Bicycle routes and Pascagoula MS

17 Feb

I just read an article about bike routes in Pascagoula, MS, which just so happens to be my “stomping grounds” these days.  I found it interesting.

The city council or some planning committee actually had bicyclists ride the proposed routes and give their opinions.  That’s a great idea on the surface, but it seems that Highway 90 was eliminated from the routes because of its heavy traffic.

It does have heavy traffic, I agree, but to eliminate it from proposed routes?

Okay, I’m not a super-cyclist.  I can’t ride 50-100 miles a day, no matter how hard I try.  It would probably kill me.  But, I do ride a bicycle.  It’s inexpensive transportation, environmentally friendly, and purpose-driven exercise.  I happen to despise exercise with only exercise as a goal–I want to go/do/accomplish something else besides sweating and elevating my heart rate.  At the same time, my purpose driven life has taken its toll on knees, etc., so a low-impact exercise is much more “me-friendly” than taking up jogging.  Compared to a swimming pool, a bicycle is a bargain basement exercise tool for low impact exercise.

I’ve discovered something else on my bicycle.  Highway 90 may have more and faster motor vehicle traffic, but it also has something that is priceless to the bicyclist…a wide smoothly paved shoulder.

Compared to being forced to ride right in the traffic lane because of the absence of shoulders or parked cars occupying all of the paved space outside of the traffic lanes, this is a dream come true.  I have actual SPACE, and don’t feel like I’m risking my life as I ride along.  I’m actually safer than I would be on a lower speed and less trafficked road where bicyclists  are unnoticed until the last moment.

I love Google Maps’ beta bicycle routing, but often they try to avoid major roads and reroute you onto smaller roads such as the frontage road.  I’ve discovered that the frontage road is a high risk place for me to be, faced with being forced into the traffic lane and contending with impatient and distracted drivers.  Do I desire to be at risk for being struck by a car driven by a driver more concerned about hurrying to Walmart or the gas station than paying attention to the road?  Obviously not.  But there is no other place for me to ride.

Pascagoula is a frightening place for a bicyclist.

Now, they are planning their new bike routes…using Beach Boulevard.  Granted the view will be great, but I honestly don’t ride locally for sheer recreation.  I ride to get somewhere, like shopping, doctors, running errands, etc.  Pascagoula isn’t the most bike-friendly city I’ve ever seen either.  Why would I want to ride that far out of a direct line route on my way to go shopping and run errands via bicycle?  Bike routes need to be more than merely recreational, they need to also be functional routes for “taking care of business.”

Pay attention the next time you are out–if you stopped at The Annex for lunch, where would you secure your bicycle?  Let’s say you want to go shopping in the “main street” area.  Sooner or later, you have to get off of the bicycle and go into a shop.  What are your options there?

I have not seen a single business that has a bike rack installed in their parking area.

Maybe it is also because there is also not a single bike shop in the Greater Pascagoula area.  The closest one is in Gulfport or over by Mobile, AL.  That means that everyone who buys a bike here either buys a low end and improperly assembled, unfitted bike at Walmart, or goes and spends the money in some other community to purchase a fitted and adjusted bicycle.  A missed economic opportunity?

Here are some facts.  Bicyclists don’t ride bicycles because they are stupid and poor, contrary to some of the opinions I have heard locally.  Granted, bikes make for inexpensive and efficient transportation for those on the lower end of the economic scale, but that isn’t the sum total of bicyclists nationwide.   The reality is that bicyclists are often better educated and have higher incomes than the community average.  Most of them also own motor vehicles and their own homes too.  Many of them are professionals and business owners.

Bicyclists tend to be more active in their communities.  Maybe part of the reason is that they are moving slower and notice problems from a different perspective, but it might also be that people who are concerned about the environment and their carbon footprint, as well as their own health and fitness, are likely to be bicyclists too.  Bicyclists are apt to  be volunteers with a variety of non-profit organizations and supporters of small businesses.  They often frequent boutiques and coffee houses.  They purchase clothing and accessories to go with their bicycling passion too.

Blue collar workers tend to discount the value of bike riding.  They don’t see it as important, and their perception of biking is that it is for kids and people too poor to afford a car.  They find bicyclists to be inconveniences as they rush off to work or to hang out with their buddies at the bar.  Their lack of education often is reflected in their disregard of environmental concerns, and inability to be pro-active in preservation of the local environment.  This is the same consumer that targets products for the lowest price, regardless of quality, service, or country-of-origin.

Bicyclists are from all walks of life, obviously.  At the same time, their choice of transportation indicates an awareness of issues greater than merely getting from point a to point b.  They are concerned about the environment, their own fitness, and that carbon footprint.  They are more likely to be an upscale shopper, seeking quality goods made in the USA, excellent customer service with a more personal touch, and loyal shopper to small local businesses that cater to their needs.  (Remember those bike racks that don’t exist here?)

