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It's biker to give than to receive
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AROUND THIS TIME last year, I used this column to publish a guide for shoppers looking for gifts for the cyclists in their lives. I stand by those suggestions, which were necessities for people wanting to make bicycles a part of their daily lives: lights, locks, helmets and reflective clothing.

As I believe it is possible that someday it will rain again in Savannah, I would now add fenders and rain gear to last year’s list. All these items are available from Savannah’s excellent local bicycle shops.

By buying locally you benefit from the sage advice of our local bikemongers and make sure more of your money stays in our community. In addition, the Bicycle Link, Perry Rubber and Quality Bike actively support bicycle advocacy efforts in Savannah. If you want to create an even more virtuous cycle, ride your bike to the bike shop to buy bike stuff.

Beyond stuff, there are important gifts you can give to the cyclists in your life and even cyclists you don’t know!

These gifts won’t cost you a dime and you can keep giving them all year long. Here’s how:

Give the gift of safe passing

We are all busy. We all have places to go. And we need to be there 15 minutes ago. Under this type of stress, we can sometimes make poor decisions, such as passing cyclists when there really isn’t room to do so.

 A state law passed in April 2011 sets the minimum safe distance for passing cyclists at 3 feet. That means if there’s not at least 3 feet of space between your right fender and a cyclist’s left elbow, wait to pass until there is. It won’t kill you to wait a couple moments but it might kill someone else if you don’t.

Who knows; the life you save may even be your own.

Give the gift of safe passage

I frequently use the bike lanes on Habersham Street. Plenty of people do. But I’ve noticed that one homeowner (or perhaps his landscaping service) consistently deposits yard waste in the bike lane. This might not seem like a big deal, but in the fall piles of leaves can hide dangerous objects or become slick in the rain.

When it’s time for the Sweetgum trees to drop their spiky fruit, these are placed in the bike lane like so many small land mines, waiting in ambush for skinny bike tires. So, if you are in the habit of leaf–blowing or raking debris into the bike lane, let’s make a deal: I won’t ride through your yard if you don’t put your yard where I ride.

Give the gift of sane planning

In September, the Georgia Department of Transportation adopted a Complete Streets Policy aimed at ensuring that streets and roads are designed to safely accommodate all users, including cyclists, pedestrians and transit riders. It’s a monumental step for the organization and Brent Buice, executive director of the advocacy group Georgia Bikes credits “everyone who wrote, called, or visited Transportation Board members, elected officials or GDOT staff.” “These contacts,” he said, “were absolutely essential to the success we are enjoying today.”

That same sort of input from citizens now needs to be focused locally to support pragmatic, reasonable and forward–thinking approaches to transportation planning. There are plenty of opportunities to provide thoughtful input to the process.

For example, the Coastal Region Metropolitan Planning Organization is hosting a public meeting on Tybee Island. (Monday, Dec. 10 from 5–7 p.m. at the Old School Cafeteria at 202 Fifth St.) This meeting–the fourth in a series–will gather citizens’ comments and questions about the U.S. Highway 80 Bridges Replacement Study. The study looks at “improvements for safety of multiple travel modes, including bicycle and pedestrian access for Bull River and Lazaretto Creek bridges and the US 80 corridor in between, as well as improvements for flooding.”

The reason it’s so important to become involved in the planning process is easy to understand. Once plans reach a certain point, they don’t change. Once contracts are let, construction proceeds. Once bridges are built, they are built.

The Bull River Bridge was completed in 1967. The Lazaretto Creek Bridge has been around since 1960. In other words, if we don’t get these things right, we’ll wait decades to get another chance.

While I’ve described patience, proper disposal of yard debris and active participation in transportation planning as gifts, they aren’t really. These are our responsibilities to each other as citizens of one of the most beautiful and unique communities in our country.

Perhaps even the world. We all benefit if we freely and enthusiastically embrace our responsibilities during the holidays and all year long.

John Bennett is vice chairman of the Savannah Bicycle Campaign.