Posted: December 9, 2013 at 12:24 am
By: Devin Dye, Joe Cooper, Dan Krotz
In 2012, the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) awarded the City of Morgantown the Bronze Level Award for being a Bicycle Friendly Community. Morgantown is the first community to ever receive this honor in the state of West Virginia, which currently ranks 50th among all states in the country when it comes to bicycle friendliness, according to the LAB statistics.
Morgantown was awarded the Bronze Level recognition because of the many efforts to make the city a more bicycle-friendly location. One of the city’s biggest advocates for city biking is the Morgantown Municipal Bicycle Board, which drafted The Greater Morgantown Bicycle Plan in January 2012.
“The Bike Board developed a plan for the city to become more bicycle friendly,” said Gunnar Shogren, Vice Chairman of the Board. “Now it’s up to the City Council and the powers that be to do what they will with it, and they have already adopted it.”
The plan calls for roadway improvements, more strict enforcement of traffic laws on aggressive drivers, and bicyclist and motorist education. It suggests that not only will increased bicycling in the city reduce traffic congestion, but it will also lead to better health and well-being of area residents.
A 2010 study conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) about bicycling safety in cities shows that approximately 6,000 cyclists were killed in on-road accidents in the United States alone over the past ten years. In those accidents, 89 percent of the cyclists were found to have been obeying the biking laws of that city. In addition, vehicle drivers were found at fault for the accident 87 percent of the time. This study shows that even when following bicycle laws, riding a bike in the city can be very dangerous.
Chris Toeller, and avid biker in the Morgantown area, believes that certain areas of the city are unsuitable for bikers.
“I bike between my home in Star City mainly to either the grocery store or the rail trail,” Toeller said . “But, I think biking in Morgantown is unsafe. I never bike on the streets. It’s bad enough driving, let alone biking. There needs to be a more concerted effort to bring awareness to drivers.”
To combat the fears of city bicycling, the Morgantown Bicycle Board offers a course called Confident City Cycling which is aimed at increasing awareness and safety when riding a bike in the city. This course can be taken both by students at West Virginia University for credit as well as by Morgantown area residents. The class covers everything from basic bike maintenance and how to pick the right bike, to traffic laws and what type of clothing to wear.
As part of the plan developed with the city, the Morgantown Bicycle Board is working with the City Council as well as the state of West Virginia to increase and improve signage around town in order to keep cyclists safe. Through this cooperation, “Share The Road” signs have been placed along roads with speed limits of 35 MPH or higher. These signs are designed to alert drivers to cyclists along the road.
Although some in Morgantown fear bicycling in the city, there are others in the community who feel that it is a great place to ride a bike.
Colin Dierman, General Manager of Wamsley Cycles, has been bicycling since 1987 and rode his bike frequently while attending West Virginia University. Dierman feels that riding in Morgantown is nothing to fear.
“It’s super friendly. With riding in Morgantown, it definitely has its obstacles, but you just have to find out what routes to go to so that you are dealing with less traffic or a little less hill climbing,” Dierman said. “The hardest part is the traffic. The question isn’t always do you see them, but do they see you?”
“There are heaps and tons of roads and places to go around Morgantown,” Shogren said. “It just depends on what type of riding you’re looking for and where you’re wanting to go.”
There are many groups and communities in the Morgantown area that support a biking culture within the city. One such organization is Positive Spin which is a non-profit corporation that is made up of volunteers who work on refurbishing old bikes.
Founded in 2005, Positive Spin was aimed to help bicyclists learn how to ride safely and effectively in traffic around the city. However, a week after opening, Hurricane Katrina made landfall along the Gulf Coast, and there were many residents of that area who no longer had any means of transportation. Additionally, many storm victims were moved to Camp Dawson in Preston County and had no way to get around. Positive Spin began collecting donated bikes and amassed 200 bikes, which were given to families affected by the storm.
Will Ravenscroft is one of the founding board members of Positive Spin and has connections to Working Bikes in Chicago, a group that gave a lot of support during the formation of Positive Spin. Will believes that people, not just in Morgantown, need to understand all the good that comes from their organization.
“Donations of bikes is how we function. Without help from the community we wouldn’t be here today,” Ravenscroft said . “The bikes that we receive are not only provided to citizens in West Virginia, but all over the world.”
Since its founding, Positive Spin has received around 1,000 bikes per year through donations. These bikes are repaired to provide affordable transportation for anyone who needs or wants it at largely discounted prices.
Positive Spin ships bikes overseas where affordable basic transportation is needed. Bikes that can’t be repaired are stripped for useable parts, and the remaining scrap metal is recycled.
“People will let their bikes sit outside or in their garage, and the ultimate result is they will rust up and become un-useable,” Ravenscroft said. “Those bikes should be brought here to Positive Spin, so we can fix them up and provide them to people who need them.”
In 2009 Positive Spin became a full-time operation, and in 2010, moved to its current location in Marilla Park next to the Deckers Creek Rail-Trail. This facility combines the office, warehouse, shop and showrooms into one single space. Customers can donate, shop or even volunteer in the 13,000 square foot facility.
Over the years Positive Spin has begun to support all forms of transportation including walking, biking and even carpooling. The organization also provides bike safety and maintenance education.
Bicycle safety around Morgantown is improving, but there is still a long way to go.
“I think a lot of it has to do with education,” Dierman said. “Teaching people in the car that they have to share the road with somebody on a bike and also putting up signs to make people aware that it’s a bike route. Bike lanes are tough in Morgantown because of the infrastructure.”
The Morgantown Bicycle Board is cognizant of the improvements that must be made. However, the majority of the issues come from the people actually on the road.
“We tell people to learn to bike in a more predictable and visible manner,” Shogren said. “They should learn to drive their bike as a car. Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles.”