Bike Infrastructure Helps Working People, Not Just the Elite

In the current discussion of the upcoming T-SPLOST referendum, old cliches and past arguments have returned. A persistent myth used to denigrate bicycle and sidewalk projects says that riding a bike is a frivolous leisure activity that only a few Lycra-clad loners enjoy. We’ve heard it angrily shouted, “Regular folks don’t ride bikes! The bike lanes and other improvements in the T-SPLOST referendum are a waste!”

The daily work in the BikeAthens workshop refutes that argument. BikeAthens works with local social-services agencies to provide refurbished bikes for people who need them, and we work with clients to keep their bikes rolling. Our Fix Your Own Bike (FYOB) sessions attract even more community members who need inexpensive options for bike maintenance. Every day, we serve people who ride bikes for transportation—regular people who do not call themselves “cyclists” and do not own Lycra. They ride bikes because a bicycle is vastly more affordable than a car and faster than walking.

There is overwhelming evidence that bike-inclusive infrastructure makes driving safer and easier, improves public health and would create a more vibrant Athens. More importantly to our clients, access to inexpensive transportation—bikes and quality bus service—is, according to an ongoing Harvard study, the most crucial factor in upward mobility. Our volunteer mechanics see this played out day to day and year to year.


Photo Credit: Nicole Adamson

People often bike illegally on the sidewalk along Prince Avenue because they feel unsafe in the road.

A bike frees people from having to burden friends and family with ride requests. It expands the scope of the bus system. It is faster than walking three miles to work. We remember giving a bike to a client who broke down crying because he had been walking an hour to work one way, every day, for weeks. Our recipients use the bikes for the same reasons we all drive cars, take the bus, walk or ride bikes: to get to work, to the libraries, to parks, to the doctor or maybe just to have fun, exercise and spend time with family.

The bikes that we donate get used, and used hard. People request them, mainly, to provide critical personal transportation. Since January, BikeAthens has donated 71 bikes to people through our partner organizations. We also provide free continuous maintenance on all of those bikes. In the last two months, we have fulfilled 44 requests for maintenance, repairs and replacement. And we know that with our limited resources, we are just scratching the surface of a much bigger need.

Numbers are impressive, but they obscure the people who ride the bikes. Mike needed to air up his tires. Tony needed a new front light after his was stolen. Darrell’s bike was run over in a gas station parking lot—hit and run—so we worked with him to find a replacement. We put a new seat on Jacob’s bike. We put bigger bars on Bobby’s bike because his knees and back ache, and he wants to sit upright. We replaced Davis’ front wheel when he broke some spokes. Reggie grinds out so many miles to get to work that we’ve had to replace his drivetrain more times that we can count.

After a client rolls back out the door, we know that they are going to encounter unfriendly—and  sometimes downright dangerous—riding conditions. Many of us who ride by choice have the freedom to avoid busy, dangerous streets. When a bike is your only form of transportation, you have to ride where the jobs are, even if the job is way out on Lexington Road or Atlanta Highway. BikeAthens has advocated for safe infrastructure for decades now, but we still have a long way to go.

A safe, connected city will make it easier for people to get to work, and will give many a way to rise out of poverty. As a community, Athens-Clarke County is working on plans to connect bike lanes to transit, neighborhoods and community centers. Athens Transit has a vision to improve and expand the bus system. Voting YES on T-SPLOST will turn these visions into reality.  Projects like the West Broad Area Pedestrian Improvements, Bus Stop & Transfer Facilities Improvements, Transit Service Expansion, Tallassee Road Bridge Replacement and the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plans, not to mention the trail and paving projects, will weave a network of safer, more comfortable streets. They will provide more transportation choices. They will improve the lives of real people. Vote YES.

Perry is president and Dewey is executive director of BikeAthens.