Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wheels are Turning

Growing up in Northwest Woods, I didn't really think about whether Oconee County was a safe place to ride a bike or not. Our bikes took us to the NWW pool, or to the tennis courts at Herman C. Michael, or up to Butler's Crossroads (then known as the "Four Way Stop" to most of us) for a drink. On some summer mornings, I just got up, got on my bike, and took off, gradually extending the radius from home as I got older (and as my mom worried less about my riding).

My teenage journeys on my 12 speed Raleigh (sans helmet, of course) with tennis racket grip on the handlebars eventually took me to exotic locales like downtown Watkinsville, or down Union Church Road to Bishop, or down the "big hill" one of my high school teammates nicknamed the "speed bump" on New High Shoals Road, past Paradise Falls in New High Shoals, and all the way to Bostwick. Pit stops at the Golden Pantry for Mountain Dew (this passed for a sports drink when I was a teen) were a must.

Now, 20 years later, I still enjoy riding the country roads of Oconee County. The traffic count has increased significantly, I don't stop for Mountain Dew, and I do wear a helmet, but it is just as much fun as ever.

So you can imagine how pleased I was to see the Oconee County Cycling Organization kick off last night with an hour long meeting at Jittery Joe's in Watkinsville. The organization's tentative mission is to encourage more cycling in Oconee and create an environment for safer cycling for those who prefer self powered, two wheeled forms of transportation for recreation or commuting.

About 20 citizens attended the meeting, as well as Brent Buice from BikeAthens, who provided background on their organization, tips for organizing, and advice on how to get off the ground. The attendees were a strong cross section of Oconee citizens, including residents of unincorporated Oconee, Farmington, Bogart, and Watkinsville. Most were recreational riders and commuters, with several who were relatively new to cycling. As an added bonus, no one wore spandex to the meeting!

Discussions centered around safety in general, fostering greater awareness of cyclists on key roads, potential changes on Simonton Bridge Road, future land use and its impact on cycling, and giving back to the community through education programs at schools, helmet donation programs, etc. The consensus among attendees was to keep the focus of the group on cycling rather than that of BikeAthens, which has evolved into an advocacy group on broader transportation issues.

At the end of the meeting, an interim board of seven was elected, with retired Air Force Lt. Colonel Richard McSpadden as chair. The board will spend the next 180 days developing by-laws, doing strategic planning, and establishing the organization as a 501(c)3 so it can be up and officially active by late spring.

I have high hopes that this group can be a positive and effective advocacy group for cycling issues in the community -- so far, it is a great example of citizen led participation and advocacy. If you'd like to get involved or want more information, click on the FaceBook page linked above or comment and I will get you more information or added to the listserv. As always, let me know your thoughts!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Morning Run Through

A few items of interest this morning:

  • Lee Becker has posted a good wrap up of last night's commission meeting. One item of critical news is that the regional economic development effort will be discussed from 6-7 p.m. at the commission's Nov. 3 meeting. Let's hope that John Daniell and Jim Luke can find a way to keep this moving and get an important initiative back on track (full disclosure: I was a member of the committee that put together the regional economic development recommendations, and am a big supporter of a regional approach).
  • Hard to believe it has been 10 years since OCHS won its only state football title. While it was a magical year, it has unfairly changed the expectation levels for a program that has been mostly mediocre for the better part of its history. Maybe Tony Taylor and Tyson Browning can suit up again and help us take on Apalachee.
  • Reminder that the Oconee County Cycling advocacy group is having its kick off meeting tonight at the Jittery Joe's in Watkinsville at 8:30.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Don Norris

Oconee County lost one of its leading lights when Don Norris passed away earlier this week. The Athens Banner-Herald and Oconee Enterprise both have nice stories up, and Dan posted something as well.

Don was the dean of the Oconee County Commission when I joined the Watkinsville City Council in 2003. His long tenure allowed him to recall details and subtleties of past government agreements and zoning decisions. He was wise in the ways of government and people, and was as committed to our community as any local leader (both stories above chronicle his involvement in detail).

I didn't know him that well personally, but the thing I admired most about Don as a politician was his unswerving honesty. Whether it was going to be a popular position or not, he let you know where he stood. He didn't change his story or shade his opinions to accommodate those who might believe differently. Most importantly, he always had the community's best interests at heart. Don, we'll miss your smile, your attitude, and your service. Rest in peace.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Here and There

News and notes from Kansas to Georgia:

  • Overland Park, Kansas was my home for two days last week. I was there for the SSTI conference (hotel and conference center pictured), and learned a good deal about technology based economic development (TBED, for short) that can be applied to Athens-Clarke and Oconee. Hope to share some of those learnings, as well as my impressions of Overland Park and any other "lessons learned" that might apply to our region later this week.
  • A new Oconee county cycling advocacy group is kicking off its activities with a meeting at 8:30 on Wednesday night at Jittery Joe's in Watkinsville. If you are passionate about cycling and live in Oconee, please try to join us. Details on the Facebook page.
  • Lee Becker has a good analysis of the pickle Oconee County finds itself in on Hard Labor Creek reservoir on his blog. I have said all along that financing reservoirs based on future revenues is a folly with growth slowing and pressure to reduce water. We must find a new way to finance reservoirs, and it looks like necessity is finally forcing our government to do so.
  • Tom Friedman has a great column that everyone who is passionate about education needs to read. His contention: that the U.S. needs to educate for innovation and creativity, as those are the skills tomorrow's workforce needs. An education and just "doing the job" won't be enough.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Rail Line

Check out Dan Matthews "Cab Ride" through Watkinsville on the train -- not sure if he indeed caught a ride back from Colham Ferry to Morgan Manor via rail, but this is a neat video.

Our rail line has long term potential to be a great asset for our community. As rail/trail combo that would allow cyclists and joggers to travel from South Oconee to Athens, as a resource for our industrial area, as a potential commuter rail line (20-30 years from now) to Athens, etc.

For now, my kids enjoy watching when the train happens to come by. My wife Susan remembers the train running daily past the house when she visited her grandmother, and waving to it from the front porch. The only down side to having a quiet rail line are the old train cars that are stored on the tracks between Watkinsville and Bishop. Although some feature graffiti, they aren't exactly works of art.

Today the tracks are under a long term lease with Hartwell Railroad, which serves Southwire and the University of Georgia. However, if you could wave a magic wand, what would you do with the rail line?

Back to the Blog

Have had a lot going on lately (including a new addition to our family), but hope to get back to blogging with some regularity. A lot has happened since our last posts, including a series of brush fires over the potential widening of Simonton Bridge Road (largely a bad idea), a silly scramble over a dirt parking lot in Athens, some local folks floating a ban on bicyclists (seriously bad idea), and some big news and successes for Watkinsville, despite the down economy.

On the Watkinsville front, we are getting ready to move forward on a number of SPLOST investments, including more than $250,000 of improvements at Harris Shoals Park. The big tickets items include stream bank restoration with native plants, new bathrooms, and a new young children's playground. Toby Smith has joined the council to fill the unexpired term of Joe Walter, who will become mayor in January with the retirement of Jim Luken. Four new businesses applied for licenses in the city this month, and First Friday was a big success once again, thanks to the energy of the Mayor and our merchants.