Biking: New Concepts Of An Old Vision

By Barney Blakeney

I first met with some folks about Holy Spokes Bike Share a year ago. Speedwell Foundation’s Mike Messner wanted some help in making more people aware of the initiative that allows riders to rent a bike to get around the peninsula. Messner wanted more low income residents to access the option. It’s taken me this long to wrap my brain around the concept. That perhaps, is symbolic of how too many people think about transportation options in Charleston. It takes a while for some of us to catch on.

Having bought my first car in 1972 at 19, personal transportation always has been a part of my lifestyle. Though my mother never learned to drive, my father owned a car until his death when I was 13. After that, our family depended on public transportation. I dreamt of owning car throughout high school. When I got the opportunity to get one my junior year in college, I jumped on it.

Those were the good ole days – gas was about 10 cents per gallon, William ‘Stump’ Malloy would fix anything that went wrong for the cost of parts and a few extra dollars and traffic gridlock didn’t exist – a trip to Folly Beach from downtown at 5 p.m. took about 20 minutes. A lot has changed – a gallon of gas now costs about $3, auto repairs require financial restructuring and traveling a five-mile stretch of I-26 at 5 p.m. could take 20 minutes.

In today’s world of transportation, cycling is returning to prominence. I’ve never owned a bicycle. I wanted one as a kid, but my dad never would get me one. He said I’d end up on some driver’s front bumper. In our neighborhood, most kids didn’t buy bikes anyway, they made them – a frame from here, rims from there and tires from wherever – some of my friends regularly made bikes from old parts. I’m not mechanically inclined, so I never had a bike. I was reminded of my experiences with bicycles talking to Messner and Holy Spokes CEO Sean Flood.

Black folks have been cycling for generations. Old guys like Oscar “Frizz’ Fordham and the late David Mack, Sr. rode bikes as their primary means of transportation well into their eighties. Frizz still rides his bike everywhere. I know several sisters who do the same. I just couldn’t see bike rentals as going anywhere with Black folks because most who ride bikes have their own.

Thank goodness Messner, who’s got his hands in quite a few local initiatives that benefit our community, is persistent. I guess that’s how the big boys get things done. While I’ve been sitting on the story, those guys have gotten busy putting together a campaign that targets low income communities to encourage use of the option.

Personally, I think mass transportation is the way to go. There just are too many cars on the roads but I never saw bicycles as a part of that transportation effort. CARTA buses incorporated bike racks on their vehicles years ago. Bikers can pedal to the bus stop, ride the bus to almost any point in the metro area then hop on their bikes again. Stroke of genius! Now, with the bike share program being made affordable to low income commuters, that option is expanded.

For old lazy folks like me, jumping off a bus and onto a bike ain’t likely – I’ll walk first. But for some of younger folks, that’s not a hard sell. Actually, it shouldn’t be a hard sell for us older commuters. Cycling is a heart healthy thing to engage. And where our health may not be a primary motivator, our finances usually is. With new ‘corrals’ at Bridgeview Apartments off Morrison Drive, the Arthur Christopher Community Center on the west side and Shaw Community Center on the Eastside, grabbing a bike to get from A to B on the peninsula may be more of an option. I’ve noticed more usage of the powder blue colored bikes at the corral on Columbus Street near America Street. And the bike share folks are making it more affordable with special rates for low and moderate income riders.

Okay – so you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, especially one with arthritic knees and shortness of breath from too many years of smoking. But young pups may see connections between long waits at bus stops in West Ashley and bus rides from Dorchester County as CARTA gears up for proposed routes from Lincolnville to North Charleston. Right now Bike Share is only available on the peninsula, but that’s changing. As the option moves across the bridges and to North Charleston, Bike Share could be a real resource for people moving from the outskirts into work and commercial centers.

Like too many of our political leaders, I haven’t had the vision to foresee all that Bike Share can become. But as they say, necessity is the mother of invention. In the very near future, cycling will be a more crucial component in our local system of mass transportation. Then maybe we’ll understand what people like Mr. Mack, Frizz and Messner have known all along.

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