Friday, July 29, 2011

Easley Update

Implementation of Easley's bike plan has been moving forward - but not without some obstacles.

In mid-July, the city's Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee met with members of Easley's religious community to talk about a few issues that had recently surfaced. Debate about cars parking in the new bike lanes on South 1st and East 1st streets provided an opportunity to engage the community about the role and priority of biking. Religious groups are voicing their concerns about providing convenient parking to their members, especially older folks. The City has welcomed the debate, but is standing by the suggestions (and long term goals) of the bike plan. An idea about providing a weekly exemption on Sunday morning arose, but the City has said that they can't control county or state troopers writing citations to those who park in the bike lane. Parking in a bike lane is against South Carolina State law.

The Greenville News recently reported that Easley was awarded a grant to help create a multiuse path on Couch Lane. In a past post, I talked about how the area on Couch Lane was identified as a top priority in the Easley Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan. Easley will get money from the Pickens County C-Fund Committee. Check out the story on your favorite search engine for more details. (To get around having to subscribe to Greenville News online, search for the article, and use the "cached" feature.)

The debate is a great way to engage the community that helps build safety, awareness and a greater understanding of the biking in the community. Everyone may not agree, but it's a process that is worthwhile - change and learning new things rarely happens over night! Great things are going on in Easley.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Carmageddon: Bike beats Plane

"Carmageddon" took place in LA this weekend.  A major highway arterial was shut down to all traffic. Jet Blue offered flights for $4, all taxes and fees included, to go the 40 miles from one LA airport to the other - all as a means of getting around a major city while a highway was shut down for a few days. A few folks who were getting sick of all the media-hype hoopla decided enough was enough:  the cycling group Wolfpack Hustle challenged Jet Blue to a friendly but fierce Bike versus Plane race!

So, here's what happened:  The cycling group challenged Jet Blue. Jet Blue officially said "no thanks" but made room for a couple that bought the $4 ticket to go from one end of LA to the other. The cyclists and the airplane riders left the same place at the same time Saturday morning to see who would reach a park nearby the airport first. Though done in good fun, the cyclists were out to prove that riding a plane 'cross town was a bit of an overkill. There were two other racers, someone who took mass transit and an inline skater (rollerblades) who also volunteered to race. Here's how they finished

  1. The Cyclists
  2. Mass Transit Rider
  3. The Inline Skater
  4. The Airplane Rider
All the folks involved had a great time, followed all the traffic laws and it provided some great PR for cyclists. Make sure to check out the links to see some cool photos and footage of the race!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Road Closed Ahead

I've got an axe to grind today. In light of the recent bicycle/auto crashes and fatalities that have happened across the state, there was cause for concern during my commute from Clemson to Central yesterday.

I was coming from Clemson University on 93 toward Central. As I was crossing the bridge on 93 over 76, there was a big "Road Closed Ahead" sign blocking the entire bike lane similar to the one found in the photo below. (!!!!!)

SC 93 is not the safest road to be biking on, but many do, including students. I was really upset that this sign was blocking. The bike lane. On 93. In an area of high traffic congestion.

Knowing my rights as a member of the public, I set out to alert the officials of the safety issues and engage them in a conversation about bicycle commuter safety rights and issues. I started out by contacting the City of Clemson to find out what was going on. I learned that it wasn't their project, so off to the DOT I was sent.

After five phone calls to three different offices, I got two stories on their policies and procedures. One guy I talked with (from X County) said that they don't put signs in the bike lanes. I was happy to hear this. We talked a bit about this, and I came away feeling like "my work here is done."

The other (from Y County) said that he saw nothing wrong with it, and that if he was out there, he would have put the sign in the bike lane - as opposed to the sidewalk. He said that we don't live in a perfect world, and someone's not going to be happy. (If the sign was put on the sidewalk, then a pedestrian would have called and complained.)

I talked to him about considering the fact that bicycles have a slower reaction time and farther stopping distance than pedestrians. And this area (which some might say is crazy to ride in, though there is a designated bike lane) is busy with cars, traffic lights, on ramps, off ramps and other distractions. Maybe putting this sign in the bike lane was not the right choice, considering those other factors. He also mentioned that bikes are like autos, and have rights and responsibilities to the road. Therefore, as a bicycle commuter, I had a right to ride in the car/truck/semi lane, too. Even though the road was closed, I still had a right (rights vs invites) to be there. So, the "Road Closed Ahead" sign in the bike lane didn't mean I had to stop riding my bike - I just had to take my life into my own hands - more so than I was already doing.

He wasn't biting, and we politely agreed to disagree, but I hope that, yes, another bicyclist commuter politely pushed a button that needs to be pushed. If we aren't looking out for our safety and rights...others might not be either.

Am I a little crazy to ride here? Maybe not really. If you're familiar with the area, you may know that most of the off-campus housing for Clemson students is on this route, and many use it to commute during all hours of the day and night. You may also see the bike lanes and signs, which not only (kinda) alert cars that bicyclist have a right to the road, but also alerts any potential bicycle commuter that this is a designate route - and you're free to use it. Finally, it's short ride from campus to grocery stores, restaurants, video rental places, the gym and rental housing. It's an area with a variety of use in short amount of space that could be the ideal bicycle commuting route - especially for penny-pinching students.

I came away with not being completely sure what the DOT's policies are, but I hope that my phone calls cast another ripple in the growing sea of bicycle and non-auto traffic commuters, helping build awareness that we're out there, we're vocal and we really just want to get home safely.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Balancing Act: Bike + Ped Funding on the Line (again)

Heard the news lately? Some of the folks up in Washington have decided that they'd like to cut funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects.

I read a brief email from the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) about the issue. I wanted to learn more, so I visited the Association of Bicycle and Pedestrian Professionals (APBP) website. APBP is an organization for those involved with promoting, planning, policies, programs, etc. that have to do with pedestrians or bicyclists. You can choose to officially join the organization (pretty inexpensive, in the world of professional memberships).

What's going on, you may ask? Key members of the Senate and of the House have voiced their opposition to bicycle and walking funding. House Chairman Mica (R-FL) announced that his Transportation bill will eliminate all dedicated funding for bike/ped projects:  Safe Routes to School, Transportation Enhancement funds and the Recreational Trails program. In the Senate, Senator J. Inhofe (R-OK) who is key negotiator, has stated that getting rid of funding for these projects is one of his TOP THREE priorities. I really hope that the men and women that we elect to represent us can see how bicycle and pedestrian projects have benefited folks across South Carolina (and beyond!).

APBP has a great article on how this proposed cut in funding appears to go against the grain of growing acceptance and interest in bicycle and pedestrian programs across the country. They state the importance of these programs in support of the economy, job growth, public health, community development, recreation and public support. If there is growing interest in these programs, then why is this on the chopping block? Same thing happened last summer, as budgets were tight then, too. I am upset, though, because investing in bicycle and pedestrian programs promotes the use of more sustainable (financial, environmental, economical, the list goes on....) activities. (There has recently been several studies about the link between bikeways and job growth.) What harm is there in building more routes, systems and networks that enables people of all ages and abilities to get around without having to invest in a car, be at the whim of a bus system and/or be at the mercy of the gas pump? Additionally, this blog has kept up with the active, growing bicycle plan, programs and networks in just the Upstate of South Carolina. What about the rest of the country?

If you'd like to take this a step further than educating yourself (and your friends), contact your congressmen/women. Tell them, politely, how you feel and why you feel that way. The APBP article does provide a quick, handy way to contact your representatives via the world wide web (which I did). Although, I've heard that a written, snail-mail letter is better, please consider contacting them either way.

Keep your eyes and ears posted for more. Contact your representatives. And keep biking!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Auto Assistance (Insurance) Group that Supports Bicyclists

Ever heard of Better World Club? Mean either, until about two months ago. I was paging through an issue of Utne Reader, a magazine I used to subscribe to, but now get from my local library. (Thank you, Picken's County Library System!) I love the magazine for it's collaborative approach, alternative viewpoints and more progressive materials and advertised products.

Anyhow, I was thumbing through it, and I came across an ad for Better World Club (BWC). I remember reading that it was an alternative to AAA, and that they were bike-friendly. This sparked my interest.

So, about a month later, I got around to looking up BWC online. My parents have been AAA member for as long as I can remember. My husband and I have been members, and I value their road-side assistance program and some of the travel services. I love the big, comprehensive, free maps that AAA provide. It's nice to have some in the car, and that you don't have to be completely dependent on a working connection to the internet or a GPS device.

I was really curious about this other car insurance/road side assistance copy. Looking around their website, there were several really cool things that I discovered:
  1. They offer bicycle road-side assistance. They have a service that offers to pick you up and drop you off in case of an emergency. Many commuters, or commuter-want-to-be's, talk about wanting to ride to work, but fear what will happen to them if their bike breaks down and they really need to get somewhere. BWC's program offer's a possible solution.
  2. They offer discounts and benefits. The benefits and discounts aren't quite up to the stock that AAA has, but it's growing. BWC offers rental car, hotel, bike and other discounts. Check out their website for details. (The discounts for autos and bicyclists are found in a few different locations on their site.)
  3. They advocate for bicycle rights. According to their website, AAA does not! WOAH. To me, that is huge. If I'm advocating for bicycle rights, why do I belong to an organization and pay a membership that is in direct conflict to what I support? I've done a fair amount of research on this topic, and feel pretty confident that BWC is correct in this verdict.
So, what does this mean? My husband and I have not yet switched, but we are strongly considering it. I would strongly encourage you to consider this, too. Additionally, they are also advocates for environmentally-friendly travel, not just the oil-friendly kind. I also requested a car insurance quote from them, just to get an idea what we might be working with. The quote I got from them was very reasonable.

If you're looking for an auto or bike road-side assistance program that will offer you special discounts on insurance, hotels, rental cars, bike accessories, travel and other things, including advocating for bicycle rights, I ask you to consider checking out BWC.

Full Disclosure:  I don't know anyone or will get anything for blogging about Better World Club. After finding out more about them, I thought others might like to know more, too.