Communities that have large numbers of bicyclists are perceived differently than communities that lack amenities for bicyclists.  Consistently, communities with many bike routes, some bike trails/paths, bike shops and other businesses that cater to the bicyclists, public bicycling clinics, and bicycling events are communities that also have higher property values, better educated residents, stronger business bases, and lower crime rates.  I should hope that these aspirations would also be the aspirations of Pascagoula.

Following the article I read, there was an opportunity for readers to comment.  While one Gautier resident was wishing for recreational development to be considered in Gautier, another reader stated that bicyclists “had fewer brains than pop eye mullet.”  His complaint was that bike routes were expensive and seldom used, and that bicyclists would instead opt to ride on the streets where they were “hazzards”.  (I’m sure he meant hazards, though.)  Somehow, I doubt this person has ridden a bicycle since obtaining his or her first drivers license.

I seriously believe that creating bike routes and encouraging the use of bicycles would be an excellent move, not only for Pascagoula, but for all communities to consider.  Usually, it isn’t an incredible expense, as broad shoulders can be an excellent “bike lane” for bicyclists, if parking is not permitted in them, as well as offering space for vehicles in an emergency, such as a flat tire or mechanical failure.  Adding bike racks, whether purchased by businesses for their clients, or placing them on city property at convenient locations, is also an excellent tactic.

Why?

Bicyclists don’t require additional police force to enforce traffic regulations.  They are far safer than having a sudden influx of new motorcycle drivers flooding the roads as they attempt to escape the burden of high gasoline prices too.  Encouraging biking means that more citizens are moving about from a vantage point of being able to observe their own neighborhood as well as the neighborhoods they pass through, creating a wider window of opportunity for a crime to be witnessed and a culprit apprehended.  Bicyclists cause less wear and tear on roads, and can fill the gap for smaller communities that lack public transportation systems to allow for inexpensive transportation of its citizens.  In addition, bicyclists are getting more exercise, and that has been linked to longer lives with greater quality-of-life as well.  Healthier residents mean fewer emergency calls for an ambulance too.  In addition, the bike amenities that become available in a bike-friendly community create additional economic opportunities for businesses to grow, as well as attract new residents, which are often professionals and other higher-income jobs than one more welder or painter moving to town.

I’m not implying there is anything wrong with blue collar work or workers.  There isn’t.  However, diversity in the community ensures a stronger future with more options.  Just like I used to tell my daughter, “Don’t burn a bridge until you are sure you’ll never need to cross it.”  Diversity in the business and industry that forms the backbone of job opportunities is always a good thing, and encouraging bike use does not really have any negatives with it.

The physical changes required are the addition of signs and some paint for distinguishing the lines.  Enforcement issues are merely the same police officers that patrol traffic today will continue to patrol and enforce laws already in existence.  Businesses can be encouraged to install bike racks.  Increasing the popularity of bicycles for regular local transportation as well as recreational use will naturally attract bike-related and bike-friendly businesses.  Imagine being able to take a Saturday bike ride, pick up some items at a local shop, stop by and have a delicious latte, visit with friends who are also out on their bicycles, maybe have lunch with a few, and then ride home, having accomplished your Saturday errands, gotten some exercise, and thoroughly enjoyed yourself…all without the hassles of driving, sitting through numerous stop lights, being aggravated by slow drivers, or the necessity of buying gas before you go home to work out on your treadmill.

Bikes aren’t just for 12 year olds anymore, and many of your preconceived notions about biking as an adult will soon disappear.  It does offer a great way to get your exercise that your doctor has been nagging you about.  It is relaxing to ride somewhere.  It does change your perspective on your neighborhood too.  Your opinion of unconfined dogs will never be the same (you might want to consider picking up some pepper spray, since loose dogs seem to be a way of life in the area.)  You really get a chance to see and hear the world you live in.

If you are older and more out of shape, you’ll discover that it does take a bit longer to get places.  You might have to stop a few times and smell the roses, so to speak, along the way.  But guess what?

After you’ve ridden the distance a half dozen times, you’ll find yourself stopping less because you are out of breath and have aching muscles, and more often to take a look at a beautiful yard or amazing wild flower.  Pot holes are perceived as having importance.  You will notice the litter alongside the road, and have time to wonder why people throw the things they do where they do.  You may discover that your bike seat leaves much to be desired, and be ready to purchase something a bit more comfortable.  You might want to customize your bike, or purchase a child trailer, rack, or even a cup holder to carry your latte during your Saturday errand ride.  Maybe some day, you’ll be able to stop by a local bike shop and purchase those things, but in the meantime, check out my website (www.exogenynetwork.com–look for Bicycling in the navigation bar on the left.  We’ll have that page up later this week)  for accessories to buy to upgrade your ride and make it as unique as you are.

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