Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Vote Yes on November 4 to Support Biking & Walking in Greenville County

If you feel like the roads in your local community have been deteriorating over the last several years, you’re not alone. Roads, bridges, sidewalks and trails across the state are in desperate need of repair and improvement.  On November 4th, folks in Greenville County will have an opportunity to vote for improving the conditions of these kind of facilities.

A referendum to increase the Greenville County sales tax by a penny for about 8 years will be up for a vote on November 4. Local voters have an amazing opportunity to directly support the addition of 69 miles of sidewalks and trails. Through this proposal, bike lane total mileage would increase from 18.5 miles to 23 miles. The referendum would also support bringing the Swamp Rabbit Trail out to Simpsonville and Clemson University’s ICAR campus. The total investment in bicycle and pedestrian facilities would be $48M. The referendum in full text can be found here.

Momentum has been building across the county since this spring. The Greenville County Council voted in favor of the idea back in May, allowing the citizens of Greenville County to voice their opinion on the matter. Local media has come out in support of the measure. The need for such a measure comes from the lack of a long-term, dedicated, stable funding source from the state government. South Carolina roads are in terrible condition.  Mind-blowing statistics reveal how much we are hurting. And highlighting this need is has been the story for several years

Bike Walk Greenville has led a campaign to raise awareness about the way the referendum will positively affect bicycle and pedestrian facilities. Through their twitter account, the organization has shared the fifty four future Safe Routes to School projects that are included in the county’s sales tax referendum. Safe Route to School is a national program that creates better, safer ways that children can walk or bike to school. The program has helped improve facilities in Greenville County and in other places across the state.  Each tweet contains a short list of important information and a picture about proposed improvement to the school route. If you're interested in learning more about their efforts or want to help spread the word, consider attending their next meeting on Wednesday, October 8.

Support the increase in sales tax by a penny in the November 4 election if you are in Greenville County. Better yet, get out and vote to mark that support.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Building Relationships through Constructive Dialogues

Not too long ago I was nearly hit by a car on my morning commute to work. The most upsetting thing wasn't the near-accident, but rather a local law enforcement officer's inaction. By sharing my incident, I hope others can encourage their local law enforcement to become informed and be part of the active development of a better bike culture in the Upstate.

I was riding in what I call super nerd gear - yellow reflective safety vest, orange t-shirt, front and back lights flashing - making sure that I was doing my best to be visible. As I approached the intersection, I noticed a car approaching from the perpendicular side street. Watching the driver with a mindful eye, aware that he might either obey or disregard the stop sign, I continued to ride forward. I had the right of way, and the driver had a stop sign. As he initially stopped, I proceeded to make my way into the intersection. Then he started forward again...then stopped and then hit the gas to plow through the intersection, nearly hitting me, and took off.

Moments after the near-accident, I decided to let it go. I was shaken and upset, but I realized that chasing after the car would have accomplished nothing positive. However, I noticed a local police car parked nearby. Curious, I biked on over. Greeting the officer in the car, I asked if he had seen what had transpired. To my surprise, he replied that, though hadn't seen the car nearly hit me, he had heard me yell and saw the car driving away.

I paused in disbelief. Once I gathered my composure, I decided to take the opportunity to encourage him to consider taking action if he were to come upon a similar incident in the future. He didn't have much to say in reply, so I politely repeated my point and continued on my way.

It's important to remember that police officers have a tough job, and they take on a lot of stress in dealing with the public. However, part of their role in enforcing public safety also includes looking out for the safety of people on bikes. Acknowledging that it will take some time for police departments to to learn local and state bike laws, officers should determine how they contribute to a culture of bike safety and inclusion in their community.

There is a lot of education and culture change that is occurring in communities across the country. The infrastructure is beginning to appear, but we're in the midst of a messy, fun, necessary and slow learning process where we figure out how cars and bikes should co-exist. Leaders, decision makers and community members should foster opportunities where folks can be exposed to these kinds of new ideas in a non-threatening, fun way through public safety campaigns, events and other programs.

My hope is that the police officer I spoke that morning brought this challenging situation back to his department. Questioning the status quo and encouraging open, positive dialogue where people can learn is an important part of change. Public law enforcement officers are critical allies in creating better places to bike, and helping them find their role in addressing public safety will make better communities for all of us.

Monday, September 15, 2014

On Road Again

This post has more questions than answers, as I have been wrestling with some of these issues for a while. Take some time to read them and think them over. I'm interested to hear what your thoughts are…

Bike Lanes. Multi-Use Paths. Cycletracks. I’ve thought a lot about these different kind of facilities over the last few weeks, and recent discussions with some folks in the profession have pushed me to consider the implications of each. Both have their place, but I’m interested in what you have to say, riding reader. Why do you prefer one over the other? Is your preference for one kind of facility influenced by what kind of riding you’re doing:  Shared path for running errands or recreation riding? On-road bike lane when you’re out for a group ride or training for a race? Do you mind riding next to traffic or do you prefer some space? Where would you let your 8 year son or daughter ride? What would you think about your 80 year old mother, father or friend riding on this kind of facility?

On-road bike lanes are less expensive and improve the existing conditions for willing. However, the speed, volume and proximity of the vehicular traffic can really influence a rider’s feeling of safety or comfortability. How would you feel riding right next to traffic on Greenville’s Wooddruff Road? What are your thoughts about the bike lanes in the photo below?

Bike lanes in a sea of pavement. Would separated lanes have been better?
But how to accommodate the driveways?

Separated facilities, whether they are paths or bike lanes, have been shown to improve safety and are places where more folks feel comfortable riding. They are more expensive, typically take more time to install and can require a significant reworking of the existing landscape. However, the Swamp Rabbit Trail, the most recent and well known example of this kind of facility, has been one of the most significant improvements in the region.
Swamp Rabbit Trail Users of all ages and abilities.
(Photo Credit:  Upstate Forever)

Part of a community’s responsibility is to develop facilities that folks will use. Over the last several years, as I have seen significant bicycle facility improvements in communities across the upstate, I wonder if we are doing the right thing. Are on-road bike lanes enough and will they provide the best facility for all riders? Or are we just doing the easy, convenient thing to say that we are bicycle-friendly? What more would it cost to build something that would address the folks who are “interested, but concerned” on two wheels? I then turn to consider the needs of the racing, spandex-clad crowd. What kind of facilities are preferred by a majority of this population? Is there a difference between men and women, experienced and novices?

There are some questions I've been mulling over. I wanted to get them out there, and I'm really interested in what you have to say. No matter how long you've been riding or what kind of rider you are, I'd really like to hear your thoughts on your preferences.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Power, Ordinary People and Bikes (A TED Talk)

Okay, that's not really the TED Talk title...but it could be.  There's an important lesson I'd like to draw your attention to as it relates to creating a better biking culture in your home town.

I recently watched a talk that I thought was particularly compelling as it relates to advocating for community improvements, including better biking infrastructure: bike lanes, paths, more parking, etc. "Why ordinary people need to understand power" is a talk by Eric Lui that I think you should watch. It's worth your time, especially if you're looking for inspiration or not sure how or where to get started in creating effective change in your community.