By John Bennett
(Originally published on Friday, February 8, 2008 in The Chronicle)
In the face of climbing gasoline prices and concerns about climate change, many Americans hope that scientists and researchers will deliver high-tech solutions to our economic and environmental problems. For those who don’t want to wait, there already exists a sustainable and affordable transportation option. In fact, this technology has been in use on the streets of Savannah and other cities for more than a century: the bicycle.
While not everyone lives within cycling range of their workplaces, bicycle commuting is a practical — though unfortunately unconsidered — option for many. In testimony last May before the Congressional Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, League of American Bicyclists Executive Director Andy Clarke cited a U.S. Department of Transportation study to underscore the viability of cycling in the city. The study found that in metropolitan areas, 40 percent of trips are “two miles or less — a very manageable bike ride — and more than one-quarter are just one mile or less,” he said.
Those interested in trying bicycle commuting should begin by considering three issues: safety, equipment and route.
Safety: State law recognizes bicycles as vehicles and considers their operators to be drivers. As such, bicyclists must obey the same regulations as motorists, including stopping at stop signs and traffic signals, traveling with the flow of traffic and using lights after dark. Although Georgia does not require helmet use for adult cyclists, it is strongly recommended. “The Art of Urban Cycling,” a book by Robert Hurst, is a terrific source of information about how to stay safe on a bike.
Equipment: Just as the reliability of a car depends on regular maintenance, a bike does require occasional mechanical attention. If a bicycle has been gathering dust in the garage for years, it’s a good idea to take it to a bike shop for an inspection and a tune-up before riding it to work. For those who are thrifty, enjoy getting their hands dirty or simply want to support a good cause, Savannah’s bicycle co-op may be an appealing alternative. The co-op, located at the corner of East Broad and 39th streets, is open every Saturday, noon – 5 p.m. For a minimal fee that goes to support the co-op, staff volunteers provide tools and teach customers how to repair and maintain their bicycles.
Route: The best way to get to work by car may not be the best way to go by bike. A bicycle commuting route should be selected based on criteria including speed and volume of automobile traffic, pavement condition and issues in neighborhoods through which the route passes. A map of designated bicycle routes in Savannah can be downloaded from the Savannah-Chatham County Metropolitan Planning Commission Web site. Before commuting for the first time, a cyclist should ride the selected route on a weekend to identify problems that are not visible on a map or from automobile reconnaissance.
See links to the resources mentioned in this story and additional information.