notes, and then you say, ‘Hey, we’re going to get back to you,’ and you address the problem—that’s how this got started. Now, residents call and they’re asking, ‘Hey, when is the mayor coming on our street?’”

July had multi-day stretches of heat advisories, storms, and poor air quality alerts, leaving few safe Thursdays to Bike Ride with the Mayor. Actually, on the Thursday in late July when The East Clevelander Magazine tagged along, record heat was forecast that afternoon, but King was determined to keep his resident outreach program going by sneaking in a Thursday Bike Ride because they are always during the cooler, early morning hours.

“In the last couple weeks, we’ve had severe weather alerts and air quality issues,” King said. “You don’t want to be pulling people out and breathing unhealthy air, and if there’s a threat of a thunderstorm, you can’t go.” However, unless East Cleveland’s streets are covered with snow, Mayor King can be found on Thursday mornings e-biking a different neighborhood of East Cleveland, every week. “But we’ve been out all summer—all the good weather season,” King said.

Mayor King’s comfort level with motorized bikes is apparent, which he said is no coincidence. “I started on bikes—you know how when you’re a little kid, you get the Huffies [Huffy Bicycles]. Then, my first motorized bike was a dirt bike. Eventually, I had a Yamaha B, Honda Express, all those. I had the MB5, remember the MB5s? It was one of the first bikes with gears, but it only went maybe 30-35 miles. It wasn’t a fast bike, but it had the gears. And it was street legal, unlike the dirt bikes.” King was visibly taking a ride down memory lane when he added, “The MB5 was a good time.”

On this Thursday, the King administration was biking the Southwest corner of East Cleveland, where the Mickey’s building renovation is kicking off the Mayor’s revisioning plan for East Cleveland. King greeted residents on their porches and checked in on residential construction projects as he and his staff weaved their way through Woodlawn Avenue, Penrose Avenue, and Brightwood Street, but King put on the brakes about half-way through the bank of backstreets to discuss the changes he’s seen.

“This is Wadena,” King said. “Wadena was once a wild and ruckus street. What we’ve done is give the residents some relief. We took down a bunch of houses...we actually had to evict people from houses that were owned by the county with people squatting in them.” Wadena residents had resorted to staying indoors because the level of noise and disrespect for neighbors had taken the fun out of enjoying their own street. King asked, “And you see how quiet it is now, right? The residents now feel a lot more comfortable, and now you’ve got people out on their porches,” he beamed.

The Mayor stopped elsewhere to point out a gas station they’d noticed on a previous Thursday Bike Ride that had neglected to pull a city permit prior to starting roof work. Although he’s always careful to complement good craftsmanship, King also regularly points out to crew heads the speed, convenience, inexpensiveness, and mandatory nature of East Cleveland city permits prior to halting their work temporarily until a city permit is pulled (which he explains can be issued on that same day).

When the Thursday Bike Ride had reached the corner of Euclid and Woodlawn Avenues, King halted the e-bike caravan again: “We are now at the Mickey’s building, which we have deemed the start of the new neighborhood. We’re going to have some retail, some community space, some office space. Renovation has already begun—over $3.5 million dollars in renovation—the inside is coming along great. We’ve already had a number of community meetings, engaging the residents to show them the transformation of the place. The last one was a three-hour event and had a nice steady flow of over 30 residents at a time. In and out. In and out. Doing questionnaires, looking at the diagrams, talking of what they want to see, what they’ve envisioned so far, and then the finishing touches are always important: ‘Where would you like to see a bench to sit down and talk?’ ‘What kind of shrubbery do you envision?’ ‘Do you like the red brick for that old look or would you like a new look?’”

Our tag-along on the Thursday Bike Ride with Mayor King ended across the street from Coit Farmers Market (15000 Woodworth Ave.) and next door to the East Cleveland Community Garden, the home of the Coit Road Urban Farm. Mayor King wanted to check up on the once overgrown corner of Coit Road and Woodworth Avenue, where Sara Continenza and her Food Strong initiative has cleaned up, dug in and grown deep East Cleveland roots in a short period of time.

Mayor King sees an urgent need for projects like Continenza’s. “East Cleveland has been a food desert for years. Right?” King asked Continenza. “And this helps.” Continenza agreed and added, “It needs to be something that draws the community in. That’s why we do door knocking. That’s why I always invite people to come in and taste the food, talk to us because it’s all about relationships.”

“That’s right,” King said.

Continenza explained, “If you’ve only had access to the corner stores and fast food for a while, the chemical agents in there are actually addictive. We have to teach people how to change their taste buds and adjust those addictions. We all get addicted to sugar, fat, salt and chemicals. It’s like we’re all addicted to something. You’ve got to change people’s mindset about it so that when they get that grocery store, they’re going to be like, ‘Yeah, “I’m going to get that fresh stuff.’”

If it’s a Thursday morning, take an extra look around—you might just see a Thursday Bike Ride with Mayor King rolling through your neighborhood of East Cleveland.

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