Has the Friday the 13th motorcycle rally in Port Dover peaked?
The rally in July 2018 attracted as many as 150,000 people and more than 15,000 motorcycles. There hasn’t been a rally in the intervening 14 months so demand for Friday’s event was expected to be high.
However, Port Dover was noticeably less congested on Friday than during last year’s event. By mid-afternoon, authorities estimated that the crowd was about half the size of last year’s.
Const. Ed Sanchuk, spokesperson for the Norfolk OPP, suggested overcast skies and predictions of rain may have caused some enthusiasts to beg off.
“Attendance is down,” he said. “It doesn’t help that Mother Nature is planning to drop a bunch of rain on us.”
The crowd that piled into Port Dover last year threw a scare into first responders. At the event’s peak, pedestrians were packed downtown from one side of Main Street to the other. Meanwhile, a continuous procession of motorcycles from the north and south teased their way through the masses.
Police worried someone would get run over. And firefighters and paramedics wondered if they could respond in a timely manner to an emergency.
Norfolk OPP suggested that Norfolk County find a way to re-locate the rally away from Port Dover’s core to a venue with more space and fewer pedestrian conflicts. The county declined, in part, because Friday the 13th is spontaneous and the municipality cannot tell visitors to stay away from public places.
A compromise solution was rolled out this week in which Main Street, between Nelson and Park streets, was barricaded to create a pedestrian mall framed by two rows of vendors. All motor vehicles were forbidden in the three-block zone. For the first time in the event’s 38-year history, no motorcycles were parked in the heart of the action.
Chris Simons of Port Dover, founder of the motorcycle rally in 1981, said the concept should work but added Friday’s event would have had more vitality had the pedestrian zone been shortened to two blocks. He said there were too few vendors to fill the three blocks.
Simons agrees with those who complain Friday the 13th is over-policed. And he wonders what the OPP are thinking by having out-of-town officers direct traffic. He heard reports Friday that some officers were steering riders away from designated parking areas in the core.
“Most of the officers directing traffic aren’t from here and they have no idea how to do it,” he said. “They should just let the bikers find their way. They know what they’re doing.”
Some regulars at the Friday event found the new layout frustrating, confusing and in some regards contrary to the principles of public safety.
“We ride our bikes and we want to see bikes and not vendors on Main Street,” Michael Mazur of Brantford said. “You could see the constant frustration of thousands of us bikers riding up Main Street to exit only to have a barrier turn us around. That was unsafe — having people and motorcycles trying to jockey and turn around and try and figure out how to exit.
“Ever since it started we have successfully and patiently navigated our way home and around the crowds on Main Street.”
Sanchuk could not say whether the force makes a point of appointing officers to traffic duty that are familiar with Port Dover. He also had not heard that officers were refusing some motorists access to the residential zone on Main Street despite presenting a residents’ pass from the county.
The next Friday the 13th is in December.