Tara Servatius’ June 26 column “Why does the government continue to promote biking?” did exactly what Servatius does best — piss a lot of folks off. She’s excellent at raising the volume rather than elevating the discourse, and her particular tone of shrill seems to be effective at one thing — driving traffic to the City Paper website. Unfortunately, it does nothing to help traffic flow around Charleston, which was the alleged subject matter of her rant against making the West Ashley Legare Bridge safer for bicyclists and pedestrians.
While many incensed readers were asking why the City Paper continues to promote Servatius, I’m glad for the fodder. Despite Servatius’ flimsy logic and blatant rehash of a column published in 2010, she makes some valid points. Yes, bicycling in busy, high-traffic areas is risky and can be dangerous. Yes, bicyclists and pedestrians are likely to be hurt — or worse — by inattentive, reckless drivers. And true, not all roads are designed to accommodate bikes. But Servatius’ argument that bicycling and walking are dangerous, ergo government should not encourage these activities, is as slippery as the Legare Bridge grating in the rain. By this reasoning, the government should not support space exploration, the police department, or the armed services — all of which are inherently dangerous.
Yet while Servatius’ column is racking up hits on the web, bicyclists remain more likely to be hit on our roads, 12.7 times more often than motorists, according to the dated study cited by Servatius. Which is exactly why government should be taking action to make our roadways safer and more accessible to those who by choice or economic necessity opt for two wheels rather than four. And that’s exactly what Charleston County Council has done regarding the Legare Bridge.
There are so many public and personal benefits to bicycling that it’s difficult to list them here, and too obvious, really, in this day and age, to need to. Briefly, the list includes improved air quality, fewer carbon emissions, less traffic, improved economic growth, reduced healthcare costs related to diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and dare I say, lower rates of obesity? Plus the harder-to-quantify benefits of happier campers, more energetic workers, and a more connected, more livable community.
But as my fellow Charleston Moves board member Don Sparks has said, the real absurdity is not that people have to justify the need for bike lanes, it’s that people have to fire up a car engine to go less than a mile to run an errand. For many people, the primary reason they drive rather than bike short distances is because they feel cycling is too dangerous. We can change that. We must change that. And as a traffic engineering study has determined for the Legare Bridge, we can do so without undue detriment to automotive traffic flow. And without huge expense.
Besides the safety factor, some people — women especially — say they are reluctant to bike because they don’t know how to change a flat — I’d be happy to show you, Tara, if you don’t know how — or they don’t want to get sweaty, but Servatius seems all hot and bothered already, so no matter. Anyway, when it’s a torrid 95 degrees, I opt for my car and its air conditioning. I, and almost all cyclists I know, are reasonable adults, and we also drive cars. We pay road taxes and care about efficient traffic flow. As drivers we cringe when other bicyclists don’t obey traffic laws. But we also want options, and roads that are safe for all users — cars, bikes, and pedestrians.
We want intelligent, forward-thinking, environmentally responsible, economically sound transportation policies that plan for Charleston’s future, a future that will have more people and more traffic and will need more options for getting around. We can’t pave our way into that future only by building more roads and more parking garages on our limited and valuable Lowcountry real estate. Making it easier and safer for people to use bicycles is one step in the right direction.
Servatius is certainly not the only one who believes bikes don’t belong on roads, that roads are for cars alone and that government dollars should not be spent to appease politically correct, skintight spandex-wearing bicyclists. I get that. But Servatius’ argument that cycling doesn’t merit our support because it may be dangerous is laughable in the 21st century, when every other forward-thinking metropolitan area — Chattanooga, Austin, Chicago, New York, Madison, and even the politically incorrect conservative bastions of Greenville and Spartanburg, to name a few — is making headway toward becoming more bicycle-friendly and thus less dangerous. If Charleston wants to retain its sheen as a top travel destination, a burgeoning Silicon Harbor, a growing economic region that can attract Generation Next talent, then it must continue the bike/ped-friendly momentum that County Council is currently supporting.
Servatius’ column was called out by many readers as “trolling.” Before the internet, trolls lurked under bridges. They preyed upon travelers just as Servatius preys upon readers and listeners. Forward-thinking policy makers see our bridges as connectors for everyone, as pathways to a brighter, healthier, more prosperous future. Let’s keep the trolls away from the Legare Bridge. Join me and Charleston Moves in advocating for a more bicycle-friendly, safer region.
(P.S. Tara, I’m serious about the flat tire tutorial. Inflating tires could be a constructive use for your hot air.)
Stephanie Hunt is a freelance writer and chair of the board of Charleston Moves, a nonprofit bike/ped advocacy organization.