We trained over 75 ambassadors across the state in our unique Safe Streets Save Lives bike safety and law curriculum, specific to our state, and we can’t help but feel a deep sense of accomplishment. Each ambassador was selected based on their commitment to reteach this in their city/town, which means our campaign has what it takes for lasting effect. We built the curriculum first with a strong, traditional foundation in your responsibilities when riding a bike, but we strengthened the equally valuable bit on your rights to that road – specifically referencing SC state and local laws.
Traveling to 6 cities in 6 days, we were able to meet and engage with an incredibly diverse group of people that need this curriculum for a wide variety of audiences. Hearing their stories, and how they intended to use this in their communities, was the highlight of the trip. This traveling group of trainers included myself (Amy Johnson), Executive Director of the Palmetto Cycling Coalition, and Timmy Finch, legal advisor to SC specific bike laws, from Bike Law. The highest of quality SAG support was provided by Chris Clarke of Trek Bikes of Mt. Pleasant, also a knowledgeable bicycle advocate originally from Baton Rouge, LA.
Day 1 – Greenville
We started in Greenville at the Swamp Rabbit Inn, and there we taught to a table full of future Safe Streets ambassadors: staff from area non-profits, a regional Safe Routes to School coordinator, a new person in town eager to get involved in her community, and another wanting to teach at his workplace, and others. The intricacies of South Carolina bike law was a hot topic here, especially as it relates to sidewalk riding, which is generally unsafe in urban areas with plentiful curb cuts, but legally permitted statewide. There are exceptions mandated only by local ordinance and those are typically in dense, urban zones. To date, we know local restrictions exist in different forms in these municipal jurisdictions: Greenville Central Business District (CBD), Aiken CBD, Columbia central CBD, City of Charleston, and Berkeley County. We’ll soon update our Safe Streets website with a comprehensive list of those local sidewalk ordinances.
Right after our training, we headed north a few blocks to Pedal Chic in downtown Greenville, a local bike shop willing to host a low key after party in their space. We shared stories, snacks, and a few beverages with people from the region interested in bicycle advocacy.
After staying the night at the Swamp Rabbit Inn, a local small business treasure in Greenville, we headed the next morning to Spartanburg. Timmy Finch braved the below freezing temperatures on his solo bike sojourn for the entire trip to Spartanburg. The Swamp Rabbit Trail was a great way to get our Rolling Bike Summit literally rolling.
Day 2- Spartanburg
In Spartanburg, we arrived at space loaned to us in the Herald Journal building to conduct our Safe Streets training. Here we had a great opportunity to engage with 4 bike patrol Officers within the Spartanburg Public Safety Department. Also present were community members who wanted to reteach within area schools, officers wanting to reteach to other police force members, non-profit leaders needing program material for their bike program (Partners for Active Living), and a group ride leader. This training generated a discussion about South Carolina’s anti-harassment bike law legislation, which we learned is reported not nearly as much as it could be. The Officers confirmed for the group that additional penalties can be incurred on top of a basic harassment charge. If an object is thrown at and hits a bicyclist, this is classified as either an assault or aggravated assault. Whether you achieve a conviction from reporting your harassment isn’t the point, as Spartanburg Public Safety discussed. Reporting all incidences is important especially if repeat offenders are involved, because many reports will build a solid case if physical evidence is lacking. One final conclusion from this training for bike safety educators and advocates: Law Enforcement is your most valuable and natural partner, and always report all incidents, even the most basic harassment.
After training, we walked a few blocks to a local pub nearby – the Growler Haus – for our Spartanburg Rolling Bike Summit social. We were joined by other members of the local bicycling community and heard from Tanya DeOliviera, a planner at Clemson University, on tips to becoming a Bike Friendly University. I gave a small speech noting the relative successes around the state, and it was quickly apparent that I was speaking directly to the town that seems to be 1st in everything on the bike friendly scale in South Carolina, and at times in the southeastern region. Local leader Paul LeFrancois of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee concurred that Spartanburg, population ~40,000, deserves recognition for: 1st Bike Share program in the Southeast, 1st Bike Friendly Community in SC, and now 1st cycletrack (protected bikeway) in SC (watch for it 2015).
Day 3 – Columbia
The next day, we headed to Columbia to engage with our largest ambassador training class. This Summit social was also our largest. Columbia’s local movement is gaining traction, and the energy is palpable. The growing bike culture incubates each month in a Handle Bar Happy Hour near downtown, complete with representatives from the 3 main bike shops, the Bike/Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC), other area non-profits, and always a key speaker. We simply brought many of these folks together again but at a different venue: a craft brew distribution pub called Craft and Draft. Columbia has a lot to be excited about, with the Bicycle Pedestrian Master Plan in the works and a guaranteed source of local funds from the recently approved Richland County penny sales tax. Mary Roe of the BPAC got this moving, though not without the help of Keith Gosselin of the same committee; Keith spoke at the Summit about the long term implications of this Master Plan in the works. Timmy with Bike Law spoke once again on a practical tip for getting the most legal protection for yourself, through your car insurance: 1) increase the max coverage you carry for both uninsured and under-insured motorists. This protects them in the event they are hit by an uninsured motorist or if the collision causes more damage than can be covered by the at-fault driver’s insurance. They cyclist own insurance can cover or supplement the cost as needed. The best part is that it does not impact the cyclists premium since they are not deemed to be at-fault. And finally: always get the police involved if you’re involved in any bike accident.
