Profiles in Service: Bike Athens

As the weather gets warmer, more people choose to walk or bike to class, work, or wherever they might be going around town. While Athens is a great town for walking and biking, there is always work to be done to provide people with the resources to use whatever method of transportation they choose, and to do so safely.

BikeAthens, a local nonprofit that advocates transportation choices (including but not limited to biking), is one organization that works to give the people of Athens alternative ways to get around and helps them do so safely.

I met with Tyler Dewey, the executive director of BikeAthens, Monday to learn some more about the organization.

BikeAthens has been around since 1991 as a transportation advocacy organization. Tyler described BikeAthens’ mission as promoting “biking, walking, and transit uses as solutions for transportation problems around town,” and he said they go about promoting these solutions through “advocacy, community service, and education.”

Tyler also expounded on why biking and other alternate methods of transportation are important in our town. He talked mostly about freedom and safety as they relate to transportation choices, saying, “Anybody, I think, should have the ability to choose what mode they want to travel whether they want to ride their bike to work, walk, take the bus. But especially for our [Bike Recycling Program], there are people in town who can’t afford to have a car and it’s important for them not only to have a bike which we provide for them through the bike recycling program, but also to have a safe way to travel to where they’re going. So for me, I always think of freedom for choice and safety for travel.”

Specifically in Athens, he said, freedom and safety in transportation choices are important and somewhat easily achievable. Tyler elaborated on the benefits our town has in terms of transportation and on what needs to be improved: “I grew up in the Midwest, and I think what makes Athens good for alternative transportation is, one, the weather. You know, you don’t have to deal with trying to commute by bike in the middle of a snowstorm or anything like that. But also I think the city has acknowledged the need for alternative transportation choices. In 2011, BikeAthens helped with advocation, and Athens was named a bronze level biker friendly community, and that lasts for four years. So, we have started to see more bike lanes in town, the greenway’s expanding, so we’re trying to build on that. For example we’re working with the community stake holders for Prince Avenue to try to make Prince Avenue safer for transportation. It’s currently, the last numbers I heard, 6th highest crash rates for bicycles in the state, and in the last five years, pedestrian accidents have gone up 160%. So we
feel . . .there can be changes made to make it safer for walkers and bikers.”

Tyler also let me know about particular changes BikeAthens wishes to see in the future and what changes Athens has already made:

“We’d like to see more bike lanes on Prince Avenue, but also in other areas we’d like to see more bike parking around town. We promote density and local businesses, and bike parking is a great way to bring a lot more people to downtown without taking up a lot of space that could be used for a store or any other reason. You can get a lot of bikes downtown more easily than a lot of cars.”

“But it’s not just bikes. We helped pass the Complete Streets policy. We worked with Alice Kinman, who used to be an Athens Clarke County Commissioner. Under the policy, designers have to consider all road users. So the have to consider walkers and transit users and cyclists as well as cars, so hopefully the roads won’t be as car-centric in the future.”

Along with advocating these policy changes, BikeAthens works hands-on to provide people in the community with transportation choices. Much of BikeAthens’ community service comes from their bike recycling program. Through this program, BikeAthens takes donated bikes, repairs them, and recycles them back out to service agencies around town, like The Salvation Army and Athens Area Homeless Shelter, where individuals in need of bicycles can have access to them. BikeAthens also sells their recycled bikes to individuals through bike sales that they host 2 or 3 times a year.

In addition to the bike recycling program, BikeAthens offers plenty of resources to people seeking alternate ways to get around town. BikeAthens received a grant from the Governor’s Office on Highway Safety last year, and they’re putting it to good use by offering bike safety training. Tyler says these training sessions can help bike users who may not feel safe or comfortable riding their bikes on Athens’ streets, and that the classes BikeAthens offers help to “get people used to riding in traffic and learn the rules of the road and also how to handle your bike around town.” There will be a few more of these safety sessions coming up this Summer and throughout the year.

For Athenians who want to get around town without using cars, but may be unfamiliar with alternate means of transportation, BikeAthens works to make matters easier. Tyler told me,“We also provide a lot of informational materials. We have a bike map that we’ve color coded all the roads in Athens according to the speed and density of traffic so people can try to plan out a route. It also locates all the bus stops; all the Athens Transit buses have bike racks. And then we also go to the Farmer’s Market once a month to give out information for people who curious about using bikes for transportation.”

For anyone wishing to get involved with BikeAthens, the bike recycling program is all volunteer-run and always in need of volunteers. The BRP shop is open Mondays and Wednesdays 6-8:30 PM and Sundays 2-4:30 PM, and there is now a women’s only night at the BRP shop on Tuesdays 6-8:30 PM. Rest assured, you do not need any bike skills, maintenance knowledge, or tools to volunteer.

BikeAthens’ biggest fundraiser is coming up later this year, and will also be in need of volunteers. On September 6th, BikeAthens will team up with New Belgium Brewery as they bring their Clips Film and Beer tour, a short film festival, to Athens. New Belgium will bring beer for people to sample, and all the funds raised will benefit BikeAthens.

In the meantime, BikeAthens has some other projects in the works for this Summer. They are in the process of making a new edition of the bike map, updating from the 2010 version. Tyler also said BikeAthens may sponsor a kids’ bike rodeo to get kids on bikes and teach them about bike safety before the new school year begins. Also due to the Governor’s Office on Highway Safety grant, BikeAthens has purchased a great deal of bike lights which they will distribute through bike light giveaways and other events hoping to increase visibility for anyone biking at night.

Tyler Dewey along with fellow bike advocates will be speaking about safe bike equipment at the GOHS Highway Safety Conference in Savannah this August.

For more information on what BikeAthens is up to and how you can get involved, visit them on Facebook or at their website.