WHICH CITY OFFICIAL has done the most to make Savannah safer and more accommodating to bicyclists? I used to joke that Gen. James Oglethorpe deserved this distinction, despite the fact that he died more than a century before the arrival of machines we would recognize today as bicycles.
This was both an acknowledgment of the traffic–calming function and appealing streetscapes produced by his city plan, and a lament that local governments hadn’t done a whole lot to make Savannah more welcoming and accessible to bicyclists since Oglethorpe mapped out Savannah’s original streets and squares in 1733.
I stopped kidding about this several years ago when it became clear Sean Brandon was serious about making Savannah better for bicycling. As a City of Savannah management fellow and now as director of the Department of Mobility and Parking Services, Brandon has greatly advanced the cause of bicycling.
Before Brandon took the helm of the department, the emphasis was purely on parking. Putting the word “mobility” first emphasized Brandon’s intention to focus not just on the storage of cars, but on making it easier for all citizens – whether walking, riding bicycles, taking the bus, driving, or using wheelchairs – to get around.
Early in his term as director, he addressed a group of people on transportation and parking. He began by saying, “I’m the guy who is in charge of parking and I ride my bike to work. What does that tell you?”
His message was twofold. First, he demonstrated bicycle commuting is a practical option for professionals, even for those who have meetings all over downtown daily, as he does.
Second, by riding his bike to work and nearly everywhere else he goes, he’s freeing up parking spaces for those who can’t get there by bike.
Brandon spearheaded the installation of pavement marked bicycle lanes on Washington Avenue in 2010, providing an important east–west corridor for cyclists. Next he turned his attention to Price Street, which will get its bike lane later this spring and serve as a much–needed southbound route out of the historic district. These projects are obviously good for cyclists, yet they also benefit non–cyclists by slowing automobile traffic and improving quality of life and safety along these thoroughfares.
Brandon not only considers how to accommodate bicyclists in motion, but also bicycles at rest. He’s overseen the creation of new bicycle parking facilities at locations all over town, including the prominent intersection of Broughton and Bull streets.
By placing racks on the street he’s provided many more places for cyclists to secure their bikes while shopping, dining or working. What’s more, these on–street bicycle racks are effective visual reminders of how many bikes can be stored in the space required to park a single car.
In my conversations with Brandon, he’ll often start to describe things that are “lying out there.” This is a signal, I’ve learned, that he’s going to reveal his ideas — not just about what will happen next — but about the opportunities that could present themselves even further down the road. He’s obviously thinking many moves ahead so that he can deliver the best results for the citizens he serves.
On Feb. 2, the Savannah Bicycle Campaign will recognize Brandon’s contributions with its first Pedal Medal Award. A reception will be held at the Kennedy Pharmacy from 5–7:30 p.m. and will also honor Bill Bailey, the SBC’s volunteer of the year. Tickets can be purchased through the website (bicyclecampaign.org) or by calling 912/228–3096.
Proceeds from ticket sales and a silent auction will be used to establish a bicycle restoration and education center. The facility will provide a location from which SBC will offer safe cycling classes and other educational programs, and allow for collection and rehabilitation of discarded bicycles to be put into safe operating condition and distributed to members of the community who have limited means for transportation and often resort to dangerously ill–fitted, poorly maintained bicycles.