Georgia Bikes, a statewide cycling advocacy organization, recently awarded five community group's $1,500 start-up grants from the Governor's Office of Highway Safety, using funds from the "Share the Road" specialty tags, to establish local safe roads and safe cycling initiatives.
Augusta-based Wheel Movement was one of the five selected. The group intends to use education and community interaction in its effort to promote safe cycling in the CSRA.
Recent incidents involving motorists and cyclists have heightened public awareness of the dangers of cars and bicycles sharing the same roads. Last October, a group of cyclists was struck from behind while riding through Beech Island, S.C. Five cyclists were injured in the collision. One rider, Dr. Matthew Burke, died Feb. 6 from head injuries sustained in the crash.
On Jan. 23, Pascal Limouzin was struck from behind by a hit-and-run driver while riding his bike through Aiken, S.C. Mr. Limouzin received critical injuries in the crash. It is reported that his condition has improved considerably since first being admitted to Medical College of Georgia Hospital
The drivers in both instances have been charged, and the incidents have provoked vigorous debate on whether cyclists should be allowed the same rights to the road as cars. Georgia and South Carolina law recognize bicycles as vehicles, which entitles bicycle riders use of public roadways. But laws have little meaning if the public lacks critical awareness of these rights.
EDUCATING MOTORISTS and cyclists is crucial for any success for Wheel Movement. From awareness of traffic laws to a greater emphasis on teaching cycling etiquette, the opportunity to reach a middle ground is possible if drivers and cyclists alike are willing to understand and exercise the law.
Asking motorists to share the road is great in theory, but when motorists view people on bikes as a nuisance, and the rate of car-cyclist incidents grow, it is apparent that slogans alone are not enough. It is hoped that greater awareness will lead to conciliation between motorists and their cycling counterparts.
But as the cycling community has expectations of holding drivers accountable for their actions, it is crucial for cyclists to understand that accountability is also expected of them. It's unrealistic expecting drivers to accept bike riders if they are witnessed flagrantly violating laws. Wheel Movement can serve as an informational conduit to ensuring recreational and hard-core cyclists understand the rules of the road.
Understanding that education should begin young, the group will facilitate programs to instill smart riding habits in kids. It will take a community-wide campaign to ensure that "fringe" bike riders get the message that laws also apply to them.
Creating a more conducive environment for bicycle commuters will be another objective for Wheel Movement. The group seeks the opportunity to work with city planners on the development of greenways and bike lanes. As gas prices continue to rise, bicycle commuting will become a more viable transportation option for many. It is absolutely necessary to develop the infrastructure to facilitate bike commuters.
No one is expecting drivers to suddenly give up their cars as accommodations are made for people on bikes, but if the move toward accessibility materializes, the likelihood of more people using bicycles as transportation can be realized.
THIS SUMMER AND next, Augusta will play host to the USA Cycling National Championships. In 2010 the city held the International Mountain Bike Association's IMBA World Summit, and this year, the third annual ESi Ironman 70.3 Augusta triathlon looks to continue its run as the world's largest Ironman event.
Combined, these events will be responsible for pumping more than $10 million into the local economy. It also can be expected that more people will rediscover the joys of cycling for fun and fitness. With the Augusta Cross Coalition, SORBA-CSRA, Augusta BMX, TriAugusta, the Aiken Bicycle Club and a number of great shops to choose from, cyclists of every level have a number of great bike-riding options.
But as more people take to the roads on their bikes, it is imperative that all resources be exhausted in keeping people safe. The bike riders that make up Wheel Movement have made it their mission to work diligently on behalf of the entire community to spread the message of safe roads and safe cycling.
Recent tragedies involving cyclists and motorists are a stark reminder of the potential dangers of sharing the road. However, through education and reasonable dialogue, there is no reason to believe that the roads can't be safe for everyone. Please join the movement.
(The writer is events manager for the Augusta Sports Council and an avid cyclist. For more information, visit Wheel Movement's page on Facebook, or go to wheelmovement,blogspot.com.)