It is really easy to sit here and say that Charlotte is a good/bad place to bike. I’ve had conversations with several people who bike, and several who don’t and would like to about some of the challenges related to biking. And all are pretty legitimate. After the time I’ve spent biking here, I think that I’ve figured out some ways in which Charlotte can improve things.
Let me say that I’m not being paid or encourage by anyone (bike advocacy group, organizatoin, political party, etc.) to state these thoughts. I like to bike. I enjoy the physical activity, and the chance to learn about this city in a manner that’s different than walking or driving. And while I have my dreams of doing more via bike, there are some realistic hurdles to which I observe and use moments like this to think through.
Bike Paths and Lanes
Charlotte has been moving towards adding more bike lanes and improving some of the bike paths . I really like that this is happening. What would be even better is to see some of the surrounding cities and towns also embrace these lanes and paths. I don’t think that all should go the route of tearning up two-lane roads in order to make room, but encouraging at-home parents and workers to bike, and making local businesses, plazas, and malls receiving of those off-traffic bikers would be a good thing – especially in those hours of the day where there’s less auto traffic.
Lighting and Rocks
There are a number of times where I need to make a late food run, and would really dig riding at night. I don’t – becasue aside from the lack of bike lanes where I am, there’s also bad lighting (for driving!) along the sides of the roads. If there were a way to improve the lighting on some of the roads already marked as bike routes, this would be great.
In addition, many of the roads which don’t have (and some that do) bike lanes have lots of junk that collects in them. It is not the cheapest thing for a street cleaner to run on all the streets with bike lanes. And Charlotte is too spread out for that to be a logical solution. But, what could work is through encouraging folks to get out and ride, neighborhoods would also ask residents to consider sweeping the rocks and debris in the bike lanes in front of their homes. There’s nothing worse that riding on a road, and being forced to the curb where there is debris and steel grates which make you a danger to the autos on the road.
I’d also like to see more education about safe and appropriate riding here. Charlotte isn’t a city in the mold of a Philly or Portland where biking can be grafted over the existing inrastructure. What used to be roads fine for cars and autos has quickly morphed into something better suited for cars in all but a few sections. Therefore the education to riders about what’s safe and what isn’t about riding should be more frequent. It would be great to see the local bike shops do more in this area (many do), but also getting insurance and auto companies into the fray. Everyone wins when we get boundaries about quality of life.
I started thinking about this as I’ve been personally advocating that friends with and without cars would consider riding. What I had not realized in my advocacy is that there is some education to them which needs to be given.
Cost is an issue for some. So I’ve had to teach some how to find bikes on Craigslist and yard sales. Getting over a fear of riding here has been an issue. So I’ve had to learn and ride the different greeways in order to show them that there are safe and accessible places to ride. But, you get it, advocay takes more than just saying “go do it,” you have to be invested in seeing all interested parties winning out from this.
Flat as it is here (Charlotte has slow rise/fall hills), this really could be an excellent place to ride. But, you have to work with the city as it has been planned and implemented, not as you wish it to be. I think that the areas that I highlighted above speak to accessible and doable solutions, and in time will foster a much better appreciation of riding as a primary, not just alternate means of transporation.
Plus, how else can one justify a late night Taco Bell run if you get to ride it off before and after you eat (lol).
Image from Bicycle Stock Images
EDIT: Forgot to mention, there are several places in Charlotte which are doing these and better items. CarFree.us, Trips for Kids, the Charlotte Area Bicycle Alliance, and Bike Charlotte. Like I said before, I’m not (yet) affiliated with these groups, but do value what they are trying to do here.