Sometimes there’s a chicken and egg thing going on with people’s perceptions of proposed bicycle and pedestrian facilities.
Some folks regard sidewalks and bike lanes as unnecessary on a particular street or road because they claim to have seen very few people walking or riding bikes there. I’ve heard comments like this in relation to bicycle and pedestrian facilities proposed for Skidaway Road.
Imagine this argument being made in 1928 when Savannah and Chatham County purchased land on White Bluff Road to be developed as an airport (now Hunter Army Airfield). Did critics of the plan make similar charges against the need for an airport? After all, planes weren’t landing there before the airport was developed.
The same goes for sidewalks and bicycle lanes. People won’t use them if they do not exist. And their absence dissuades many people to use what little is there. What if riding your bike means steering it along the gutter while cars fly by within inches of your left elbow?
What if walking means trudging along through the weeds on the shoulder of the road? How appealing is that? You’d likely select another route.
But if you live along an unaccommodating road or need to reach an address on it, if you don’t have a car you have no choice. This contributes to the invisibility of pedestrians and cyclists.
They are indeed present on streets, despite claims to the contrary. They are simply pushed to the margins of the roadway and to the edges of our peripheral vision. It’s no wonder they escape our attention when we are behind the wheel and focused on other cars or, as is very often the case, distracted by something else altogether.
On the other hand, when people have access to safe facilities in the form of sidewalks or bicycle lanes or paths, they become more visible, make more trips and more people join them.
Bike lanes in isolation can only get us so far, however. To maximize the benefits of bike lanes and paths we need connectivity. We need a network.
Returning to air travel again, consider this: How often would you fly out of Savannah Hilton Head International Airport if the only city you could reach was Houston, with no connecting flights from there?
The Savannah to Houston flight doesn’t do me much good if my destination is Denver. The usefulness of an airport depends on connectivity.
Fortunately for us, from Savannah we can fly to Dallas/Fort Worth, Atlanta, New York, Detroit, Chicago, Newark, Washington, Charlotte, Philadelphia and Houston. And from those cities we can connect to other flights to even more cities, including Denver.
This is what we should be aiming for with our bicycle facilities. If I live in the Beach Institute neighborhood and I want to ride my bike to Lake Mayer, I can take the Price Street bike lane south until it terminates at Victory Drive. A few blocks south of Victory I can pick up the Washington Avenue bike lane and head east through Daffin Park to the Police Memorial Trail, which gets me, well, nowhere.
It’s like flying from Savannah to Houston to Kansas City. I’m getting closer, but I’m still not in Denver.
If I were in a car, I could take the Truman Parkway, Waters Avenue or Skidaway Road for the last half of this trip. But on my bike, the first of these is completely off-limits, and the other two are unwelcoming at best and downright dangerous at worst.
That’s why properly-conceived bicycle facilities that are implemented in a way that preserves the tree canopy and complements neighborhood character should be a part of Skidaway Road.
At the same time, the Truman Park Linear Trail, which has been languishing on the drawing board for years and years, should also move forward. If completed, both bicycle routes would serve different sides of some of the same neighborhoods.
This isn’t redundancy. It’s additional choice, access and mobility. At every location at which these facilities touch other bicycle routes (in the form of marked bike lanes, bike paths or simply streets that are hospitable to bikes), the network grows.
The real magic will happen when linkages are made to the Truman Park Linear Trail and then to additional routes beyond that. With each connection, the number of possible destinations multiplies, and bicycling becomes a viable option for more people in more neighborhoods.
Eventually, we will be able to get from here to there (and points in between) by bike.