As Savannah has grown, increased throughput of cars has taken precedence over walkability and green space, relying on a steady supply of cheap gasoline. Though gasoline prices have fallen, they will undoubtedly rebound, not to mention unaccounted costs to air quality and greenhouse gas emissions. Technological solutions like electric cars are incomplete, as these do not address congestion that will stifle continued growth. The full answer is a comprehensive redesign of our land use and transportation network that will maximize transit, pedestrian, and bicycle travel to increase throughput of people and goods rather than cars.
The bicycle is extremely efficient both in energy use, requiring only 35 calories per person-mile traveled -- compare that with a car at 1860 calories or a bus at 960 calories; and in space, allowing 1500 travelers per meter of right-of-way per hour -- compare with cars at only 170. We also know that people who bicycle to their everyday tasks are healthier -- 1 percent of urban travel in the US is by bicycle vs 28 percent in the Netherlands; obesity in the US is 30.6 percent vs 10.0 percent in the Netherlands.
Considering these issues and our system designed to prioritize auto traffic above every other mode, the Savannah Bicycle Campaign formed to improve local conditions for bicycling. Of course, the pleasurable aspect is central to so many who ride bicycles, whether for fitness, transportation, or recreation. We have, therefore, focused first on encouraging residents to enjoy Savannah by bicycle -- beautiful tree-lined streets with slow traffic and expansive parks. Our first Savannah Wheelie, a free community bike ride, was held in April 2008 at the Earth Day Festival, where 300 locals and residents, the mayor, aldermen, and county commissioners biked the streets of downtown Savannah.
We will join you all again at the conclusion of this year's Earth Day festival on April 18 at 3 p.m., and celebrate the fun and possibilities of bicycling.
The next questions become then, where and how can I ride safely? The SBC will offer educational programs for adults and children, led by a nationally certified cycling instructor and will create a series of PSAs in cooperation with the City of Savannah. The primary message for cyclists and motorists is "Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as operators of vehicles," a statement fully supported by Georgia law.
Finally, we must address dangerous road conditions that keep many off their bicycles. We are working through government to address these issues with new facilities. We are continuing the process of public comment to ensure that bicyclists as legitimate road users will no longer be forced into the excessively hazardous situations into which many of our roadways put them, with narrow streets with high auto speeds and shoulders lined with rumble strips and debris. We will therefore continue to advocate for a comprehensive policy requiring complete streets where transit, bicycle and pedestrian modes must be accomodated in all new projects, and for areas where this is difficult or impossible, for separated facilities like the Truman Linear Park which is long overdue in its development.
Ultimately, we believe that this accommodation and the resultant increase in users will be central to increasing the share of people who use a bicycle for everyday tasks close to home, thus realizing the true efficiency of bicycling and bringing our community closer to a sustainable model of development.
Drew Wade is chairman of the Savannah Bicycle Campaign (bicyclecampaign.org).
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