Biking can boost local community

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 21, 2014

I recently read a letter claiming that cyclists were a menace to society and that they slow down traffic on East Innes Street in downtown Salisbury. The writer referred to cyclists as selfish fanatics who want to deprive the downtown of economic activity by asking the city to be more friendly toward those who choose alternative modes of transportation. I will not disclose this gentleman’s name, but I want to extend my gratitude to him for allowing me the opportunity to educate him and the general public on why pedestrian and bicycle traffic is vital to our future.
I am a downtown business owner, and I use my bicycles for both recreation and transportation. I own a car and have a license. However, I choose to ride my bikes for both keeping myself healthy while economically benefiting myself and society. The average cost of owning and operating a vehicle in the U.S. is close to $10,000 a year. If a person makes $30,000 a year, that’s a third of his income or four months salary. This cost continues to rise while wages and salaries remain stagnant.

Then there are the costs imposed on society by the use of motor vehicles. Take into consideration road construction and maintenance; parking construction and maintenance; harmful CO2 emissions that affect our air quality and subsequently our health; and the increased obesity, also affecting our health, due to a sedentary lifestyle that our car-centric society promotes. These and other external costs all add up to about $3,400 a year per driver. That is a cost borne by society. That is a huge disappointment considering the fact that 75 percent of car use is for trips are under one mile.
Now, I want to apologize for any bad experiences some of you have had in traffic with cyclists. I understand that not all bicyclists act appropriately in traffic, and neither do all motorists. I don’t need to go into much detail but some motorists are at least as equally guilty of behaving badly in traffic as are some bicyclists. I do not condone either. However, I and many people I know have been harassed by motorists when we were doing absolutely nothing wrong.
As for East Innes Street, there are claims of a report stating the average automobile speed on East Innes Street is 8-12 mph. This may not be entirely accurate. I do ride on East Innes Street from time to time out of necessity rather than recreation. Sometimes I need to get to that part of town, and I always choose to bike when I can. I am capable of riding that section of road at 20-plus mph when traveling east, due to the fact it is downhill most of the way. If I’m traveling west, I can still maintain a 14-16 mph average. However, I usually take the back roads around after crossing under I-85.

My car has a resettable computer that will report the average speed of my trips. I have used this technology to test the average speed traveling in an easterly direction from Newsome Road to the intersection of Main Street. The results are consistently between 17 and 20 mph. Many bicyclists are capable of traveling this speed. However, like me, they usually jump over to the side streets for their own safety. The only time I travel straight up Innes Street is when I’m on my electric powered bicycle, which is capable of doing 28 mph hour, well above the posted speed limit, without even pedaling.
The proposed “road diet” the writer refers to in his letter is the Complete Streets program. Calming traffic doesn’t mean making traffic move slower. If you sit and observe traffic patterns for a while, you will see people sitting at a red light punch the accelerator as soon as the light turns green only to abruptly apply the brakes at the next red light a couple of hundred yards away. This behavior causes a lot of accidents that are expensive to the individuals and society. The idea of traffic calming is to move the traffic through town more smoothly, making it safer for people to choose modes of transportation like walking or cycling. This, in turn, gives more people the opportunity to choose not to use their cars, which relieves traffic congestion, making the roads safer for everyone, and reduces the need for more expensive parking in town. In other cities where these measures have been applied, traffic either improved or did not change. What did change? The economic well-being of the area changed in a good way. When people are out of their cars, they spend more money. For example, when San Francisco made its Valencia Street better for bicyclists and pedestrians, nearly 40 percent of merchants reported increased sales and 60 percent reported more area residents shopping locally due to reduced travel time and convenience. Two-thirds of merchants said the increased levels of bicycling and walking improved business.
So you see, when I choose to ride my bike, I don’t feel like I’m being selfish. I just want us all to get along, be safe and move forward. I want to contribute to the well-being of our society, and I feel very strongly that making it easier for people to choose a form of transportation that is better for their health and the health of others, as well as the economy, will solve a lot of the problems we face today.
Eric Phillips operates the Skinny Wheels bike shop in Salisbury.