On April 21, I was the bike representative of a bike vs car vs bus race in Greenville, SC for Earth Day 2017. The race was sponsored by Greenlink, the local bus service, and it followed the standard format: pick a spot outside of city center and see who can get downtown quickest. The car and the bike have to follow the rules of the road and the bus has to stop as it normally would. This was the first year this race has been done in Greenville and they choose to start the race at Walgreens on E. North St., about 3.5 miles away from the final destination: City Hall.
The race was tight as we headed towards downtown on E. North St. I was passed by the bus and the car, but then passed them back as traffic thickened up. I had a dedicated bike for most of the route, so I was able to ride past the stopped cars and get to the front of the line at red lights. The car, driven by Mike Renner, a BMW Performance Driving School instructor, jumped to the front as E. North turned into Park Ave, and then I was also eventually passed by the bus carrying Logan Brown of GVLToday, as we climbed the Park Ave hills towards city center.
I passed the bus for the final time once we got into downtown. Mike turned to head to the parking garage, and I headed towards City Hall as I didn’t have to deal with parking. I locked my bike in the rack and crossed the finish line with several minutes to spare. Mike walked over from the parking garage after finding a spot to park and Logan, having the furthest walk from the transit center, joined us about 10 minutes later.
My winning this race helps promote the viability of bike commuting, but it will only become mainstream when we have enough safe routes. Painted bike lanes are good for somebody like me that bikes to work every day. But many people only feel comfortable biking on the Swamp Rabbit Trail and my route would not be viable for them.
The city needs to add protected bike lanes, a place for bikes on the road with a physical barrier between the cars and the bike. Protected bike lanes allow people to feel safer on the roads. This will have a snowball effect of encouraging more people to bike! When there is increased visibility of more and more bikers out and about, then biking will become normalized as a valid form of transportation. Folks that would normally drive a car to run a short errand of a mile or less might consider taking their bike if they have a safe route and if they commonly see other people using the bike infrastructure.
The city has North-South routes and East-West routes for getting around downtown. Townes/Richardson/River and Falls/Spring define the N/S, while Washington dissects city center E/W. These routes make it possible to navigate downtown on dedicated bike infrastructure, but the lights are timed for cars. It is common to hit EVERY. SINGLE. RED. LIGHT. when biking on these routes. It would be useful for the city to re-time the lights for a lower travel speed that would allow bikers to hit multiple green lights in a row. It is much harder for a bike to start from 0 MPH than a vehicle, this is why (although it is not okay – more about that later) bikers will often roll through a stop sign or even a red light.
Safety is the most important part of biking. It is important to be predictable to vehicle drivers. This means stopping at stop signs and red lights, using hand signals, and not jumping between lanes quickly. I follow all the rules of the road and I teach my children the same. To increase the safety of bikers, cities need to add protected bike lanes, add more bike lanes for more options and consider retiming lights where it makes sense.
I am a member of a City Council working committee task force that has been studying routes for a network of protected bike lanes. We’ve found that incorporating such a network is technically achievable, but will require support from City Council members. If you agree that Greenville should be more bike friendly, please ask your City Council member to support adding protected bike lanes.