Just outside Columbia’s Craft and Draft brew pub, passersby had an opportunity to hop on an electric bike, thanks to one of our sponsors Pedego Bikes of Myrtle Beach. A novelty to us now, electric bikes are just one more element to meeting the ever growing demand for a safer and more convenient means of getting around – by bike – of all kinds. Recently added to the metrics in becoming a bike friendly state, electric bikes are a wave of the future.
Day 4 – Aiken
The next day, we headed towards Aiken, our 4th city on the tour. This ambassador training group was large relative to the size of Aiken. It represented a wide spectrum of the area, including folks from Augusta and N. Augusta’s Wheel Movement, the local bike shop Outspokin, a Community Engagement Coordinator with Molina Healthcare, two law enforcement officers from Aiken Public Safety, a church member looking for material for his community, bicycle and pedestrian representatives from the Aiken County Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, a planner from Greenwood, and the Aiken Bicycle Club. The story I heard from one law enforcement officer on how he intended to use this curriculum was uplifting. Bikes to him were no nuisance in traffic enforcement; rather, they were a means of engaging with his community. He was attending our Safe Streets bike safety/law education training program to add content to his bike repair program for high school kids – a program where students struggling to succeed in school had an opportunity to repair bikes in hopes of earning that bike. His program was in high demand in his community, and we were honored to have the Safe Streets curriculum added to his methods for engaging his community.
And just after training, we stayed put at the Aiken Brewing Company and socialized with folks from the region. Local leader Tom Lex noted that the City and County of AIken recently adopted the MPO Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan, and the County has a very effective Advisory Committee. Because they did such a great job working through these planning organizations, they’re forced to play catch up politically. And last, we had a case of serendipity when a top staff member of BikeTexas showed up. Leslie Luciano happened to be in Aiken that day, so the BikeTexas Membership and Community Relations Director stopped in to talk shop with the whole crew. Thanks, Leslie.
The next morning, Timmy and I, and Tom Lex (board member of PCC), hopped on our bikes and headed towards Hilton Head Island. Passing through the former town of Ellenton and now Savannah River Site, we mostly had the road to ourselves. It was a gorgeous day, though we encountered two forms of rumble strips along the way. PCC worked on this policy at the state level for the past 5 years, and while design improved, we’re still working with strong forces to negotiate a much better alternative to this misguided safety countermeasure.
Day 5 – Hilton Head
We arrived in Hilton Head and set up at Mangiamo’s restaurant, a local favorite for the training and social afterwards. Linda Warnock runs an extensive program here teaching bike safety with weekly classes based on the League’s LCI curriculum. Present at this Safe Streets ambassador training was not only a law enforcement officer but a set of well trained advocates from their Bike Advisory Committee, in addition to folks from a wide assortment of area bike clubs. One volunteer was already teaching in schools. All wanted to expand their curriculum to add more content. A unique theme at this tour stop was visibility. Hilton Head has a vast network of off road facilities that are shared use paths for pedestrians and bicyclists. SC law allows bicyclists to still ride in the road in the presence of these off road facilities, but some folks in HHI want bicyclists to get out of the roadway and back onto those paths. Of course, this is misguided in that many faster bicyclists are best suited for the roadways, and only bicyclists traveling at slower speeds belong in the off road paths where one must travel slower alongside other pedestrians. To meet this challenge posed by those preferring bicyclist out of the roadway, this community was focused on educating those bicyclists riding in the roadways to do so with greater visibility and attention to vehicular law. Discussions in our training focused on how important it is to add an educational element on SC bike law, so road users and law enforcement know both their rights and responsibilities of bicycling on and off the main roadway.
The social afterwards gave us all a great opportunity to mix the various social groups among all club leaders. New bike club advocacy leadership also showed up from Sun City, and we had a great time networking among this committed group of advocates. Hilton Head Island gained the highest Bike Friendly Community recognition in SC as the only Silver city, and with 60 miles of public pathways on the island, they’ve added 8 new bike shops just this past year bringing them to a total of 30 bike shops. Their rental bike fleet totals an astounding 20,000 bikes, as stated by Frank Babel, a tireless advocate.
Day 6 – Charleston
The final tour stop was in Charleston. This was our youngest and most energetic group. We love Charleston because of its long history of an energized and connected group of pedestrian and bicycle advocates in the local organization: Charleston Moves. We had future ambassadors attend from a few local bike shops, Charleston Moves, and College of Charleston. These were their various venues to reteach the material, though one bike shop employee wants to take this to the Charleston Council on Aging.
The social afterwards was more low key than others, but folks were gearing up for the Thanksgiving break, and we don’t profess to compete with the active Charleston Saturday social scene. Kurt Cavanaugh, Executive Director of Charleston Moves, spoke on the Legare Bridge bike and walk lane ready to be built soon. A basic component of a safe and convenient active transportation system, he strongly felt getting this built with the help of local and state forces would be a critical link in Charleston’s livability ranking.
One capstone element evident especially in Charleston, but still pervasive throughout the rest of the state, is this: bike shops are where bike culture becomes solid. Advocacy will grow the movement, but bike shops retain that energy. They are your best indicator of the current pulse of the movement, and we found they are sometimes the best source for both new energy and for being that conduit for whatever campaigns and events the organizations and clubs are cooking up. We owe big gratitude to all of them.
And last, the 75 Safe Streets ambassadors we trained will continue the bike safety and law education with the help of our resources and curriculum. If you’re looking for an ambassador in your area, contact us for their name and we’ll connect you. They’re ready to help.
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