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!