Augusta hosts stakeholders for bike-friendly communities
by Eric Johnson
From Friday, October 19, through Sunday, October 21, bike advocates from Georgia and South Carolina will descend upon Augusta for the Georgia-lina Bike Summit, a meeting of bicycle stakeholders meant to foster bicycle-friendly conditions in Georgia and South Carolina.
According to Brent Buice, executive director of Georgia Bikes, the statewide advocacy group, putting together a summit was one of the first things he did once funding was available, starting in 2010.
“We decided, given the things that had happened in Augusta and our general desire to move the conference around to cycling communities throughout Georgia, that the timing was right to take it to Augusta,” Buice says.
A growing bicycling community anchored by several national and international-level biking events, Augusta has been struck by several cycling tragedies, most notably the incident that killed Dr. Matthew Burke, a surgeon at Eisenhower Army Medical Center, who was hit on a group ride in Beech Island.
Once they decided on Augusta, it became pretty clear that it would be tough to divorce the Augusta riding community from South Carolina, so they agreed to make it a shared summit, the first of its kind to include two different states.
“The ultimate goal is basically to bring together everyone who could be involved in making communities bicycle-friendly,” Buice says. “That, of course, includes advocates like Wheel Movement and its equivalents in places like Columbus, Atlanta and Savannah.”
Wheel Movement was the local advocacy group formed in the wake of Burke’s death.
In addition to advocates, Buice says the summits are bringing in elected officials, planners, transportation engineers and law enforcement officers to a greater extent every year, which helps improve everyone’s understanding about what being a bicycle-friendly community really means.
Some of the workshops are being taught by members from the planning firm Alta, which is a nationally known firm that has done a lot across the nation to promote and encourage best practices in bicycle facility design. They draw on the best work from the Pacific Northwest as well as from western European countries, some of which are doing a considerable amount to encourage bicycling as a sensible mode of transportation.
“Alta has done a lot to bring those ideas to the United States,” Buice says. “We’re definitely very happy to have them be a part of the process.”
According to Buice, the Southeast has pockets of success, like Columbia, Greenville and the coastal communities like Savannah, Tybee Island and Hilton Head.
Three Georgia communities in particular — Athens, Roswell and Tybee Island — have been recognized as Bicycle-Friendly Communities by Bicycle Friendly America, a national program run by the League of American Bicyclists. Others will likely be recognized next week.
For many, the situation comes down to the old question — does culture influence infrastructure, or does infrastructure influence culture?
“Not to be trite, but unfortunately it’s one of those bumper sticker phrases that’s true,” he says. “If you build it, they’ll come.”
Buice insists that that there is evidence to back up the bumper sticker.
“It’s been shown everywhere in the U.S. that when you build a bicycle network, meaning you’ve got facilities that the majority of people — not just the people who ride in Lycra on bikes that cost more than most people’s car — think are safe, they will use it,” Buice says.
That’s accomplished by building separated facilities, which can include bike lanes but can also include cycle tracks, which is almost like a sidewalk dedicated to cycling but next to the sidewalk. Other ideas, like buffered bike lanes, have proven successful, too.
Buice admits it’s a long-term view. Portland, Oregon, considered one of the most bike-friendly cities in the U.S., created its bike Master Plan in the 1970s.
One of the most exciting things being discussed at the summit, however, is the announcement of the adoption of the Georgia DOT’s Complete Streets policy, which mandates that any time a road managed by the Georgia DOT is built or repaved, they have to go through a fairly rigorous checklist of reasons why they can’t include bicycle and pedestrian accommodations.
“In order for them not to include them, they’ve got to get a specific variance request from the chief engineer,” Buice says.
In spite of the advancements, he says it’s still an uphill climb.
“There’s a burgeoning political awareness, but it’s definitely still a bit of a challenge messaging-wise,” he says. “There’s a lot of misunderstanding and just ignorance in the purist sense.”You Might Also Like: