Imagine driving up to an intersection where you want to turn left. Imagine, as is often the case in Greensboro, the left turn signal is activated by pressure sensors in the pavement. Now imagine that the turn signal refuses to recognize your car. It stays red until another vehicle comes up behind you and activates the turn signal. Would you be frustrated and angry? Well guess what? If you are riding a bicycle the above is the way it is. When it comes to getting around town in Greensboro, cyclists are secondhand citizens.
“Bikesboro” is a group advocating for a more bicycle friendly Greensboro. It was formed by Sheldon Herman, his wife Michelle, and David Hampsten. Bikesboro’s mission is to make Greensboro a safe place to bicycle. The group also works on making bicycles more available and teaching people how to repair them. Bikesboro has no membership, no dues, and no Board of Directors. They also don’t do fundraising — their rationale is that you can’t do solid advocacy if you’re concerned about antagonizing funders. Currently they are working with Church World Services to find, repair, and give away used bicycles to recent immigrants and refugees. For many of these newcomers a bicycle is what gives them access to jobs, etc. Ditto for some homeless folks, poor people, and kids. Sheldon doesn’t have a pickup truck or other large vehicle that he could put a bicycle into – so he’s been known to walk a long distance to collect a donated used bicycle and then walk it back to his repair facility. So far they’ve had about 30 bicycles donated. They fix them up at The Forge Makerspace downtown on W. Lewis Street. Sheldon’s paid for tires out of his own pocket. If you have bikes to donate they will accept them and rehab them to be given free to clients of Church World Services. They’d love to expand the program, but will need a sponsor(s) to do so. If interested, go to www.bikesboro.com .
Sheldon, or Shel as he prefers to be called, has a work place behind the Lotus Center on Lawndale Drive. This is a place where you can work on your bike. Or talk about bikes. Or try out some bikes. Shel doesn’t sell a lot of the bikes you might try there but will send you to other shops to buy one. Also, he’s been approached by the Director of the Warnersville Recreation Center about having bikes available for checkout at the Rec Center, and setting up a How to Fix a Bicycle program. Shel can teach the repair program, but funding is needed to come up with the bikes.
Talking with Shel is truly educational. Since he uses a bicycle as his primary mode of transportation, roadways and traffic look different to him than to a car driver. Here are some observations from his cyclist perspective:
~ Our roads are designed to be conduits for car/truck traffic; these same roads often serve as barriers if you’re on bike or foot.
~ We’ve spent billions on the Outer Loop to facilitate car traffic, but still haven’t made it safe to cross Battleground Avenue on bike or foot. The cost of just one Outer Loop interchange would fund top notch bike/pedestrian infrastructure throughout the whole city.
~ The people doing transportation planning for Greensboro all depend on cars to get around. The planning process would yield better results if people who depend on bikes, walking, and public transportation were more actively included.
~ The Downtown Greenway section at Battleground/Smith, in front of Joymongers, doesn’t have a bike ramp for bike traffic coming north on Battleground from Greene Street, even though this is a primary bike route going north out of downtown. If you’re on a bicycle you have to stop, get off, lift your bike over the curb and then remount to resume your ride. This is particularly ironic given that the Greenway is supposed to facilitate traveling by bike.
~ Large, prosperous cities have made major efforts to be bike friendly. As more and more young adults choose not to have cars, other safe and efficient options are imperative for economic viability.
Here are some problems faced by cyclists and pedestrians. One is car drivers who stop in the crosswalk, blocking those trying to cross the street. Another is drivers making a right turn who look to their left before turning, but don’t look to their right for cyclists or pedestrians. This has caused many accidents, such as the two Grimsley students out for a jog recently run over by a driver who turned right without checking for pedestrians. Another problem: drivers that turn without signaling. And drivers who speed through residential neighborhoods threatening the safety of cyclists and pedestrians.
May is National Bike Month. Event planning for the month has been an opportunity for bicycle advocacy groups, City staff, and other downtown organizations to work together. Bikesboro will be present May 5 for downtown Greensboro Open Streets on Davie Street by LeBauer Park. There will be bicycles for sale and info about bike repair and bike safety. The Ride of Silence will take place the evening of May 17 to honor bicyclists who have been killed or injured while riding on public roadways. A full calendar of events can be found at http://www.greensboro-nc.gov/index.aspx?page=2132 .
Bikesboro is working on a Greensboro community bicycle Master plan. Greensboro currently has Bronze bicycle status. Shel points out that this simply means the city has a plan. It doesn’t imply that anything much has been done. Bikesboro’s aim is to work with City staff and other partners to raise our citywide bicycle status to Silver by 2020, and to Gold by 2025. We can do it if enough people show their support and get involved. Let’em ride in safety!
Landau is a local business consultant, musician, and community activist. His column appears the fourth Wednesday of every month.