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An off-topic post

Miscellaneous 8 86

On the Bicycle Design about page, I mention that the blog is something I do in my spare time, but “free time is pretty limited for me with a family, a full time job, and a house full of bikes.” I should also add local bicycle advocacy issues to that list of priorities. Though my old Bike Greenville blog is no longer active, I still spend a portion of my free time on local bike advocacy projects when the need arises. I have a backlog of design related content to post at the moment, but today I want to venture off-topic a bit to talk about a local issue that came up yesterday.

As is the case in many municipalities right now, our city budget is tight and some cuts are going to have to be made. A Greenville News article about the proposed budget yesterday morning included the following quote:

“Councilman David Sudduth said he wanted to study taking $45,000 for city bike lanes and saving an employee’s position, saying he would hate to put street paint over someone’s job.”

Having worked with the City Council before, I can say without hesitation that Councilman Sudduth is a good guy who serves on the Council because he truly cares about what is best for the city. He is a longtime supporter of bicycle related projects, but like the rest of the City Council, he is in a pretty tough position right now. I certainly understand and respect his desire to carefully scrutinize the proposed budget in an effort to avoid any job cuts. That is the responsible thing to do, but I do take issue with his statement, which I believe belittles the bike plan by referring to those projects as “street paint”. Unfortunately, bicycle related projects are often the first ones cited by politicians as examples of frivolous government spending. In this case, the proposed bike infrastructure projects are only $45K of an $11.6M capital budget, so there are many other programs and projects that could have been mentioned instead. I am not for eliminating anyone’s job, but I don’t really feel like it is a fair to present that as the only choice. Though some view bicycle infrastructure projects as nothing more than recreational amenities, they are an important component in the overall transportation plan and should be given the same level of consideration for funding as other projects. I like the way another local cycling advocate stated it; “by allowing bike/ped improvements to be treated dismissively, i.e. as just “street paint,” we run the risk of devaluing the perception of the public safety and community development benefits of these projects, potentially making it harder to coalesce support for them in the future.”

You can read the letter that I sent to Councilman Sudduth below. I know that a very small percentage of you reading this actually live here in Greenville, so I am not presenting this as any kind of call to action. I also don’t want to single out Councilman Sudduth, or any of our other well meaning City Council members who are in the unenviable position of deciding which projects to cut. Instead, I am hoping to get feedback from some of you. Maybe some of you are dealing with the same issues in your own communities and can share your perspective.  How does your local government view bicycle infrastructure in relationship to other road or public safety projects? I would to hear a variety of thoughts on this.

Dear Councilman Sudduth,

It was been a while since I have written you, but I know from my time as the Greenville Spinners advocacy chairperson a few years ago that you have a long record as a supporter of bicycle infrastructure projects. I want to sincerely thank you, Mayor White, and the rest of the City Council for your past efforts to make Greenville a better, and safer, place to ride a bike.

I am sure that you have already received a few emails about your quote in the paper this morning. I certainly understand and respect your desire to save as many jobs as possible. Like too many others at this time, I work for a company that has been forced to lay off employees due to market conditions. The decision to eliminate someone’s job is definitely not an easy one to make and should never be taken lightly. I truly hope that the city is able to keep as many current employees as possible, so I can understand your desire to question all items in the proposed budget.

I don’t know what other projects are likely to be cut, but I do want to point out that bicycle infrastructure is more than simply “paint on the street”. As a longtime bicycle commuter myself, I have noticed a dramatic increase in the number of bike commuters on the roads in the last year or so. The same tough economic conditions that have squeezed budgets at every level have led to an increase in bicycling for transportation. Many of the new bike commuters that I see are inexperienced riders, so safer cycling infrastructure is even more important for them than it is for someone like myself who has many years of experience riding with traffic. As fuel prices continue to rise, we will probably see greater numbers of new transportational cyclists on the roads. For that reason, I believe that it is more important now than ever to address the issue of bike lanes and other infrastructure in Greenville. It is not just a recreational or quality of life issue as some have indicated, but a matter of public safety.

