As multifamily development continues to explode in downtown Greenville and its outer fringes, bike advocates say it’s a key time in the city’s quest to become home to more non-car commuters.
“Just walk from the Peace Center to Westfield Street and you can see all the development. If all those units are sold or rented, it will dramatically change downtown’s vibrancy,” said Frank Mansbach, executive director of Bike Walk Greenville. “Just think if everyone who lived downtown had to drive a car to get to a grocery store.”
The city is in the middle of updating its bike master plan and Mansbach and other cyclists are pushing for Greenville to first concentrate on getting bike paths — especially protected bike paths that use parked cars, planters, bollards, striped buffers or curbs to separate cars and bikes — into more of the central core of the city.
“People need a way to make that 1- to 3-mile trip without having to get in a car,” he said.
Greenville has the Greenville Health System Swamp Rabbit Trail, an over-the-top success that attracts all levels of cyclers, from the serious bike commuter to recreational bicyclists who are trying to pedal their way to better health to families with little kids trying to spend some quality time together. In fact, the Swamp Rabbit Trail, which runs from Greenville to Travelers Rest, is so popular it is probably at or very close to capacity, especially on weekends, said City Councilwoman Amy Ryberg Doyle, a staunch supporter of bike lanes and complete streets.
The issue is how to connect a growing number of cyclists to the trail and to destinations such as offices, downtown restaurants and entertainment and shopping — safely.
“The time is ripe for renewed interest and investment in bike infrastructure,” said Jean Crowther, Greenville office manager for Alta Planning, the consultant working on the bike plan. “The need for it will only increase with new development.”
Greenville’s biggest challenge is a lack of connected, confortable bikeways, which consist of protected bike lanes, quiet neighborhood streets that feel comfortable and the Swamp Rabbit Trail and its connectors, Crowther said.
“Greenville is making progress with pieces of that, but it’s at a tipping point,” Crowther said. “It’s really tough work connecting a network. If it doesn’t get someone from where they’re starting to where they’re going, they’re not going to use it.”
Andy Johnston and his wife, Brooke, commuted by bike in places they lived before moving to Greenville. But he said they haven’t felt as comfortable bike commuting in Greenville.
“People aren’t used to it and some of the roads aren’t wide enough,” he said.
Johnston said his office on Pettigru Street is bike-friendly from his Earle Street home. But when his wife tried to bike commute to Greenville Hospital System on Grove Road, it was much more difficult, especially once the automobile drivers had started their morning commutes.
Time for protected bike lanes?
Greenville, which was designated a bronze-level Bicycle Friendly Community in 2009 and again in 2013, put its first bike lane down about a decade ago. In the five years since the first bike master plan was completed, the city added 7.5 miles of bike lanes.
A temporary protected bike lane that uses parked cars to separate bikes from automobile traffic has been up for a month on Broad Street. The protected bike lane was put in through a partnership between Bikeville, a city of Greenville bike initiative, and Bike Walk Greenville. It is believed to be the first protected bike lane in South Carolina.
The lane will be taken down for the city’s Red, White and Boom Fourth of July celebration, said Edward Kinney, senior landscape architect for the city and coordinator of the city’s bike efforts. Kinney said the city would like to make the protected bike lane permanent, but no money has been earmarked for the project, which could cost at least a few thousand dollars.
Mansbach said it would make sense to put protected bike lanes on Washington and McBee avenues and River, Spring and Broad streets.
“We think the city should concentrate on the streets they own, the 1- to 3-mile trips,” he said.
Doyle said with the city budgeting more money for street resurfacing and neighborhood sidewalks, it opens the door to increase the city’s bike lanes.
Augusta Street, Pleasantburg Drive and Wade Hampton Boulevard, some of the city’s other corridors, will be harder to deal with because they are state roads, Kinney said. In those cases, the city instead comes up with bike bypasses that use side roads and signage to show cyclists how they can get to where they’re going and stay off roads with higher speed limits and heavier traffic.
Laurens Road could be served by a future SRT extension from Cleveland Park to CU-ICAR. The project will use an abandoned railroad line, and bridges are supposed to be built over Laurens Road, Verdae Boulevard and Haywood Road.
But bike lanes aren’t the only component of the bike master plan. It includes a bike-share program, hosting cycling championships to raise awareness, Bike to School days, education programs and bike racks on Greenlink buses.
The City Council is expected to get its first look at the updated master plan in late July.