Thursday, February 26, 2009

Finding your lane, Athens bike culture

Below is an article found in the PlanetOhio newsletter published through the Office of Sustainability at Ohio University. Reprinted by permission from the author.

By Annah Korpi

They come in all disguises—waitresses, lab partners, city officials, dedicated readers of comic books, fathers of small children. They are all around us and among us. You see them everyday—on a bicycle. Take Mary Nally who works at Village Bakery. She is a graduate student in environmental studies who can’t go without her bike.

“I feel most comfortable going 10 miles or less per hour,” she claims. The money she saves biking is a big motivating force, along with the greenhouse gas emissions she avoids. She also enjoys the greater sense of community when everyone is out and about, away from their cars.

If successful, Bailey Miles’ “bike share” plan may add to this sense of community by encouraging more students to bike. Bailey, a senior biological sciences and Spanish double major, became inspired during his study-abroad experience in Barcelona, Spain where bikes are docked at stations throughout the city. He is collaborating with a group of students and the Athens Bicycle Co-Operative to develop a proposal for a bike share at Ohio University.
“Bike sharing could be really successful in a college town. Buying a bike is expensive, and it is a hassle to transport a bike to and from campus on a car,” said Miles. While the bike share proposal is still in the planning stages, Peter Kostes, former president of the Athens Bicycle Club and owner of Athens Bicycle has a slightly different point of view.

“Although the cost of a quality bike might seem like too much money for the average college student, it’s next to nothing compared to the costs incurred by driving a car,” Kostes said. His shop sells both new and used bikes. Two additional local bike shops, The Pedaler and the Packer and Cycle Path, also sell bikes and bike gear.
A less expensive option, used bikes are available at the Athens Bicycle Co-Operative, a small gem tucked away in a corner on May Ave. Kept alive by dedicated volunteers, the co-op welcomes students and community members to come and fix bikes or just show up and work on their own. Eric Cornwell is the main mechanic for the shop. Both donated and abandoned bikes are collected, fixed, and sold to students at low prices.
“The co-op isn’t about making money. Its goal is to equip people with the help they need to keep riding,” says Cornwell.

Once students have a bike, they can easily find the best roads for biking with the help of the Southeast Ohio Bicycle Map, created by the Athens Bicycle Club and the Ohio University Cartographic Center.
It is a waterproof and tear-proof road map with roads in Athens and Meigs counties color coded by traffic levels and physical conditions. The Hockhocking Adena bikeway also appears on the map. The path was recently extended to the Super 8 Motel on East State St. It ends 18 miles later at Robbins’ Crossing in Nelsonville. The map is available at the local bike shops and Village Bakery.

Athens is en route to making its own uptown roads biker friendly. The town has a number of bike lanes—on Richland, Court, and Congress streets. While many people think the city just has to “slap some paint on the road” to create those lanes, it isn’t that easy, says Athens street director Andy Stone. Bike lanes have to meet two criteria: there is a high demand from cyclists and there is a hazardous traffic situation. There are engineering principles, Ohio state laws, speed limits, and intersections to consider. A committed cyclist, Andy plans for more bike lanes in the future. He is part of a committee formed by the city called Pedestrian/Bicycle Safety Group. Comprised of city officials, university staff, and community members, the group is working to create a comprehensive plan to enhance the biking opportunities in town. It is even considering hiring an outside professional to assess the city’s biking infrastructure and help produce a bike plan.

If a committee isn’t for you, there are still plenty of ways to participate in Athens’ bike culture. There are two biking clubs on campus: the Mountain Bike Club, whose members might be found riding on the Sells Park trails, and the Cycling Team.

“Ohio University has a lot of talented, experienced riders, and the Athens area benefits from some great training areas and support from the general population,” says Dan Zeitler, president of the Cycling Team.
Critical Mass is another informal group that invites all bikers to meet on the college green the last Friday of every month and take a group ride through the city.

“The goal of the movement is simply the celebration of cycling,” says Cornwell.
Athens has plenty to celebrate. The bikeway, trails, and back country roads in Athens lure many cyclist to come to Southeast Ohio for a ride. However, there are still many cyclists who have yet to experience all that Athens has to offer. “It’s a secret—pretty well hidden,” says Geoff Morgan, a community member, who can be seen transporting his seven-month-old daughter on his bike. The secret is out now; so get your bicycle map today and take a ride!

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