Bicycles and the “East Coast” of the Gulf of Mexico

20 Feb

Coastal regions are ideal areas for bicycling and bicyclers.  The mild climate, the beaches, the laid back attitude…it’s ideal.  But, there is a problem of some kind, because bicycling has never taken off.  When  you sit and look for cyclists, they are not nearly as numerous as they should be.

What’s the problem?

There are a lot of problems with the concept of bicycling and the people of the eastern portion of the Gulf Coast.  Who’s problem is it?  Any advocate or fan of bicycling!

  1. There are few designated bicycle lanes. This isn’t a problem with government officials, but rather a problem with lack of advocacy indicating a need and desire to have more bike lanes, bike paths, and other areas for bicyclists.  Who’s telling these officials that we need them?  No one.  Nobody cares.  To get something like that added we don’t need one or a dozen voices speaking up, but thousands of voices speaking up.  Bicycle lanes make for safer biking, reducing the chances of an accident with a car, often serious or fatal for a cyclist.
  2. We need bike lanes designed for useful transportation, not just recreational riding. For biking to truly become a normal thing for commuters and shoppers, those bike lanes need to take them to places they want and need to go.  Bike lanes along the beach are nice, but what about biking to doctor offices, stores, and other businesses? Biking is more than a recreational pastime, but a useful, inexpensive, and environmentally friendly way to get around town.  I know I can easily use up $40 worth of gas, and never get more than 8 miles from home in the course of a week, no matter how conscious of routing and fuel I try to be.  That’s with gas at about $3 per gallon…how much would I save when gas gets to $4.50 or $5 per gallon?
  3. Once we arrive at our destination, we need places to park and secure our bicycles too. What is the point of riding to a store, cafe, or other business, only to discover you have no way of securing your bicycle while shopping, lunching, or handling any other business  you may have?  Businesses are not going to install bike racks if no one makes the need known and obvious to the owners.
  4. The availability of a bike shop, complete with a repair department is also important, even for those cyclists who are never going to take up triathlons or racing. These shops can help cyclists make informed decisions about the style of bike that will suit them best, as well as fit the bike to the rider properly.  In addition, they can install accessories, perform standard maintenance and offer advice about upgrades for your bicycle.  In addition to these benefits to a community, a typical bike shop will usually employ 4-10 employees.  That’s also a huge benefit in economic times like these.  Currently, there is a bike shop in Gulfport, Cyclists Choice, with some very courteous, knowledgeable and helpful staff (as well as good prices.)  Rumor has it that there are also one or two shops in Mobile, as well as a few in the Pensacola area.  I’ve not visited those, and can’t say anything about them.
  5. Bicycling clubs are another great asset that can be very useful at increasing the popularity of biking in a community. Currently, there is an organization in the Gulfport area, but other than the fact that one supposedly exists, I’m not aware of anything else regarding this organization.  Bike clubs vary incredibly in their nature, some are more friendly to the casual cyclist than others.  Their activities through the course of a year vary as much as the organizations that sponsor them.  There are fund raising events, fun events, awareness events, endurance/speed events, etc.  On occasion, other organizations will include bike events among their activities–like Get Ready Go‘s bike/hike event this summer on the Longleaf Trace.
  6. Another problem with bicycling is the general public’s perception of biking as something that people who can’t afford a car, have lost their driver’s license, or kids do.  There is a perception that bicyclists are “ne’er do wells” rather than responsible, environmentally sensitive, economical, and educated people.  This mind set regards bike lanes as useless and bicyclists as a traffic hazard.  This takes a lot of time and effort to correct, and some people just never will “get it.”  Unfortunately, this is a serious problem and leads to incidents such as where a fake swerve towards a cyclist is regarded as amusing rather than endangering someone’s life.  Law enforcement is a very important part of correcting such behavior, and can play a very large part in changing public perception when bike riding officers patrol public events and park areas.

It takes time to make an area bike friendly, and the benefits are incredible as traffic is reduced, emissions are reduced, jobs are created, and new businesses come to a community.  Tourists find bike friendly communities appealing, especially since bike friendly communities are perceived in a much more positive light.  Someday, maybe all of America will be much more bike friendly, and we’ll even have the opportunity to use mass-transit to move us (and our bikes) to our destinations, leaving us with excellent inexpensive transportation to enjoy the sights without having a hundred mile ride to arrive there!

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