Bicycling for transportation is becoming more of a reality both across the United States and in Charleston, especially as college debt-carrying young adults embrace burning calories over fossil fuels without spending money on car payments, gas, oil changes, taxes, insurance and parking. Fewer of them are buying cars.
If you go
What: Fourth RIDEdwin memorial bike ride, a short, leisurely paced bicycle ride in downtown Charleston to honor the memory of Edwin Gardner, who actively worked to make the city more bike-friendly and community-oriented.
When: 9 a.m. Saturday
Where: The ride starts and ends at Cannon Park, located at the corner of Calhoun Street and Rutledge Avenue
For More: http://tinyurl.com/k23tzfp
Just stand on the corner of King and Calhoun streets and watch the bikes whizz by.
And on the Cooper River bridge, the numbers of bike commuters, those not wearing lycra with advertising on it and riding $5,000 bikes, also appears to be growing.
Another sign of part of that transportation evolution is the spread of bicycle sharing programs popping up in cities ranging from Paris, Barcelona and New York to even Greenville and Spartanburg.
While Charleston may be behind its upstate little sisters, bicycle sharing may be on its way here.
Bike sharing 101
Bike sharing, for those who may have missed national stories earlier this summer on New York’s Citi Bike programs, is a service in which bikes are made available for shared use to individuals for a short-term basis, either free or for a relatively affordable price.
The programs come in two basic forms, either a community-based, grassroots program or as a partnership between a government and corporate sponsor. For example, Citibank is the title sponsor in New York and Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina is the sponsor of Charlotte B-cycle, which is the largest, to date, in the Southeast.
To be fair, Charleston was actually ahead of the times back in 1996 when a local restaurateur gather 22 bikes from the city’s police department for a grassroots, free bike sharing program. The bikes, painted yellow, were meant to be used and left on the sidewalk for the next person to use. The bikes quickly disappeared.
Unfortunately, it takes a community where economic disparities are less dramatic for something like that to work.
17 years later
Fast forward to 2013 and the idea of bike sharing is getting traction.
The bicycle advocacy group, Charleston Moves, and the city’s Department of Planning, Preservation and Sustainability are studying a possible bike sharing program, including the “marketing opportunities” for a private sponsor, according to Charleston Mayor Joe Riley.
“It should be a goal and will be a goal,” says Riley, who is familiar with other programs. “I think it (bike sharing) will become, over time, a norm in communities.”
A good fit
In many ways, downtown Charleston is more suited for a bike sharing program than other cities that have already implemented one, says Amy Johnson, executive director of the Palmetto Cycling Coalition in Columbia.
“If I could think of any city that it would take off, it would be Charleston,” says Johnson. “It’s already dense (relatively compact). It’s flat. Traffic speeds are slower and there’s an influx of tourists.”
Johnson adds that the benefits to the community include reducing traffic congestion and easing the parking burden, as well as breaking down the barriers to biking.
“Bike sharing is a great tool for encouraging biking in cities,” she said.
Granted, there are private bike shops that offer rental bikes, but typically the price point is higher for those. Plus, bike shops typically offer a wider array of rental bikes. If done right, a bicycle sharing program could raise more awareness of rental opportunities at bike shops.
Zip past traffic
Recently I had relatives vacationing in Myrtle Beach (yeah, I know, don’t judge) make an impromptu visit to Charleston in the middle of a work day.
They had lunch at The Noisy Oyster and were strolling through Charleston’s epicenter of tourism, The Market, and my nephew says, “Why don’t you come meet us?” Luckily, I had biked into work that day. I jumped on and was down on Market Street in less than 10 minutes.
Try that in a car, at lunch, in the middle of summer.
Every office in downtown Charleston would serve its staff well to “share bikes” for quick trips around town, whether for appointments or lunch. Simply, it is the most efficient way to get around downtown. No parking spaces needed. No $14 parking tickets, either!
Making the community more bike-friendly was among the interests of the late Edwin Gardner, who died in July 2010, days after being struck by an SUV in downtown Charleston.
On Saturday, friends, acquaintances and others who support bicycling as transportation will gather for the fourth RIDEdwin, a short, leisurely-paced bike ride through the city to honor the memory of Gardner.
The ride will start at 9 a.m. Saturday at Cannon Park, located on the corner of Calhoun Street and Rutledge Avenue. The pre-ride rally will be brief and the short, police-escorted ride is open to all ages, including children.