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Breaking barriers to safe cycling
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SAVANNAH EXPERIENCED really chilly temperatures recently and that, for many, was a barrier to bicycling in our city.

Yet, as year–round cyclists know, once you get rolling, you can warm up quickly.

The secret to staying comfortable on a bike in cold weather is not specific to cycling and can be summarized in one word: layers.

You don’t have wear “technical” clothing made of exotic fabrics. Put on a few thin layers of most anything under a windbreaker vest or jacket.

You can also unleash the awesome power of your mind. My personal strategy is to savor the bite of the cold air and store it in my memory so I can recall it fondly in August.

Other barriers to safe and enjoyable cycling are with us year round and are beyond the control of individual cyclists.

Several years ago I conducted a survey of local college students about what prevented them from riding their bikes to class. Fear of being hit by a motorist was at the top of the list.

Much has happened since then, including the passage of a three foot law in our state that provides clear guidance to drivers on the minimum distance they must allow between their right fender and a cyclist’s left elbow when passing.

Another pleasing development is the continued expansion of pavement marked bicycle lanes in Savannah, with Price Street slated to receive thermoplastic paint in the spring.

Still, there are streets in Savannah that remain “Dangerous by Design,” to use a phrase coined by the Transportation for America coalition. These streets act as barriers to bicyclists, who might otherwise be able to use their bicycles for many more of their daily trips.

Experienced cyclists–and especially those who have received training from League of American Bicyclists certified instructors–can navigate almost any surface street, although they probably won’t find the experience of riding on inhospitable roadways too enjoyable. For others the idea of using or simply crossing some local streets is terrifying.

For them, a multiple lane street with high–speed car traffic might as well be a washed out bridge or a mountain pass closed by an avalanche. There’s simply no good way to get past. “Well,” some might say, “Don’t ride your bike on those streets.”

But what’s a person to do when his or her job or class or doctor’s office is on one of these streets? More people are using bicycles for transportation in Savannah every year and it’s time for government officials and planners to provide safe passage so citizens can get where they need to go.

The good news is citizens are being invited to participate in a process that could help remove barriers to mobility and ensure that new ones are not put in place.

“The time for complete streets is now!” proclaims the email I received from the Coastal Regional Metropolitan Planning Organization.

“The region’s major thoroughfare plan kicks off at public workshops in January, and we need you,” it continues.

The public is invited to provide input on the Total Mobility Plan, “an in–depth planning effort which will emphasize sustainability, Complete Streets, Context Sensitive Design, non–motorized transportation and transit.”

What, exactly does the phrase, “Complete Streets” describe? It refers to streets that are designed to safely accommodate all users: drivers, pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders.

The Complete Streets concept rejects the dominant model of transportation planning followed for most of the last 50 years, which made increasing motor vehicle speed and traffic volume the most important and– more often than not–only goal in roadway design.

The result can be seen in all its gory detail at locations such as the intersection of Abercorn Extension and White Bluff Road. These are places motorists want to escape as soon as possible.

They are also deadly to pedestrians and cyclists, who must use them to reach their homes or workplaces.

At press time, two public meetings remain: Tuesday, Jan. 17 at Armstrong Atlantic State University’s Armstrong Center, 13040 Abercorn St; and Thursday, Jan. 19 at First Presbyterian Church, 520 Washington Ave.

Meetings last from 5–6:30 p.m. and citizens are invited to drop by at any time during the workshops.

The time to speak up is now.

More information is available on the Metropolitan Planning Commission website at

John Bennett is vice chairman of the Savannah Bicycle Campaign