Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Biking as a Way of Life :: Then and Now

I love listening to the stories about Greenville coming into its own with bikes. Gettin' around. Racing with the pros. Promoting family bike rides. Pedal chic or Carolina Triathlon. The City has come a long ways in a short time - and its pulling the rest of the Upstate with it.

This past weekend, there was a great article in the Greenville News about bike culture - and we're not talking about the spandex, hipster or commuting crowd. No, this was a reflection on a neighborhood and a way of life that shaped boyhood memories and local teenage sport stars. Apparently areas near Greenville had a bike culture - courteous motorist, law-abiding riders and friends who bonded by way of the bike - before it became the hip, green lifestyle it is today.

People used a bike to get around because that's what was the most available to them. There was also some mention about that bit of southern charm that's shown by way of respect and a slower pace of life fit nicely as people took to two wheels. It appeared to be a natural extension of life - and getting around - for many in a bygone era. You didn't respect the bike because it was a law. You respected it because that was your neighbor. Seems we could also take a lesson from this.

And really, with some of those seemingly top-down bigger policies and programs, that's what we're trying to get back to:  not a nostalgic way of living, but making room, slowing down life and enjoying what's around us.

Here's a tip of the hat to Greenville News, reminding us that getting around on a bike isn't anything new, and people have been doing it for generations.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Neighborhood Bike

The last few evenings I have spent fixing my neighbor's bike. He's around 11 years old, and is excited to ride his bike "on the mountain!" this weekend during a camping trip. He's got his gear - a mountain bike and a bmx helmet. He's ready to ride.

After spending some time putting the bike back together, we walked over to the near-by church parking lot so he could take it for a test spin. "I love to ride!" he shouted as he sped around. Hearing his joy made me smile. It reminded me of how it all began. How it usually begins, really. A bicycle can be a kid's first taste of freedom. The fun. The speed! The neighborhood gang riding around together.

I live in a neighborhood where the shouts and screams of kids having fun can still be heard on any given afternoon and weekend. I smile when I see them on their bike. We don't have sidewalks, the streets are too narrow for two cars to pass and green trees drape over the road. Complete Streets it ain't, but I think this is what the policy-makers thought about when they put the program together. Neighborhoods where kids ride around the block, and streets that parents feel safe enough to let them.

It's still May. And it's still National Bike Month. Memorial Weekend is a great time to get friends and family out on a ride. Take a few hours to tune up the bikes if they haven't been yet. Then plan your route:  3 miles, 10 miles, 50 miles. It doesn't matter how long it is. Just that everyone has fun.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Bike Racks + Bollards

I have never been a fan of bollards. Bollards are those annoying things that are designed to prevent cars from impeding on pedestrian walkways or areas. When I did my collegiate study abroad in Spain, I nailed a bollard just below my knee cap. (I still have the scar to prove it.) Where I grew up, the local Kent Trails system had them installed at many road-crossing intersections. They were handle-bar height and made me nervous to pass through. I often envisioned myself missing the mark and taking a nasty spill. At Clemson University, they have them all over campus, and, I feel that they are ugly nasty things that look like some sort of homage to saying “thou shall not pass.” I find them to be a kind of negative energy on the circulation and connecting landscape.

Close up of bollards + bike racks
When we were in Savannah, I found the neatest, friendliest retrofit of bollards:  making them into a bike rack parking area. They may be hard to see in the photo, but the bollards are widely spaced. They were placed there to prevent cars turning into the pedestrian mall along the restored Central Market. In between the bollards, inverted U-bike racks are specifically placed for folks to park their bike before they enter the Central Market. As you can see in the photo, they were packed in on a warm March Saturday night.

Wide shot of bollards + bike racks.
They create a great space to not only park a bike, but encourage the bikers to drop off their bike before entering a pedestrian area. This encourages folks to make the “bicycle to pedestrian” or “pedal to foot” transition. The bollard-bike rack retro fit is a great design answer to the common behavioral problem that’s hard to get people to want to follow. I also see it as a way to kind of cover up the big “NO ENTRY!” vibe that the bollards give off on their own.

Pizza delivery bike.
Also, it should be noted, that a great pizza place, Vinnie Van Go Go's, delivers pizza by bike and keeps their delivery bike parked right there! I was so geeked that they took advantage of a great location, simple design solution and inspiring business message, that I had to take a photo.