Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Golden Moment For Raleigh Cycling

Timur Ender makes remarks before yesterday's meeting of city officials weighing new bike lanes on Raleigh's Hillsborough Street.

What a golden moment for cycling in the City of Oaks. The weather doesn’t hurt – sunny days of low 70s and low humidity has moved the entire population onto Al Fresco’s porch.  Walkers and bikers are everywhere.

But it ain’t just the weather. There's also a tailwind of change.

Raleigh has been behind the curve as far as cycling is concerned, and we’ve watched with envy as other big 
cities have taken the ball and run with it.  But we’re in the game now, and we’re catching up. Reflect for a moment on what’s happening.

The First Friday rides from the NCSU’s bell tower draw a massive crowd that parades en masse to the downtown art galleries. A recent tweed ride from the Benelux Café drew dozens 150-200 participants [see comment]. At any given moment you’re likely to spot a fixed gear cruising Hillsborough Street. During peak traffic hours you’ll see a small but growing group of bike commuters. Head to the downtown district in the early evening and you’ll see bikes chained to trees, sign posts or one of the public bike racks. Groups like the Oak City Cycling Project have sprung up to increase bike ridership through outreach and community. Raleigh has received recognition for its efforts from the League of American Bicyclists.

The generation that is in or just out of college is embracing bikes in a way that has not been seen in the U.S. since the bike boom of the 1890s, when the revolutionary “safety bicycle” replaced the penny farthing. I lived through the bike boom of the early 1970s, when companies like Raleigh and Schwinn pumped millions of freshly minted bikes into the marketplace. Those bikes may have been sold to an enthusiastic public, but it’s safe to say most were ultimately relegated to a dark corner of the garage, where their tires slowly lost all air pressure and collected cobwebs and dust.

This latest bike boom? This seems different. The bikes are out there on the street. They’re being used for recreational tooling about. They’re being dressed up for a night on the town, with matching tires and chains. They’re being pressed into service as transportation.

Here’s another big difference. Riders and cycling advocates are beginning to find their footing and are pushing to integrate cycling into our community in a way that we have not seen before. They’re engaging our city’s leaders and challenging them to consider bicycling as a key component of Raleigh’s transportation future.

Witness what happened yesterday. Cycling advocate Timur Ender organized a ride that drew 25 participants. They rode from the bell tower to downtown Raleigh to attend a meeting of the city council’s Comprehensive Planning Committee. On the agenda were proposed bike lanes along a stretch of Hillsborough Street. Several of the riders took to the podium and engaged council members about the need for improved bicycling facilities in Raleigh.

There are competing interests over the stretch of Hillsborough Street at issue (see this blog post for more information) and it’s still not clear as to what kind of bike facilities will be installed. The city council committee will meet again on Monday at 3 p.m. to see if it can reach a compromise.

That a second meeting must be held is clear evidence that the cycling community has the ear of our city leaders. We’re out on the streets, and now we’re on their calendar and on their agenda. This is how it starts. This is how the shift in political will begins.

A tip of the hat to the folks who showed up yesterday and to all the cyclists who are out there every day on Raleigh roads. Your voices are being heard, one bike at a time.

The weather looks perfect today. Let’s ride.


Kristy Dactyl said...

The tweed ride drew over one hundred and fifty participants, probably close to two hundred. I just wanted to correct because "dozens" doesn't quite cut it! Thanks! Also, want to mention all of the effort going into the Raleigh Bikes Art Show on April 6th. Ride on!

Mike Dayton said...

Kristy, thanks for clarifying that point. I've seen the bike art posters. Can't wait.

Mike / Raleigh

Yung Falbz said...

Nice. Big smileyface.

Sam Bennett said...

Nice write up! Would also like to point out that many of the folks involved in the Tweed Ride and Oak City Cycling are also part of the Benelux Cafe Cycling club, which also aims to increase ridership by hosting regular casual bike rides out of Benelux every Tuesday at 6. Besides just having fun, we're trying to get people into realizing how easy it is to get around Raleigh on a bike - trying to "normalize" biking as something you do everyday, not just on the weekends. This includes trying to educate folks on basic bike maintenance, etc. For more info you can check out