Yesterday you read an article that posed the question, “Should Charlotte bikers bike at rush hour or do you think it’s too annoying and dangerous?” Incendiary, polarizing and thought-provoking, yes. But off the mark. The question shouldn’t be which mode of transportation deserves to use public streets during rush hour. It should be whether or not we design a transportation network now in a way that serves all users.
I think Charlotte can be a world leader. Not just in finance. Not just in shipping. Charlotte, North Carolina could be known the world over as a city of people on bicycles.
#ibikeclt is more than a hashtag. It is a grassroots effort to win City Council’s approval of a protected bicycle lane through Uptown to connect the Little Sugar Creek Greenway and the Irwin Creek Greenway (behind Bank of America stadium). But what exactly is a protected bike lane and why does Charlotte need this?
Simply put, they are the next generation of bike lanes that use planters, curbs, parked cars or posts to separate bike and auto traffic on busy streets. Some, but not all, are painted green. And they create safer and more efficient streets for all users.
They allow mothers to safely ride with their children to school and they allow seniors to safely ride on cruisers to the grocery store. They allow bankers to get to work safely on commuter bikes and they allow hard-core roadies to safely navigate through congested areas.
24 states and 53 cities already have protected bike lanes in place. And 20 cities are currently working to create one, including Asheville. Recently, I rode on a protected bike lane that runs directly down the center of Pennsylvania Avenue, which connects the US Capitol Building to the White House. Last September, I had the unique experience of bicycling through Copenhagen, a city with a protected lane on every street. The ease with which I rode through those streets was something I didn’t realize I was missing until I experienced it.
Whether you ever intend to ride a bicycle for transportation or not, here are a few reasons why you should want protected bike lanes:
- After Chicago’s Kinzie Street protected bike lane was installed, a travel time study found rush hour travel time in both directions actually improved.
- 79 – 97% percent of drivers say they feel moderately or very comfortable driving near bikes with a protected bike lane.
- 89% of Americans believe that transportation investments should support the goals of reducing energy use.
- For every 10 miles bicycled instead of driven, society saves nearly $10.
- Rents along New York City’s Times Square pedestrian and bicycle paths increased 71% in 2010, the greatest rise in the city.
- The average protected bike lane sees bike counts increase 75% in its first year alone.
- Half of U.S. schoolchildren are dropped off at school in the family car. If 20% of those living within two miles of school were to bike or walk instead, it would save 4.3 million miles of driving per day. Over a year, that saved driving would prevent 356,000 tons of CO2 and 21,500 tons of other pollutants from being emitted.
But Charlotte could use one for many more reasons. We will be welcoming the equivalent of the population of Raleigh into our city over the next 25 years. How will they move around our city without contributing to our already clogged roads? When cities build the largest paths for the smallest forms of transportation, they create efficiencies for all road users, even (perhaps, especially) for large vehicles like cars and delivery trucks.
Charlotte was just ranked 50th of the nation’s 50 largest cities for upward economic mobility. Yes, if you’re born into poverty in Charlotte you stand a worse chance of escaping it than if you were born in Baltimore, New Orleans or Houston. The average cost to own, insure, fuel, and maintain a car is $8,220 per year. And on average, transportation consumes 23% of household incomes in Mecklenburg compared to a national average of just 17%. The average annual operating cost of a bicycle? Just $308 — less than 4% of the cost to operate a car.
Oh, then there’s the recent statistic that has shown the average Charlottean is spending 43 hours on average sitting idle in their vehicle each year. For those of you not shocked by that number, think about it like this: that is over a week of vacation time.
Most of the trips we make are under four miles, a very easy distance to cover on a bicycle.
The future is active transportation. Many millennials are dropping driving all together, or never getting into the game. Since 1983, the number of people 19 and under who have a driver’s license has dropped by nearly 20%. And 90% of the 400,000 folks who are choosing to move to Charlotte are estimated to be under the age of 30.
We must start building a connected, protected network now that allows people to comfortably, safely, inexpensively and conveniently get to where they need to go by bike.
The Little Sugar Creek Greenway is an already established thoroughfare for active people, and is being used as a significant portion of the Cross Charlotte Trail (X-CLT). The Irwin Creek Greenway is beautiful and connected to one of the fastest growing and historically charming neighborhoods in our city. Connecting the two would be the beginning of connecting a larger network that anybody, 8 or 80 could use.
There is a large cultural conversation going on right now about Charlotte’s identity. Many people are starting to feel that being the “2nd best banking city” isn’t a boast-worthy claim. Many people say they love Charlotte precisely because they have the opportunity to influence the style and feel of their city. When I travel and people find out I’m from Charlotte I want their first response to be, “Oh? Do you ride your bike everywhere!?”
This lane would be a game changer for Charlotte. It could be the opportunity for us to become world-leaders in the simplest of ways: by reducing our congestion and pollution while we grow, and by providing economic, cultural and educational opportunities equally to all of our city’s residents. We could be the city that the rest of the US looks to and says, “If they can do it…” Building this protected bike lane will be a critical first step towards becoming that city.
Some Charlotteans object to cyclists on the road because they perceive that these cyclists create a hazard by slowing down the flow of traffic, not following traffic laws, and making unpredictable moves. In cases where the cyclist is not obeying the law, these objections are fair enough.
Change is always met with resistance. What we know, however, is that biking is a healthy, non-polluting, low-cost, and forward-thinking solution to this city’s growing needs. So let’s appease everyone. How often do we get to do that when it comes to political decisions? Let’s put Charlotte on the map for all the right reasons. Let’s get those people on bikes a lane of their own. Let’s make it so appealing that the people in their cars sitting still on Providence or Randolph in 5 o’clock traffic will look longingly and wistfully out their windows and imagine themselves joining the throngs of people happily pedaling past them.
Do you share this vision with us? If so visit www.sustaincharlotte.org/ibikeclt to sign a statement of support and watch inspiring films about Charlotteans who are already using their bicycles as transportation. Use the hashtag #ibikeclt and share your stories of how you use your bike. And, most importantly, RIDE your bike. Start picking a destination – a friend’s house, the grocery store, your favorite microbrewery – and start riding.
We look forward to seeing you in the streets!
Jordan Moore is the Bicycle Program Director at Sustain Charlotte, a nonprofit whose mission is to inspire choices that lead to a healthier, more vibrant community for generations to come.