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.


Evan said...

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.

So true. Neither of my local bike shops have racks and they don't take kindly to be bringing my bike inside.

Jim said...

Nobody goes to Broughton Street anymore. It's too crowded.

I think in the bike business it isn't necessarily advantageous to be located in a high traffic area. In my case, my best customers come to me and will likely continue to do so if I should move to another part of town. The people who walk in off the street, generally, do not become good customers. I think the issue is that members of the general public, as opposed to the bicycle enthusiast public, do not have realistic expectations of what new bicycles, accessories, and professional repair service should cost. Most of my off-the-street traffic leaves in disgust that I have the audacity to charge more than $100 (much more, in fact) for a new bicycle.

It sounds like this shop has a lock on the downtown bike business. Therefore, reliable customers will likely seek out the new location, and the off-the-street gawkers will be fewer on the quieter street.

theboy said...

On the safety of congested streets: when I lived in SF for a summer, I realized that another advantage of riding on fairly busy city streets is that drivers must pay more attention to what they are doing. Drivers also are always "going around" things - open car doors, pedestrians who haven't made it all the way across the street - so, a cyclist isn't viewed as a unique impediment to a driver's impulse to rocket straight ahead.