Like I said before, I know that you and your fellow Council members are in a tough position. Some line items in the budget are going to have to be cut, and there are always going to be citizens who are not happy with whatever choices you make. I just ask that you consider the increased number of bicycle commuters on our streets before eliminating the funds entirely. South Carolina consistently has one of the highest fatality rates for cyclists and pedestrians in the country, but it is my hope that Greenville can lead the rest of the state in creating roads that are safe for all users. Again, I want to thank you for your past efforts to do just that.


James Thomas

I want to close this post by pointing out some of the great events that Bikeville (a group that I am involved with) has planned this month to celebrate National Bike Month. There are definitely many good things happening here, which is why Greenville, SC was recently awarded a Bronze Bicycle Friendly Community designation by the League of American Bicyclists (that is me in the third picture drafting in the bike lane). Though we have minor issues from time to time, Greenville’s city government really is made up of good people who listen and care. We have made great strides in recent years to become a bike friendly place, and along with many others, I will continue to work toward the goal of making Greenville an even better place to live and ride.

Update 5/18: As you can imagine, this has been an issue that I have been following very closely the last couple of weeks. I am glad to be able to update this post today and say that the bike infrastructure funding made it through the reading of the budget approval process at last night’s City Council meeting.

The City Council members who I have contacted about this funding (including Mr.  Sudduth) have been very supportive and I certainly want to thank them for their attention to bicycling issues in the city. Greenville is already a great town for cycling, and I am pretty optimistic that it will only get better.

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  1. Rachael K May 5, 2010 at 12:58 pm -  Reply

    Great idea James to open this dialogue to an audience outside of the Greenville/SC area. I find that this strategy works great when trying to come to terms with issues we face on a statewide level. Thanks for all you’re doing, and keep up the fantastic work.

    • James T May 5, 2010 at 1:33 pm -  Reply

      Thanks Rachael! I appreciate the comment.

      For those who don’t know, the Palmetto Cycling Coalition, of which Rachael is the Executive Director, is South Carolina’s statewide advocacy organization. The PCC is doing a great job of improving conditions for cyclists across the state. I also want to add that Paul LeFrancois, President and a founding board member of the PCC, was named 2010 Advocate of the Year at the National Bike Summit in Washington, DC. We are definitely lucky to have advocates like Rachael and Paul here in SC.

      • Nathaniel M May 8, 2010 at 3:19 pm -  Reply

        We are definitely lucky to have Rachael and the PCC holding it down for us here.

        I’ll bet there are communities all over the country facing the same kinds of budget issues, and I’d be interested to know how their advocacy communities are handling it.

  2. MU May 5, 2010 at 2:09 pm -  Reply

    When I am countering economic arguments against investing in cycling infrastructure, I like to use economics as well:
    – They are effective: It is well established that cycling infrastructure gets more people on the roads
    – They keep money local: people travelling by bike save money which is then normally spent on local, small businesses instead of multi-national corporations and hostile foreign governments.
    – They improve people’s health: cyclists have lower health care costs which means more money to put into local businesses instead of large, distant corporations.
    – Reduced wear on streets: saves the local municipalities money by delaying need for resurfacing, etc.
    – Reduce traffic congestion: means that everyone (including drivers) benefit from an increase in cycling. Reduced congestion has well established financial benefits.
    – Reduced air pollution: again everyone, even non-cyclists, benefit with better health, lower health care costs, etc.
    – Finally: what about the guy whose job is to paint those lines? As compared to other common road projects, tasks like bike lanes are more labor intensive as opposed to material or capital intensive. That means every dollar spent on bike lanes produces more employment than most road construction/repair projects.

    • James T May 5, 2010 at 2:39 pm -  Reply

      Great points, MU. Thanks.

  3. Jos May 6, 2010 at 5:19 pm -  Reply

    In my town Nijmegen, the Netherlands, the UMC St Radboud Hospital spent about 600,000 euro in the last five years on cyclingpolicy to encourage employees to cycle to work more. As a result they probably don’t need to build extra parking facilities for 600 cars. Saving about 15,000,000 euro!

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