Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A bike lane inventory: audio edition

These are the sounds I heard today in the bike lane:
  • Wind.
  • Wind chimes.
  • A construction worker singing "Cat's in the Cradle" at the top of his lungs.
  • Birds singing at the tops of their lungs (song unknown).
  • Engine noise as cars rapidly accelerated from stop signs at one side of the block. Brake noise as cars rapidly decelerated for stops signs at the other end of the same block.
  • The whine of a circular saw.
  • The click of my bike's freewheel.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A bike lane inventory

Objects I saw today in the bike lane:
  • Lots of palm fronds. It was windy on Sunday night.
  • Two men's dress shoes. Not a pair of shoes, but two different shoes apparently separated from their mates and now traveling together.
  • One half of a reddish-brown leatherette steering wheel cover. From a distance I thought it was one half of a reddish-brown snake.
  • A white undershirt.
  • Two wrong-way cyclists.
  • One cyclist traveling the correct direction.
  • Three pedestrians.
I'm pleased to report that I didn't see any cars or trucks in the bike lane today.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Location, location, location

A Savannah Morning News story from earlier this month reported a local bike shop's move from one area of downtown Savannah to another. The Bicycle Link, owned by John Skiljan, is an absolutely vital part of the city core. It's the sole source of bikes, parts and – perhaps most importantly – service in an area that surely has higher per capital bicycle use than any other part of the city. Skiljan and his staff are an indispensable resource for Savannahians, who depend on their bikes for everyday transportation. Without the Bicycle Link, parts and service for many transportational and utility cyclists would be a long bus or taxi ride away. This is one important bike shop.

But back to the newspaper story. Reporter Chuck Mobley sites a number of factors that contributed to the Bicycle Link's departure from Broughton Street for Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. This portion of his story, caught my attention:
Broughton has become too congested, and businesses and shoppers soon will begin to seek less-congested venues.
The congestion described above actually makes Broughton Street one of my favorite places to ride a bike. Cars move pretty slowly on Broughton Street and that means I can take the lane and travel at the same speed as they do. I've talked with some cyclists who fear Broughton Street because of the traffic volume. I think they make a critical mistake in their evaluation. I'll gladly take a street full of cars traveling at 15 mph over a street with less motor vehicle traffic traveling at higher speeds. I say, bring on the congestion!

Plus, shouldn't congestion be seen a good thing, especially from a retail perspective? Couldn't a commercial district labeled as "congested" also described as "bustling," "lively" or "popular?" I would use all those words to describe Broughton Street. In doing so, however, I fail to decode the true meaning of congestion. In this context, congestion means lack of parking. Like so many other things, even the location of a bicycle shop is dictated largely by the availability of free (or undervalued) surface parking.

It should be easier for motorists to find places store their cars at the new location, but sadly Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard is decidedly less hospitable to cyclists than than the two lane Broughton Street. MLK's four lanes are populated not just with local traffic, but with vehicles, including large trucks, discharged onto the street from the Interstate. And they are often moving at high speeds. This is mentioned in the article:
408-410 MLK is also next to I-16, making it convenient for cyclists to shop there as they head in and out of the city, said Skiljan, an Effingham County resident.
I take issue with this use of the word "cyclists." When I drive my car to Star Bike Shop on Montgomery Crossroad, I'm not a cyclist. Neither is anyone who uses I -16 to reach the Bicycle Link. We are motorists, not cyclists. Motorists entering Savannah from remote sectors in the universe of sprawl to the west of Savannah may become cyclists when they park their cars, but on the way to and from the shop they are simply part of the torrent of motor vehicles that makes MLK uninviting for cyclists who are, well, cycling.

Skiljan is right, however, in his suggestion that the new store will be accessible to some cyclists:
And it also puts Skiljan close to an important segment of his business - Savannah College of Art and Design students. "The college is a big deal for us," Skiljan said, "a lot of them don't have any transportation except for their bicycles, and almost all their dorms are on the west side of town."
Students who live in SCAD's Weston, Dyson, Turner and Boundary residence halls had to cross MLK to reach the store on Broughton Street anyway, so the new location is indeed a good thing for them. Still, it seems sort of sad that the only people who are expected to turn up at a bike shop on bicycles are those who have no other choice.

Thursday, January 04, 2007


Andre makes an important point in his comment on yesterday's post. Just because I've never seen police stop a black man on a bike, doesn't mean it isn't happening in Savannah every single day.

My commute is topographically flat, but it's a demographic roller coaster. On my way to work I pass mansions and tumble-down boarding houses. I ride through neighborhoods that are majority African American (like the city of Savannah as a whole) and neighborhoods that are nearly 100 percent white.

Still, I'm seeing only a narrow slice of Savannah, both geographically and chronologically. This morning I did not see cops hassling black cyclists in Chatham Crescent or Thomas Square, but doesn't mean it wasn't happening at that very same moment in Liberty City or Pine Gardens. I don't usually ride my bike late at night, so I may be unaware of a completely different police enforcement posture that's adopted while my bicycle is asleep in the shed. Also affecting my perception of the situation is my status as a beneficiary of white privilege.

It seems to me that enforcement of bicycle ordinances ought to be the responsibility of the Savannah Chatham Metropolitan Police Department's traffic division. After all, bikes are vehicles. If the vehicle is being used in an unsafe and illegal manner that endangers its operator, operators of other vehicles and pedestrians, shouldn't the police intervene? Then again, since enforcement of bicycle ordinances is sporadic, it would be naive to believe that traffic safety is the primary motivation when police officers decide to stop someone riding against traffic or without lights.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Race, poverty and tail lights

A recent high profile murder trial has Savannah Morning News readers writing letters to the editor about race and class divides. This morning's paper featured a letter from Romell Bryant-Mitchell titled "Poverty, not race, biggest social problem." It contained this interesting observation:
I have seen black men stopped because there was no tail light on their bicycles, but I have seen white men pass officers with no tail light and no one even blinks.

I agree with Bryant-Mitchell. Sort of. I have never seen a police officer stop a white man on a bicycle. For any reason. But then again, I have never seen a police officer stop a black man on a bicycle. For any reason. My observations tell me that Savannah's men, women, girls and boys are free to ride against traffic, run stop signs, disregard traffic signals and transport passengers on their handlebars in full view of law enforcement personnel. Want to travel at night without lights or reflectors of any kind? Terrific.

There are two exceptions to this cycling amnesty policy.
First, if you are hit by a car while operating a bicycle in an unsafe and unlawful fashion, you may receive a traffic citation. But not always. In October, a cyclist found himself underneath an SUV after he blew a stop sign. But he didn't get a ticket. From a Savannah Morning News story:

Officers investigated the crash and found the bicyclist was at fault because he didn't stop at the stop sign. However, police do not plan to charge him, Wilson said.

"Usually the purpose of giving citations is to get people's attention. It serves as a means of compliance to the laws," Wilson said. "In traffic collisions involving pedestrians or cyclists, it usually only takes one incident of that magnitude to ensure future compliance."

The second exception, as mentioned in an earlier post, involves local college students who are sometimes popped with $100 fines for riding on sidewalks.

Why should I care? I guess I shouldn't. Only I can't help but think that the lawlessness of many cyclists fuels anti-bicycle sentiments in the general population.