New look for Friday the 13th in Dover

PORT DOVER – Downtown Port Dover will have a new look for this week’s Friday the 13th motorcycle rally.Organizers hope the thousands of riders and spectators expected in town Thursday and Friday like what they see.“This is what we call a trial event,” Amie Ferris, a volunteer with the Port Dover Kinsmen, said in an interview Thursday in the middle of Main Street.“We’re going to see how it goes. Afterward, we’ll hash out what went right and what went wrong.”An interview in the middle of the normally busy road was possible because Main Street has been barricaded from Nelson Street in the north to Park Street in the south.The area in between has been converted into a pedestrian-vendor mall. For the first time in the 38-year history of the rally, motorcycles will not be allowed to park or cruise through the heart of the event.The move pushes motorcycle parking farther north on Main Street than it has traditionally gone in the past. During well-attended events, motorcycles in several rows have jammed Main Street as far north as the intersection of St. Andrew Street.Bill Cridland, Norfolk’s general manager of community services, said the new configuration is driven by concerns over public safety.Last year’s rally in July attracted as many as 150,000 people and more than 15,000 motorcycles. Downtown Port Dover was so congested at one point that police, paramedics and firefighters wondered whether emergency vehicles could get in and out of the core.When they weren’t worrying about rival biker gangs confronting each other, police fretted about the mixing of motorcycles and heavy pedestrian traffic from one side of Main Street to the other.Police warned afterward it was a tragedy waiting to happen. This spring, Insp. Joe Varga, head of the Norfolk OPP, suggested Norfolk find a way to re-locate the rally out of the core.In response, Mayor Kristal Chopp wondered if that would work given that Friday the 13th is spontaneous and municipal officials can’t tell people which public places they can and cannot frequent. The barricades and the creation of a pedestrian mall is the compromise that arose out of this.Cridland added that geopolitical events have fanned the flames of terrorism and other acts of public violence. The crush of humanity in downtown Port Dover, Cridland said, might be a tempting target for someone with an axe to grind.“This is what is happening in the world today,” he said. “People are taking vehicles and running down crowds.”Concerns over public safety are also based on past experience. In previous rallies, there have been numerous minor collisions downtown involving motorcycles and pedestrians.Toes have been run over while people have suffered burned legs after brushing up against a hot muffler. A clip on the arm from a mirror on a passing motorcycle will leave a nasty bruise or worse.Joshua Noel, 29, of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., attended his first rally last summer. Noel is disappointed the free-for-all mixing of pedestrians and motorcycles is off the table. But he also understands why steps have been taken.“I saw that last year,” Noel said Thursday at the Arbor. “I saw someone get their arm hit with a handle bar and she was pretty upset about it. It happened about one in the morning.”Authorities are bracing for another large turnout. There hasn’t been a Friday the 13th rally in 14 months so demand for one could be substantial. As with any outdoor event, Friday’s weather will weigh heavily on attendance.The Environment Canada forecast calls for clearing Thursday night and a sunny start to Friday. There is a chance of showers and thunderstorms in the afternoon, with a high temperature of 23 C. Friday also promises to be breezy, with gusts out of the southwest as high as 50 [email protected] read more