Development

Replacing four-wheeled commutes with two: Sustain Charlotte hopes to promote biking to work

Jordan Moore, the new biking director of Sustain Charlotte, with his bike at Romare Bearden Park across Church St. from the Sustain Charlotte offices on Brevard Court. He is the group's new biking director and is trying to encourage more bike-friendly development.
Jordan Moore, the new biking director of Sustain Charlotte, with his bike at Romare Bearden Park across Church St. from the Sustain Charlotte offices on Brevard Court. He is the group's new biking director and is trying to encourage more bike-friendly development. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

“Bike-friendly” is a big buzzword these days, with new apartments touting their bicycle workshops, bike-sharing programs spreading and events scheduled this month to promote biking to work as an alternative in car-centric Charlotte.

And though the automobile is by far Charlotte’s most popular mode of transportation, Jordan Moore hopes to turn biking from a recreational activity associated with Spandex-clad weekend warriors into something much more basic: a simple, safe, viable way to get from Point A to Point B.

Moore is the new bicycle program director for Sustain Charlotte, a nonprofit founded by Shannon Binns to encourage green development patterns and practices.

He grew up in Charlotte, but the Providence High School grad’s passion for sustainability and biking kicked off after a post-college stint in France, where he worked on a vineyard and saw how Europeans got around with far less reliance on cars. That was reinforced earlier this month, when he traveled to a summit in Copenhagen.

“Here, we have a fascination with being a cyclist,” said Moore. Cycling becomes part of people’s identity, with expensive bikes and riding outfits marking many riders, he explained. Friction between cars and cyclists isn’t uncommon, especially on heavily trafficked routes like the Myers Park “Booty Loop.”

“In Copenhagen, it’s just one way you do one thing, go to work,” said Moore. “People ride their bikes because it’s easier, faster and they have the infrastructure.”

The Knight Foundation Cycling Fund gave Sustain Charlotte a $204,000 grant earlier this year for a two-year initiative to develop and promote bicycling events and programs in the Charlotte area, which the group used to fund Moore’s position. He wants to change the “carchitecture” that dominates Charlotte’s spread-out footprint.

93 percentShare of Charlotteans who drive to work

0.08 percentShare of Charlotteans who bike to work

Moore’s job is to serve as a hub for all of the bike-centered efforts in Charlotte, and to lobby agencies such as the Charlotte Department of Transportation and Charlotte Area Transit System to consider funding more bike-friendly development. Moore has started creating new daily counts of bike riders in the city to get an accurate picture of ridership and hopes to push for measures such as protected bike lanes, in which cars and bikes are physically separated with barriers into dedicated lanes on roadways.

“We’ve got to create a connected network that’s protected,” said Moore. While common in Europe and available in the U.S. in some cities, such as Washington, D.C. and San Francisco, there are none in Charlotte. “People won't start commuting by bike until they can see the lines on the road...More people will do it if it’s perceived as safe.”

It might seem to be an auspicious moment for such programs. Developers, hoping to lure millennial renters, are quick to tout bike-centered amenities in their new apartments. Grubb Properties’ new Link apartments in Elizabeth will have a bike workshop, as will Proffitt Dixon’s Presley Uptown apartments.

The city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County are holding a celebration Saturday to unveil the final route of the Cross Charlotte Trail, a 26-mile trail that will run from Pineville through uptown and UNC Charlotte to Cabarrus County. The plan is to connect a string of major employment centers on a bicycle route. When it’s complete, 80,000 residents will be within a half-mile of the trail.

Mecklenburg County commissioners endorsed a plan this week to build another 50 miles of greenway by 2020, linking many of the existing greenways and creating more opportunities to get around on a bike. And the fourth annual N.C. Bike Summit is planned to kick off Thursday at UNC Charlotte’s uptown campus.

Still, despite the momentum behind bicycling, the statistics show there is a long way to go. According to Sustain Charlotte’s annual sustainability report card, just 0.08 percent of Charlotteans commuted to work by bike in 2011, the most recent year available. That was well below the 0.59 percent of workers commuting by bike nationwide, which is itself a tiny fraction.

In Charlotte, about 93 percent of people drive to work, the vast majority in a car by themselves. While new, mixed-use developments such as Waverly in south Charlotte tout their walkability and friendliness to car alternatives, they are still, for the most part, accessible mainly by car for people who don’t live there.

And there are plenty of safety concerns about biking in the road. In September, two cyclists, Al Gorman and Charles “Moe” Adkins, were killed in collisions with motor vehicles in Charlotte.

I confess, I am part of the 93 percent that drives, despite living less than two miles from the Observer’s offices. I always have an excuse not to take my bike: I need to wear a suit today, or it’s too cold, or it’s too hot, or I might need my car after work. So this week, I decided it was time to give it a try. For the first time in six years, I biked to work.

My route took me down East Boulevard and up the trail running along the Lynx Blue Line into uptown. Anticipating an arduous commute, I left early to give myself extra time. Instead, it took me less time to ride to work than it usually does to drive, since I didn’t have to wait in the typical 8:50 a.m. Stonewall Street traffic jam. I unintentionally got to work early, and felt physically energized. Riding home was the same story.

So were there downsides? I felt safe the whole time, but I admit I did feel like I stuck out a bit. I only saw three other bike commuters on my route, and I felt a bit silly the few times I had to wobble my way around tight corners. My legs and behind were pretty tired at the end of the day, though I assume that would go away with a bit more regular riding.

Moore’s message as he embarks on making Charlotte more bike-friendly is, at its core, pretty simple: Even though Charlotte is a sprawling, New South city built with the car in mind, getting around by bike isn’t just possible, it’s enjoyable. And he’s out to make it easier.

“People can do it,” said Moore. “People can totally do it.”

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo

Want to get on a bike?

Check out bicycle routes next weekend and explore if bicycle commuting might be an option for you at Biketoberfest on Saturday, Oct. 17. The program, hosted by Sustain Charlotte, kicks off at 3 p.m. and follows a scavenger hunt route around uptown and surrounding neighborhoods. You can walk or ride the light rail as well, and an after-party is scheduled at Triple C Brewing Co.

Get more information and register at www.sustaincharlotte.org/biketoberfest.

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