New public art piece honors late local cycling advocate
Ed McLaughlin left an indelible impression on Chico before his passing four years ago. Now, whenever cyclists and pedestrians reach one of his favorite meeting spots—a junction in the One-Mile Recreation Area of Lower Bidwell Park—they’ll see a tangible reminder of his legacy.
Chico Velo Cycling Club, the group he nurtured for four decades, dedicated an art piece in his memory last Friday (Feb. 26). The ribbon-cutting ceremony culminated a three-year process that Executive Director Janine Rood described as challenging but worthwhile, particularly once the impact of the metal monument became evident.
“It was emotional, for sure, and very satisfying to see it come to fruition,” Rood said in Chico Velo’s downtown office a few days later. “When you work really hard to get something accomplished and it has a personal meaning … it’s very moving.”
Perhaps no one has been moved as much as Ann Schwab. She’s president of Chico Velo and a Chico city councilwoman (previously mayor) who works at Chico State and co-owns Campus Bicycles downtown. She met McLaughlin around 35 years ago—fittingly, on a ride.
Seated outside on the university campus, four days after the dedication ceremony, Schwab found herself with a lump in her throat as she reflected on their friendship.
“I’m surprised at how emotional,” she said, trailing off for an instant as tears began to well. “I still think about Ed and how important he was to the community, but [also] in my own personal life.”
Head high, she continued: “Ed was responsible for putting Chico on the bicycle map, making sure that we had the infrastructure, that his board members were in areas where we could have an influence … so any time there was an issue coming up [before local government] there would not only be someone from the public speaking about that item but there would also be a decision-maker who could also make the argument for the case on the other side of the dais.”
Among those Chico Velo members who’ve assumed public positions: Rood (current member of the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission), Kirk Monfort (former member of the Planning Commission), Russell Mills (former member of the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission) and David Winzenz (former General Plan Task Force member).
Then, of course, there’s Schwab. She served on the Park Commission and the Parking Place Commission before getting elected to the council in 2004.
Schwab says she wouldn’t have ventured into the political arena if not for McLaughlin, who twice ran for City Council, chaired the city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee and served on the Citizens Advisory Committee for the Butte County Association of Governments.
“He was very influential in pushing me to do things that I didn’t think I could do. He believed in me,” she said, tearing up again. “He believed in people, in their strengths, and helping them grow to their potential.”
What better tribute, then, than an upward-reaching monument?
Chico Velo commissioned the Lower Park sculpture from local artist Jeff Lindsay of Red Hot Metal Inc. His metalwork already graces popular riding spots such as the Steve Harrison Bike Path out toward Honey Run Road (bike sprocket arches) and Annie’s Glen tunnel.
The Lower Park piece is titled “Decide and Ride.” It’s a four-sided obelisk, wider lower than higher, topped by a weather vane. Each panel sketches out two popular rides—name, round-trip distance, elevation gain—in that general direction.
It’s located north of the One-Mile bridge in an unpaved sidewalk junction that has suffered degradation from foot traffic. Chico Velo hopes the art will prove functional, not just as a meeting place for cyclists (and others), but also as a buffer to allow surrounding grass to regrow.
Decide and Ride’s name has significance, too. In that general vicinity, riders have congregated for decades—well back to Chico Velo’s 1970s origins as Melo Velo—before heading out.
Pro cyclist Ian Boswell, an Oregonian who trained in Chico, visited McLaughlin before his passing in May 2012. The two discussed the idea of a more formal meeting point, which Boswell later shared with Chico Velo board member Forough Molina.
“When we were talking about what would be appropriate to commemorate Ed’s work in Chico,” Schwab said, “Forough brought that story up and we said, ‘Yeah, that’s Ed.’”
McLaughlin, paralyzed in a bike accident in 2007, has been the titular honoree (and early beneficiary) of an annual fundraising race, the Tour de Ed, which will have its eighth running Sunday (March 6) starting in downtown Chico.
Events, of course, are moments in time. Structures endure. Chico Velo plans to erect more art pieces and already has begun planning (and fundraising) for the next one, set for the traffic circle where Second and Flume intersect.
“As much money as we can get is as much art as we can get,” Rood said. “It’s kind of a different thing for a cycling organization to do, but it’s perfect for us because of Ed’s history and the Chico community.”