In years past, downtown Janesville’s Court and Milwaukee streets were known as “the circuit,” a driving route where car cruisers liked to show off their hot rides.
On June 26, a stretch of Milwaukee and Court streets and a couple of downtown cross streets will be cleared of traffic for a high-speed race—but it’ll be one on two wheels.
Organizers announced Tuesday that they’ve set the course for the Janesville Town Square Gran Prix, which is the city’s leg of the Tour of America’s Dairyland, a major criterium (closed-circuit) bicycle race that has 11 other legs statewide.
The race will run in a nearly 1-mile circuit traveling west down Court Street and east up Milwaukee Street, encircling the heart of the Main Street business and entertainment corridor and three blocks of downtown on the west side of the Rock River. That’s according to a route map provided by a local organizer working through host Midwest Cycling Series.
That means some streets will be blocked to traffic all day Tuesday, June 26, particularly along the straightaways on Milwaukee and Court streets and at cross streets inside the route. The area will be open to foot traffic.
Local organizer Paul Murphy, president of the Janesville Velo Club, said 11 sets of races are set to run throughout the day, drawing hundreds of bicyclists from 40 states and 15 countries. Organizers also expect 3,000 to 4,000 spectators to pack in for the Gran Prix.
Murphy said the Gran Prix will interrupt normal business downtown the day of the races, but organizers believe the influx of people and the attention paid to downtown Janesville will be a net positive.
It’s the kind of event downtown needs as it is groomed to be more pedestrian- and bike-friendly, Murphy said.
“This is more of an ‘exposure’ than a ‘heads in beds’ (tourism) event,” Murphy said. “With ARISE (Janesville’s riverfront revitalization plan), these are the type of events that downtown Janesville would like to see. The timing was right.”
Organizers opted out of holding a race at one location on the Dairyland tour, Milwaukee’s Schlitz Park, because the urban area was too busy for a bike race, Murphy said.
Murphy said he and other stakeholders have been working with city officials since 2016 to land a leg of the Dairyland tour. In recent months, he and the race’s head organizers and promoters laid out the course, considering several possible routes through downtown.
City staff approved the race and its route in January, he said.
The chosen route features a few downhill runs along Court and Milwaukee streets that will boost racers’ speeds to 30 to 35 miles an hour, Murphy said. Tight left and right turns are planned at West Court, Jackson, Dodge and West Milwaukee streets on the west side of the river.
“We call it NASCAR on two wheels,” he said.
It’s the only course on the Dairyland tour that sends racers zipping across two different bridges over the same river.
Murphy said it’s also the first bicycle race of its type in downtown Janesville. Blain’s Farm & Fleet and the Janesville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau are sponsoring it, and Murphy said the hope is to bring a Dairyland race stop here every year.
“It’s perpetual. Once it’s here, we have the right of first refusal every November,” he said.
Murphy said organizers are now signing up racers for 11 different events from about 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. June 26.
On race morning, motorists and business operators will see organizers setting up gates and concrete barriers to block off streets within the race route, he said. Those streets will be closed to traffic from about 7:30 a.m. until after the races end at about 9 p.m.
For example, the block of South Main Street between Milwaukee and Court streets will be closed to traffic, but pedestrians will be able to move through intersections during races and throughout the day with help from crossing guards.
Much of the activity will be consolidated around the North Main Street and Parker Drive intersections on Milwaukee Street, where the finish line, podium and stage will be located.
Murphy said organizers have already worked with police and fire liaisons on public safety logistics, and the race promoter provides its own race-day medical team to handle bicycling injuries or other problems. Park-and-ride locations are being set up, too, to try to keep spectators and racing teams from clogging up streets with parked cars.
He said in the past, organizers at other legs of the Dairyland tour have worked with affected businesses to address concerns about customer access on race day.
One example: At a past race, a person used a golf cart to ferry customers and items back and forth from a tuxedo shop hemmed in by the race.
Murphy said organizers will hold an informational meeting March 13 to address concerns about the race and planned street closures. He and others are circulating information packets to downtown businesses so people aren’t caught off-guard June 26.
He said the hope is that the dozen or so downtown restaurants and other businesses will brainstorm promotions and events to turn race day into a benefit.
“It’s an interruption to people and businesses. We do want to reduce the impact and help them (businesses), and we’re trying to encourage businesses to make an event out of it,” Murphy said. “How you prepare yourself is up to you. We’re saying Janesville needs to create the circus. Because we’re bringing the clowns.”