Walking, riding, skipping into a healthier future
“It was my first independent ‘adult’ treat: When I finally could use my bicycle as transportation, I was very excited to ride to the river,” I remembered aloud. “Once I got down here, it was like, what to do? So, I came to The Scoop and had French vanilla ice cream in a waffle cone—which was about all my weekly budget could afford. I felt terribly grown up.”
I handed a cup of cookies and cream with hot fudge to my friend, Alison.
“This is nice,” she commented. “Really picturesque. I rode my bike to the hospital.”
Sitting outside The Scoop in the courtyard of The Cotton Exchange on a beautiful sunny day, the breeze rippled Alison’s hair as we discussed all things bicycle and pedestrian. Right now we are winding up the public comment phase of the development of a Comprehensive Greenway Plan for our city and county. Alison has recently become car-free and plunged herself into the world of WAVE Transit, cycling and walking.
Simultaneously, I have been trying to bring myself as close to car-free as I can. When I start adding up the money spent on gas, repairs and maintenance, taxes, registration and insurance, I just try really hard not to drive if I can avoid it. I walk to work most days (unless I need to take my dad somewhere, which would require driving). Walking to and from work is a wonderful way for me to see my neighbors and get caught up on life both with humanity and nature. As a rule, I try not to talk on my cell phone (unless it is absolutely unavoidable). Of course, it is also exercise for health-conscious people who like that sort of thing.
In current-day news and conversation, our energy future and dependence or independence from foreign oil during election season seems to be missing from the larger national conversation; yet, it is a serious discussion of alternative transportation. On a grassroots level, it is definitely happening. One example would be the proposed East Coast Greenway, which would be a hard-surface, multi-use trail that would run from Maine to Florida. To put this in practical terms: Eventually, one would be able to bicycle or walk from here to Washington, D.C. by using the East Coast Greenway Trail. I say “eventually” because it is far from complete. Wilmington would be on that trail, and the city and New Hanover County have been working to connect to it.
Last week three public meetings were held in different areas of the county—downtown, Carolina Beach and Ogden—for the citizens to learn about the Greenway Plan. Alison and I were on our way to the one downtown when we stopped to get ice cream and reminisce about the beginning of cycling and the freedom brought with it.
Especially last week—in the throes of this fabulous weather—wandering around outdoors for transportation has been appealing. The Greenway project should be on every citizen’s mind, now that he and she can still weigh in their opinions. It includes the Gary Shell Cross City Trail, which is going to have five “fix-it-stations” along the trail—which have been funded by Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC through the Get Outside NC initiative. One has been installed on Ann Street, and folks can see it just past the corner of 8th. The stations come equipped with a tool set, bike pump and stand—“all attached and cemented into the ground,” Amy Beatty, superintendent of recreation for the City of Wilmington, confirmed.
Even though the executive director of the Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization laughed when I asked him if he rode his bike to work, the Greenway is starting to take shape as a thoughtful commuter project. For example, when you look at the proposed maps, the public schools figure predominately in the shaping of the trail and planning, probably thanks to the National Safe Routes to School initiative, which North Carolina has joined.
The Greenway project wants to put a lot of emphasis on multi-use paths for building community, and certainly they do. Beyond just neighbors meeting each other, the addition of multi-use paths has a very real economic impact on our community. First there is the obvious job-creation answer for the construction and maintenance of the trails. The Political Economy Research Institute of University of Mass. at Amherst estimates the construction of multi-use trails creates 9.6 jobs for every $1 million spent. Consider that in terms of not just our local Greenway route but also the East Coast Greenway project we will be tying into.
This project means more money invested in our local bicycle shops on initial purchases and long-term maintenance but, more importantly, money isn’t spent on foreign oil dependence. We keep talking about energy security, but we seem to keep missing the connective link: We could ride our bicycles, and walk more or drive less to make a real impact. Sure, we aren’t a large city, but if we start making these changes, supply and demand follows. Perhaps the city, too, will take note and better planning for easier pedestrian routes will follow.
When thinking about an investment choice like this, on one hand we can deplete money from our own pockets and possibly from the economy. On the other, we can save money, improve our health, enjoy nature, family and neighbors, and spend a more thoughtful amount locally, which could potentially create meaningful jobs.
Wow! What a choice…
Don’t take the extreme here: I’m not saying don’t drive at all. But I am asking: Why not drive a little less? Use the infrastructure our city and county is building for us (and hopefully will continue to expand upon), and keep a little more money here. (Not to mention it is free to park a bike! No money goes to Lanier Parking, which exits rapidly to Atlanta!)
So, fed up with hunting for a parking space at the beach? Take the bus to The Galleria and ride your bike the rest of the way! Or if you are feeling really ambitious, try the 11-mile River to the Sea Bikeway (www.rivertoseabikeway.com) from downtown to Wrightsville Beach. The view is spectacular.