In response to growing numbers of automobile-related bicycle accidents in the Gulf Coast region,several organizations have been formed to promote cycling awareness and advocate policy change. One such group is Team Share the Road, a non-profit organization based in Mobile.
Team Share the Road was founded in May of 2011 by Mobilians Doug Sims, Deena Tyler, and Jessica Melton in response to “a need for improving both cycling and pedestrian safety and education in our area.”
John Blanton, a Selma native and current Vice-president of Team Share the Road, says their number one goal is to educate not only cyclists but pedestrians and motorists. Blanton first became involved in cycling and, consequently, Team Share the Road two years ago when he was injured while playing basketball.
“I realized I could not play forever with my injured knees and was looking for a sport with less negative impact on my body. I dusted off the old bicycle in my closet but abruptly realized how dangerous it is around here to ride solo. That is when I got involved with group rides as there tends to be safety in numbers,” Blanton said.
As the number of Mobilians involved in cycling increases, Blanton says, the urgency of the need for “decent infrastructure… such as segregated bicycle lanes, safe intersections, adequate bike parking, and showers and lockers for commuters” increases as well.
“Cycling is no longer a niche activity,” he says. “Four out of five Americans own a bicycle. It is now phenomenally mainstream.”
Beyond serving as a source of leisure, cycling plays an invaluable role in the daily transportation of many Mobilians.
“Poverty means many people in our area and elsewhere depend on the bicycle to survive… Many more people would cycle but for fear for their safety due to the lack of infrastructure and lack of education for both motorists and cyclists.”
The League of American Bicyclists currently ranks Alabama last among the 50 states and Mobile last among the cities within the state of Alabama. This is partly due to problems caused by Mobile’s long history.
“The difficulty in a 300 year old plus city is that existing infrastructure, such as sewers and live oak trees, limits where you can add a bike path.”
The current number of bike paths in Mobile is severely deficient. At the moment, the only streets that have them are sections of Hillcrest Road and University Boulevard, and these are only two feet wide.
Despite the lack of sufficient infrastructure, Team Share the Road has made significant progress since its creation.
“We educated the local governments in Mobile and Baldwin Counties regarding drafting 3-foot ordinances. Mobile, Chickasaw, and Daphne passed the ordinances. We are continuing to work with other municipalities,” Blanton said.
Team Share the Road has also worked with city and county officials on the Safe Routes to Schools and Complete Streets policies.
“There has been a push in cities like Indianapolis, Chicago, Memphis, New York, to have separated bike lanes from the traffic so the pedestrian feels protected from the automobile.”
Following the example of this national trend, Team Share the Road has successfully secured the addition of a 10-foot-wide bike path alongside S. Ann Street and McGregor Avenue between Dauphin Street and Airport Boulevard.
They have also advocated for segregated bike lanes to be added alongside the I-10 bridge, Montlimar Creek, and Three Mile Creek. Additionally, they have pushed for the construction of Down by the Bay
Path, a bicycle and pedestrian path that would follow the Arlington Bridge down to the Dog River Bridge area.
In additional to cyclist security, one benefit that these bike paths would bring to Mobile would be improvement in public health. Obesity would decrease as more people would exercise and Mobile’s carbon footprint would diminish as fewer people would travel by automobile.
Another benefit that is perhaps less apparent is economic.
“Local businesses benefit from cycling,” Blanton says. “Studies show the likelihood of a cyclist stopping in to shop is higher than the automobile when the infrastructure is in place.”
Team Share the Road hosts numerous events in order to not only promote cycling awareness but to help the community as well.
“We have hosted children’s safety classes, bicycle maintenance classes, bicycle rodeos, and bicycling events such as the Joy To Life Ride, Sunny South Criterium, The Tour de Bay Criterium, the Rides of Silence, and assisted Mobile Infirmary with their duathlons,” Blanton says. “We have also held clinics for local indigents, repairing bicycles and fitting those bicycles with lights.”
Team Share the Road is not the only organization in Mobile dedicated to cycling awareness.
Mobilians on Bikes was started as a Facebook group by local cycling advocate Nik Hallberg. The goal of the page is to use social media to bring together people in the Mobile cycling community for rides, news and events. It is now the largest cycling Facebook group in Alabama.
Another effort by Blanton, Ben Brenner, and Jeff Mroz was to create a website (www.bicyclemobile.org) for all things cycling related in Mobile and Baldwin counties.
“We needed another instrument to share cycling-related news and organize group rides and petitions that was more comprehensive and robust than a Facebook page. There are limits to what you can do on Facebook.”
About 2 months ago, members of the Mobile cycling community created a Mobile chapter of Black Girls Do Bike, a national organization based in D.C. that encourages African-American women to cycle.
“In many of our group rides, we had a number of black men that rode with us but virtually no black women. We want to be inclusive and get that sector of the community involved.”
Overall, Blanton is hopeful that things will improve.
“The growth of cycling has not escaped notice from the current city and county administration and the Metropolitan Planning Organization. There has been fantastic support behind the scenes to improve all aspects of cycling for Mobile. It does take time and money but the framework is in place.”