While the history of the modern bicycle goes back two centuries, the pedal-powered transportation device is more popular than ever. One study suggested 67 million Americans rode a bike in 2014, while the number of bicycles sold each year is more than double that of passenger cars.
Whether they are racing bikes, road bikes or mountain bikes, it is clear the activity has stood the test of time. But while Alabama is normally ranked near the bottom of bicycle-friendly states, a renaissance is taking place in Mobile as a local group of citizens — in conjunction with the efforts of other like-minded entities — works to make biking as safe and accessible as possible.
Three of the key advocates recently met with Lagniappe to discuss the latest changes involving bikes in Mobile: Jeff DeQuattro, a founder of the Delta Bike Project; Corinna Luce, who volunteers with Mobile United; and Monica Warren, avid Mobile cyclist.
“We’ve been working together for a year,” DeQuattro said. “Our main goal is to make roads safer for bikes and vehicles, to improve the quality of life for all.”
Luce said she had been asking for quite some time to get marked bicycle lanes around town. She eventually met with DeQuattro and then Warren, who was driven to improve safety after her husband, Claude, was struck while riding his bike.
“My hope is to build a bridge, start a conversation, between cyclists and drivers,” Warren said. “Make friends. Friends who look out for each other.”
Luce, who prefers the more welcoming term “people on bikes” to “cyclists,” added that “if motorists realize that the person on that bike is a neighbor, father, mother, waitress and more — then it makes a connection to the community for them. We are working to foster positive attitudes and show that bicycling is a legitimate and mainstream form of transportation, rather than an alternative.
“Having repetitive signage and bike lanes would show the city officials support this,” she said. “Cars and bikes need to co-exist.”
“We are gaining more credibility,” DeQuattro said. “We are getting support from ALDOT [Alabama Department of Transportation] and from Mayor [Sandy] Stimpson. It is helping to build momentum.”
One recent experiment has been reserving the Bankhead Tunnel for cyclists and pedestrians on several Saturdays from 6-9 a.m. The group said it has been a smashing success, and demonstrates the demand for access to both sides of the Mobile River.
“ALDOT closed the tunnel to vehicular traffic,” Luce said. “ALDOT estimated that 1,200 people went through the tunnel on Aug. 6. This also had an economic impact. It created a great atmosphere downtown. I know a lot of businesses in town supported the cyclists.”
While cyclists can travel under the river during limited times, another new development was the introduction of the “State Law: 3 Feet Minimum” signs along the Causeway that were funded by ALDOT. The law, which went into effect last year, requires drivers to maintain a 3-foot space between their vehicles and people on bicycles.
Luce said she first noticed “3 Feet” signs while visiting Auburn. Upon returning to Mobile, she contacted Stimpson and Mobile traffic engineer Jennifer White to discuss cycling needs. While city funding was not available, magnets and stickers were sold through the Delta Bike Project and bike stores to raise awareness and money for signage. So far about $2,000 has been raised.
Luce said she was told by White that Mobile has plans to install “Bicycle May Use Full Lane” signs on Old Shell Road from University Boulevard to Broad Street. She added that the city hopes to install signs on Dauphin Street since it will not be re-striped with bike lanes in the near future.
Closing the gap
“There are ‘Share The Road’ signs up around Mobile and Baldwin counties, but the ‘3 Feet’ signs help everyone to see that cyclists have the legal right to use the road,” DeQuattro said.
“Still, the Cochrane-Africatown Bridge is not safe to ride on. With Interstate 10, we are physically separated.”
This directly relates to the proposed I-10 bridge that would replace the current Wallace Tunnel as the main conveyance across the Mobile River. Many groups have been pushing to add protected access for pedestrians and cyclists on plans for the massive structure.
“While the opening of the Bankhead to pedestrians and cyclists has been successful and has had very few unintended consequences,” DeQuattro said, “this should not be an alternative to including bicycle and pedestrian access on the planned I-10 bridge.”
DeQuattro pointed to a report at www.AdvocacyAdvance.org, which is a partnership of the Alliance for Biking & Walking and the League of American Bicyclists. According to the “Bridge Access Report,” the U.S. Department of Transportation has reaffirmed the need to accommodate cyclists on bridges built or refurbished with federal money.
The organization’s policy statement on bicycling and walking recommends “integrating bicycle and pedestrian accommodation on new, rehabilitated and limited-access bridges” with connections to streets or paths. Also, Title 23 of the U.S. Code, Sec. 217, requires that bridges being replaced with federal funds include safe accommodation for bicyclists.
Ironically, a key hold-up to the plan is city of Mobile Code Sec. 39-13, which prohibits pedestrians and bicycles on certain interstate highways. “It shall be unlawful and an offense against the city for pedestrians to be upon, or for any person to operate a bicycle, a nonmotorized vehicle or a motor-driven cycle of less than ten (10) horsepower, on any part of Interstate 10 and Interstate Highway 65, including the entrance roads thereto, at any place within the city and its police jurisdiction.”
DeQuattro says that having a separate and protected path on the bridge could help to alleviate the city’s restrictions.
One major project that is already moving forward is the Mobile Greenway/Blueway Initiative. As previously reported in Lagniappe, a group of community leaders, local nonprofit organizations, motivated citizens and the Mobile County Health Department joined forces in 2014 to build a network of multi-use trails and kayak/canoe launches from Langan Municipal Park in West Mobile, along Three Mile Creek and to downtown. From this point, the Crepe Myrtle Trail would pick up all the way to Dog River.
The Crepe Myrtle Trail Ride, sponsored by Mobile United, has become one of the area’s most popular biking events over the last three years. Starting at Arlington Park, the trek goes around the runway of Brookley Field before winding down Bayfront Road. Hundreds of riders enjoy this annual adventure.
