John Bennett is executive director of the Savannah Bicycle Campaign.
Savannahians can be forgiven if we perceive our city as the center of Georgia's bicycling scene.
We’re home to the state’s first public bicycle sharing program, national bicycle tour companies are operating in our city, and Savannah figured prominently and positively in “Where We Ride: An Analysis of Bicycling in American Cities” published last year by the League of American Bicyclists.
We gained another reason to claim our city’s central position in Georgia cycling last month when Brent Buice moved to Savannah from Athens. Buice is executive director of Georgia Bikes, the statewide bicycle advocacy organization.
With his arrival in Savannah, Georgia Bikes is now headquartered here.
Under his leadership the organization has scored major victories for people who ride bikes in Georgia. The passage of a “three foot safe passing law” in 2011 defines the minimum safe distance motorists must leave between their cars and bicyclists they are passing.
Georgia Bikes received an advocacy award from the Alliance for Biking and Walking for its role in the Georgia Department of Transportation’s adoption of a Complete Streets policy in 2012. It describes the process transportation engineers use to incorporate bicycle facilities on state and federally funded roadways.
In his work with community leaders throughout Georgia, Buice detects increased recognition of the considerable public safety, health, environmental, and economic benefits bicycling brings to Georgia.
“Important statewide organizations like the Georgia Municipal Association and the Department of Economic Development are aware of the need to promote bicycle friendly policies and infrastructure to ensure the state’s quality of life and economic competitiveness,” he said.
New bicycle projects being undertaken around the state provide evidence that many communities are becoming serious about recreational and transportational cycling.
“The BeltLine and the protected bike lanes in Atlanta are models for the state, but smaller cities like Rome, Carrollton, and Dunwoody have their own ambitious plans for networks of bike-friendly streets and paved paths. In Columbus, the Fall Line Trace is a fantastic urban rail-trail that offers residents a protected corridor for bicycle commuting. In rural areas, such as Walton and Sumter counties, wayfinding signage and bike-friendly marketing campaigns are drawing bicycle tourists to enjoy the beautiful, pastoral countryside,” Buice said.
He’s also encouraged by recent developments here in Savannah, which along with historic and geographic advantages, promise tremendous potential for our city.
“Outside of Atlanta, Savannah has the largest and most diverse bicycle community in the state. Thanks to Oglethorpe’s visionary plan, bikable topography, engaged advocates, and supportive transportation staff, Savannah is arguably the state’s most bike friendly city,” he said.
And we need not stop there, according to Buice. “Savannah could easily emerge as the urban bicycling destination in the South,” he said.
How can we make that happen?
“Adopting a local Complete Streets policy, marketing Savannah as a bike tourism destination and building the Truman Greenway are the biggest opportunities,” Buice said.
However, we must also address problems that are not unique to our city, but like many issues here, have a uniquely Savannah slant.
“Education is an ongoing challenge for every community, but it’s a special challenge in a city with significant poverty and a transient student population. Educational campaigns that engage all audiences are key to reducing unsafe bicycling,” he explained.
“More importantly, Savannah drivers need to be reminded to watch for people on bikes and to only pass when safe to do so.”
Education is also a priority.
“Too many Georgia drivers are unaware of bicyclists’ right to the road and of how to safely share public space with them,” Buice said. “People riding bikes need to be as visible as possible and should, of course, abide by the rules of the road. We partner with local groups like Savannah Bicycle Campaign and the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety to get these messages out.”
There are now more than two dozen active bicycle advocacy groups in the state, many of which Georgia Bikes helped launch, and they are working with the organization to improve our position in the annual Bicycle Friendly State rankings.
To move Georgia up from the 26th spot it occupies in the most recent rakings, more resources must be devoted to projects that serve the state’s growing population of people who ride bikes.
“Bike projects are dirt cheap compared to other transportation facilities, and their return-on-investment is impressive and well-documented,” he said.
“Georgia needs to dedicate a meaningful portion of its vast transportation budget to create safe, family-friendly streets where walking and riding a bicycle are sensible choices for both recreation and transportation.”