SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — “I didn’t own a car for five years. Walking and biking were my only modes of transportation,” the Executive Director of Bike Walk Savannah Caila Brown said.
“It was really apparent to me that when I made that shift and I started going solely by bike that I couldn’t get everywhere I needed to go,” she added. “There were certain areas of town that were inaccessible to me or certain things that were inaccessible.”
Brown works to ensure cyclists have a safe environment to ride in. The number of cyclists in Savannah is on the rise, but so are bicycle-related accidents.
According to the Chatham County Police Department, there have been 23 bicycle-related accidents in the past year.
“I’m really afraid to cycle much around Savannah,” United Methodist Pastor Ashley Randall said. “When I go out, especially anywhere out of downtown, people have buzzed me, been aggressive towards me, and it has been really frightening sometimes.”
Savannah has the largest percentage of bicycle commuters in the state at 2.6 percent. But a recent map shows that only 15 percent of Savannah’s streets have bike lanes.
“One of the number one ways to encourage more people to bike and to make the city more safe for cyclists is to really create safe, protected infrastructure,” Brown said.
“And that’s bike lanes that have physical separation from moving motor vehicles, separated multi-use paths that provide that barrier and that physical separation between people driving.”
Bike Walk Savannah works with local law enforcement agencies on bicycle accessibility and ongoing traffic safety initiatives. They also work to build awareness of Georgia’s three-foot passing law, crosswalk laws, and other regulations.
“On places where we have bike lanes alone, motor vehicle crashes have gone down thirty percent,” Brown said. “It really makes the streets safer for all people who are using them.”
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Bike Walk Savannah created a mobility handbook that they issued to mayoral and aldermanic offices to provide information on what parts of Savannah can be improved for cyclists.
Brown says the easiest way to help get more bike lanes in Savannah is to send your Alderman a message letting them know you’d like the city to be more accessible for cyclists.
“So you can reach out to me, your at-large representatives, or your mayor to let them know that these are facilities that you want and need,” Alderman Elect Nick Palumbo said.
“And that’s going to help us generate a greater focus moving forward as people move and get around in different modes of transportation,” he said. “But really, it’s building it from the ground up, from the residents up to your elected officials. Let us know how you feel about it and let us know where you want more bicycle facilities.”
Palumbo argues bicycle-friendly streets are good for the whole community— even those who aren’t cyclists. He says it reduces traffic, keeps the sidewalks safe, saves money for taxpayers, and creates a greener environment.
“So something the city council should really focus on in the next four years is how are we going to make those facilities accessible to more people,” Palumbo said.
“And that’s a benefit not just to the cyclists, but to the drivers too,” he added. “As we’ve got 700 miles of public ride way to maintain, just a few small portions of them are dedicated to bicycles. If we have more people riding bicycles, we have less cars on the road, and it’s better for everybody.”
Even as the number of cyclists in the city increases, Brown argues Savannah isn’t up to par with other cities when it comes to the safety and protection of cyclists. This year, Massachusetts made it a law to add protected bike lanes when roads are repaired.
“We’re really just looking to create a city that’s safe for all street users no matter their age, ability, background, or mode of transportation,” Brown said. “People deserve to be able to get from where they are to where they need to go with safety and dignity. And it deserves to be an accessible and affordable option for them.”
The Moonlight Garden Ride is a major fundraiser for Bike Walk Savannah so they can provide the community with necessary safety items like free bike lights. Community members at the event said they wish Savannah was more cyclist-friendly.
Nick Freeman rides his bike to get almost everywhere. He says he’s feared for his life while riding downtown.
“To get from east and west, you have to ride with the cars, and everyone yells at you if you ride on the huge, large sidewalks,” Freeman said. “So, what are you supposed to do? The city is such a great city to ride bikes around, I don’t know. I don’t know what there is to do.”
He says he’d like to see more bike lanes in downtown Savannah — especially because he sees motorists parking in the bike lanes and not sharing the road with cyclists when there isn’t a bike lane available. He says even when there is a bike lane, the quality of the edge of the road isn’t safe to ride on.
“I would like to see Bull Street a one-lane road, half of it’s a bike lane,” Freeman said. “For all the students that are coming out of school, all the bars and restaurants that are opening there in the Starland District, I think it would be perfect.”
Despite issues concerning quality and overcrowding, Palumbo is looking forward to safer infrastructure in Savannah.
“So some of those things we can do is identify new bike lanes, taking care of the ones that we do have, and repairing our sidewalk and street infrastructure,” Palumbo said.
“So we’ve got this huge public domain here in the City of Savannah, and we just gotta do a better job of taking care of it into the future,” he added.
See the Department of Transportation’s Bike Sense guide for cyclists here, for advice on sharing roads, riding in traffic, riding with other cyclists, and Georgia bicycle laws.
Another way to get more involved is to become a member of Bike Walk Savannah. They are a membership-based nonprofit so more memberships ensure that they are able to keep advocating for better bike lanes, sidewalks, crosswalks and access to public transit.