One Mobile for people on bikes
The group of cyclists applauds two recent city efforts. The first is the Water Street Redevelopment Project.
“Plans have been finalized to reconfigure Water Street to include buffered bike lanes adjacent to existing sidewalks,” DeQuattro said. “The plan also includes downsizing from three travel lanes in each direction to two travel lanes each direction. Additionally, the Government Street/Water Street intersection will have a large pedestrian crosswalk, making access to Mobile’s waterfront safer and more enjoyable.”
The other major news involves the federal TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant the city received in July. According to the U.S. DOT website, this year’s awards focus on capital projects generating economic development and improving access to reliable, safe and affordable transportation for communities, both urban and rural.
“The city of Mobile was recently awarded a $14.4 million grant to redevelop the Beauregard Street/Broad Street corridor through to I-10 into a complete street that will accommodate multiple user-types and connect neighborhoods, schools and churches to downtown Mobile,” DeQuattro said. “The project could include wide, separated multi-use paths for pedestrians, as well as accommodations for on-street bikers.”
Mayor Stimpson has been a major proponent of encouraging healthy lifestyles for his constituents.
“Creating more bike lanes and sidewalks across the city has been a priority of this administration since taking office and was identified as a priority by our citizens during the Map for Mobile long-range planning process,” Stimpson told Lagniappe. “To be a family-friendly city, we need to be a pedestrian-friendly city.
“It is important that we provide the citizens of Mobile with the necessary infrastructure to feel comfortable walking or biking across the city of Mobile. Whether it is creating a safer, more bikeable Water Street or connecting downtown Mobile with the Three Mile Creek trail, making Mobile pedestrian- and bike-friendly will connect our neighborhoods and businesses and move us forward on the path to becoming One Mobile.”
Basketful of projects
The bicycle advocates listed several other projects that are helping the cause:
Local bike shops — Mobile and Baldwin counties boast nine bike shops, including the Delta Bike Project. These shops do more than sell and service bikes. They create a community by organizing rides and connecting people.
Downtown Mobile Mobility Study — The South Alabama Regional Planning Commission completed a study by a consultant to identify barriers to Americans with Disability Act accessibility, dangerous intersections and potential for cycling infrastructure in the downtown Henry Aaron Loop. DeQuattro is hopeful, but said it is still being determined if the city will implement any of the findings.
Neighborhood plans — A plan for the Peninsula of Mobile (the area along Mobile Bay and the Dauphin Island Parkway flanked by Dog River) includes the incorporation of multiple miles of bike trails along with canoe/kayak trails and launches. Some of these paths would overlap with the Crepe Myrtle Trail. Another group, the Midtown Mobile Movement, is seeking ways to add signage and infrastructure to make it safer for bikes and pedestrians in Midtown neighborhoods.
Bike lanes on Spring Hill Avenue — City officials and ALDOT are working to redevelop a stretch of the busy road from Interstate 65 to Broad Street. The area from Catherine Street to Broad would have bike lanes on both sides. This is important, as this section has been very dangerous for walkers and persons on bikes. Nationally in 2014, 726 cyclists died in crashes with motor vehicles. The Mobile area has seen multiple crashes involving vehicles, pedestrians and people on bikes.
Cycling groups — Over the last six years, Mobile has developed an active cycling community. A catalyst for this is Mobilians on Bikes, a forum on Facebook where citizens organize rides every week. There are at least 10 local Facebook pages or Yahoo groups exchanging cycling information. In addition, the nonprofit Delta Bike Project has put approximately 500 bikes on the road over the last three years. Many have gone into the hands of those who have no other form of transportation and were earned through their various programs such as Build-a-Bike, Read-to-Ride and Time-is-Money.
Fix-it stations — Through community support and fundraisers, the Delta Bike Project has raised funding for and installed 10 do-it-yourself bicycle repair stations and pumps throughout Mobile. Along with the DBP building at 561 St. Francis St., the locations include 15 Place, LoDa Bier Garten, Spring Hill College’s Student Center, Cream & Sugar Café, the Buick Building, Arlington Park, McNally Park, Dauphin Island Sea Lab and Fin’s Bar on Dauphin Island.
Livable Communities Coalition — This group, hosted by the Alabama Coastal Foundation, convenes a collection of community cycling leaders. It is currently working with state officials to add bicycle safety questions to the Alabama driver’s license exam.
Team Share the Road — This group has been around south Alabama for several years. It continually works on bicycle safety awareness, infrastructure implementation and with youth at several bicycle rodeos.
Planning for the next generation
So what does it all mean for Mobile? Luce has an idea.
“Do you wonder why young people leave Mobile?” she asked. “We need amenities for the Millennial Generation. Europeans expect cycling infrastructures; it is part of their culture. It should be the same for Americans.”
And this does not include the health benefits of riding a bike instead of driving a car.
“Alabama currently ranks No. 5 in obesity, with 33.5 percent of the population obese,” Warren said. “With just a little work and creativity, Alabama can begin pedaling its way down the scales.”
DeQuattro said all of these projects are important to make biking and walking better for the future.
“The Three Mile Creek Trail, the Water Street redevelopment project and the Broad Street redevelopment will help to significantly advance the MGI [Mobile Greenway Initiative] with the creation of over five miles of separates/protected bike lanes, sidewalks and multi-use trails,” he said. “The city of Mobile’s Parks and Recreation Department has adopted the MGI as their own and is incorporating the trail into grant applications, capital funds expenditures, annual budgets, private fundraising, public/private partnerships and in the planning for road construction projects.”