Bike group holds meetings on trails, organizes pedalers
BIG, a new alternative-transportation advocacy organization, booked a small room in the UNCG Elliot University Center for their third meeting on Oct. 27. Group veterans and curious neophytes spilled over the four long tables onto the floor, trading ideas about how to raise awareness of ‘Bicycling in Greensboro’ ‘— the straightforward explanation of the group’s outsized acronym.
Jesse Day and Kurt Cavanaugh started the group almost two months ago to concentrate the political clout of Greensboro residents who pedal the city’s traffic-choked streets by choice or necessity. Their formation coincided with a renewed effort by the Greensboro Department of Transportation to accommodate alternative transportation. The Greensboro Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization held four meetings Oct. 12, 13, 19 and 20 at locations around the county to get citizen input for the pending Metropolitan Area Bicycle, Pedestrian and Greenways Plan.
Attendance at the Bi-Ped meetings fluctuated between about 15 and 90 people, with almost 150 citizens participating throughout the process. Officials and residents looked at maps to determine which routes best served bicycle and pedestrian commuters, as well as a greenways plan for recreational purposes.
‘“Five years ago the same things happened and nothing ever came of it,’” said BIG member Shelton Herman. ‘“But this time it sounds like the city is serious about it.’”
The Bi-Ped plan represents the first serious effort by the city to coordinate a number of public and private piecemeal efforts into one grand design intended to address the needs of the population. BIG formed to ensure that bicyclists ‘— especially those who push pedals as their main form of transportation ‘— end up with bike lanes and trails that make it easier to navigate the city.
But as members traded war stories before the start of the meeting, it became obvious that BIG needs to address not just road conditions but also the biases of some automobile commuters. A mechanic who bikes to work five days a week described an altercation with a driver who tried to run him off the road. That sparked an unofficial ranking of the unfriendliest cities for bicyclists in which Greensboro did not fare well.
Jeff Sovich is a Metropolitan Planning Organization planner at GDOT and a BIG member. He has worked for the agency for four years and has taken one of the lead roles in developing the Bi-Ped Plan. One of the things he emphasized at the meeting is the need to educate city leaders about the difference between bicycle commuters and recreational riders.
‘“Most of the council members are still grappling with the difference between bike trails for recreation and bike lanes for transportation,’” Sovich said. ‘“But they are starting to learn; they’re getting educated.’”
Sovich is one of a growing number of bicyclists in Greensboro. He is also representative of a turning tide of city employees increasingly sympathetic to mounting demand for bike lanes. BIG members expressed hope that new City Manager Mitchell Johnson, who used to work at local bike shop Cycles De Oro, also falls into this camp.
Another boon for area cyclists came in the form of increased federal funds for alternative transportation and local control over a pot of national monies. Greensboro passed the population threshold of 250,000 residents in 2001, a benchmark that allowed the local department of transportation to manage a small portion of federal funds. Before that, all road construction projects went through the state department of transportation in Raleigh.
In addition, President Bush signed the Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users Act on Aug. 10 that increased federal funds for alternative transportation. Rising gas prices and deteriorating air quality have also combined to thaw attitudes about car use particularly entrenched in sprawling cities like Greensboro.
The participants gathered around the table on Oct. 27 came from all walks of life and supported bike riding for a number of reasons. One woman said she works in health care and supported riding as a healthy alternative to sedentary lifestyles. Others focused on the environment impact caused by automobiles and the need for bike facilities for those without the means to afford a car.
Over the next few months the Department of Transportation will examine the input from the first round of meetings and plan a series of focus groups to start in January. BIG members will spend that time refining their mission statement, bylaws and raising awareness. Members also intend to establish a presence at planning meetings and work to implement bike lanes before the master plan is completed in June 2006.
Those wishing to express their opinion about bicycle and pedestrian facilities can visit the Department of Transportation website to fill out a questionnaire. Sovich reported that 275 people had already completed the online survey by Oct. 24. BIG will hold another meeting on Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. in the Elliott Center at UNCG.
‘“The people in business with the money are only going to take this seriously if it benefits them,’” Cavanaugh said. ‘“This Bi-Ped plan will help retain young professionals instead of having Greensboro stay a four-year stopover for college. This is really going to increase the quality of life here.’”
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