The popularity of bicycling has skyrocketed locally, as a result of both the increasing number of students in town as well as the increasing price of gas. We spoke to several local experts to pass on the best bicycling practices and survival tips for getting around town.
Frank McIntosh is Executive Director of the Savannah Bicycle Campaign. The Savannah native has been biking around town for about 50 years, and during an eight–year stint in Atlanta commuted on his bike regularly (anyone who has been to Atlanta will realize the significance of this feat). He also participates in the City’s frequent “Dump the Pump” events to show that bicycling is not only more efficient, it can actually be faster than driving.
Drew Wade is Chairman of the Board of the Savannah Bicycle Campaign. He organized the recent “Midnight in the Garden” nighttime ride around the squares of Savannah.
Jack Simmons is a professor at Armstrong Atlantic State University and an avid biker who has some insight into expanding the usual parameters of bicycle commuting.
As Frank McIntosh says, “This whole town is a virtual bicycling paradise as long as you operate as a vehicle and play by the rules.” We begin with a closer look at Frank’s philosophy of riding.
Tips from a pro
TAKE THE LANE. “Any road is a lot safer if you assume you’re a vehicle with rights to operate on the road,” says Frank McIntosh. “If a car comes up from behind to overtake you, don’t cower on the edge of the road. Assert your rights. Let the car know, if you’re gonna pass me, you’re gonna have to pass me as a vehicle.”
FOCUS FAR AHEAD. “Your balance screws up when you focus too closely on the road right in front of you — that’s something I learned from mountain biking,” says McIntosh. “Don’t look at trouble, but always be looking for trouble.”
USE A REAL MAP. “Don’t believe everything Google Maps tells you.”
PICK ROUTES CAREFULLY. “Choosing roads where your speed is higher relative to traffic speed is critical,” he says.
FRIENDS COME AND GO, BUT ENEMIES ACCUMULATE. “Don’t go around pissing people off. Bicycles are one of our last best hopes for restoring civility,” says McIntosh. “The more we sequester ourselves in vehicles and buildings, the less civil we are as a society.”
NIGHT RIDING: State law requires a white front light that can be seen 300 feet away. It can be constant or flashing. “Flashing is better to be seen, while a constant beam is better to know your position,” says Drew Wade. “We also recommend a red rear flasher, though state law only requires a red rear reflector.”
LOCKS: “They make enormous bombproof locks that cost a lot and weigh a lot,” says Frank McIntosh. “I just use a three–foot vinyl–coated cable with an old U–lock. That’s about all the length you need. The trick is to make a sort of lasso on the end. That helps make your cable longer. Make sure both wheels are locked to the frame in addition to the frame being locked to something.”
WHILE YOU SLEEP: “I recommend bringing your bike in every night,” says McIntosh. “You can ride around town on any given morning and see plenty of bikes that are locked up but have their wheels missing.”
SPEAKING OF WHEELS: “If you’re going to upgrade your bike, wheels are the best place to begin,” McIntosh says. “It’s amazing how well the bearings work on a better–quality wheel.”
SIDEWALKS: “Riding on the sidewalk is not only illegal, it’s dangerous to pedestrians and cyclists,” says Wade. “You’re 12 times more likely to die riding on the sidewalk, because cars aren’t looking for you to come from that area.”
SQUARES: Bicycle riding isn’t allowed through Savannah squares. You can walk bikes through them, though.
RIDE WITH TRAFFIC, NOT AGAINST: “The least likely way to be injured is being hit by overtaking vehicles,” says McIntosh.
LANES INTO DOWNTOWN: The Lincoln Street lane runs from Victory Drive to St. Vincent’s Academy and is currently the only designated south-to- north lane into downtown.
“Lincoln Street is one way north, although that’s the most ignored law in the city,” says McIntosh. “The lane’s position on the left side of the road convinces people that it’s OK to go southbound.”
He recommends not riding in the Lincoln bike lane at all unless you’re being passed by a car. “Even then always be tracking for vehicles approaching from the left when you are in the lane,” he says.
LANES OUT OF DOWNTOWN: “It’s not a marked path, but the de facto north to south route is Bull Street,” says Drew Wade. “There’s not that much traffic — it’s mostly trolleys and tourists. Generally speaking you’re in good shape if you stay on any street with squares. Just remember to never ride through the squares.”
OTHER PATHS: Habersham Street has a two–way bike lane from Victory Drive south to Stephenson Avenue.
A short east/west bike path runs on Washington Avenue from Bull Street to Waters Avenue. The plan is for that bikeway to eventually link to the Truman Parkway linear trail (which is now just a short loop called Police Memorial Trail) that would in turn run to Lake Mayer on the southside.
And the future could hold a new bike lane on Price Street. “We look forward to seeing a southbound bike lane on Price Street approved by City Council by the end of the year,” says Wade.
“Bike lanes have some inherent dangers when they’re adjacent to parking, because they cause cyclists to operate in the ‘door zone,’” says McIntosh.
“The trick with lanes adjacent to parking is to monitor parked cars, peek at rear view mirrors to see if there’s a face in them, and in general, stay out of the bike lane unless you’re being overtaken.”
Though most people consider long bike commutes on the southside to be too daunting, Armstrong Atlantic State University Professor Jack Simmons has ridden the 16-mile roundtrip from from his Ardsley Park home to AASU plenty of times. Here’s his preferred route:
• South on Habersham>right on Stephenson>left on White Bluff
• At the intersection of White Bluff and Abercorn, begin riding parallel to Abercorn by veering right and cutting through the parking lot containing Best Buy and the Habersham Beverage Superstore
• Ride through the section of grass adjacent to the parking lot to reach West Montgomery Cross Road, which eventually becomes Middleground Road
• Middleground basically dead–ends at the entrance to AASU
To get to the other large (and rapidly growing!) southside educational institution, Savannah Tech, follow the same route except take a right onto White Bluff from Stephenson.
“Savannah’s an ideal biking community,” concludes Jack Simmons. “It’s all pretty flat, and the only time of year you really can’t ride your bike is at the height of summer.”
Simmons envisions all three major local colleges — SCAD, AASU, and Savannah State — eventually joined by a network of bike paths.
“The rationale for building it would be to enhance and link Savannah’s educational community,” he says. “But practically speaking, it would have the effect of joining the three major areas of the city with one bike network that everyone could use.”