The bicycle is next up in this series on public transit in Raleigh and the Triangle. To me, the biggest question (and concern) that comes to mind when considering biking as a reliable source of transportation here is: Can a city that has historically not had to look out for bikers successfully learn to share the road with them?
I asked David Zell, owner with Ken Metzger of Oak City Cycling, to tell us where he thinks Raleigh is headed on the subject. Because Oak City Cycling is a local, independent cycling shop in downtown focused on increasing bicycle ridership through sales, service, outreach, and community—I uncovered some interesting answers to questions otherwise only whispered in eyebrow-raising conversations between neighbors and passionately debated at private dinner parties. Zell makes up words, talks sharrows and secrets, and shares his wishlist for 2013 (if only Santa rode a bike). Let’s dive in.
Read the first post in the series here, Get Around: The Bus + an interview with Rachel, a local bus rider.
Do you hope for biking to be practiced as a means of transportation in Raleigh? How is it different than riding a bus or train? How can it be similar?
Cycling as a means of transportation is one of the inherent ideas on which Oak City Cycling Project was founded. Both Ken and I were commuters to our office jobs before starting the shop. We’re both pretty big autophobes as well (yes, I just made that up). Ken makes his own biodiesel and I don’t own a car.
People have a choice everyday.
More than anything, we hope to influence folks to get on their bike instead of in their car for a commute, a trip to the store, to a dinner or bar downtown, or to visit a friend. It pays in many ways to choose to bike instead of drive. We want to make that choice easier and more accessible for folks here in the Triangle.
What are the main threats to biker safety?
There are a number of threats to cyclist safety but the number one thing is the relationship between cyclists and automobile drivers. As cyclists, we need to be predictable. This means following the rules of the road:
- Ride on the right shoulder (take the lane if necessary).
- Use hand signals when stopping or turning.
- Use front and rear lights if riding at night.
- Wear your helmet too.
Automobile drivers sometimes don’t understand the rights that cyclists do have and get nervous and/or perturbed about cyclists being on the road. Cycling in and around downtown is generally safe and most drivers seem to be on the lookout. Making eye contact with drivers who are about to enter a roadway is always a good idea. Be visible and you should be just fine.
How can an app like BikeRaleigh help?
I use the R Greenway app to go for long rides and to discover Greenway routes that I wouldn’t have been confident navigating without this new technology. We’ve particularly enjoyed the soon to be complete, Neuse River Greenway. Think: farmlands along the river, some gentle rollers, wide paved greenway and not overly used… yet. Eek. I may have just given away a secret! We’re excited to be helping out with the Neuse River Greenway grand opening and dedication ceremony on Thursday, April 25th from 5-7pm at Anderson Point Park.
In a city where there are many active people, including those who enjoying biking, but where there are also many drivers and less use of public transit than in other big cities, do you feel we will be able to overcome the challenges to biker safety and infrastructure?
There’s no question, we will be able to improve conditions for cyclists in every year moving forward from here on out. We have passionate, talented planners and leadership in Raleigh who are committed to progressive forms of success. It’s great to see plans moving forward for mass transit in the Triangle and throughout the Eastern Seaboard. There can never be enough awareness for cyclists, but I’m confident we won’t see a year where improvements are lacking any time soon.
Is Oak City Cycling involved with City of Raleigh’s initiatives to increase and improve our biking infrastructure?
Oak City Cycling participates in the Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Commission (BPAC) monthly meetings. The BPAC is responsible for making recommendations on programs, policies, regulations and funding priorities concerning walking and bicycling in Raleigh. The meetings are generally held in the City Council chambers downtown and are open to the public. It’s a great opportunity to voice opinions about cycling-centric issues we face in the city and to make direct contributions to the direction the city is heading regarding facilities for bicyclers.
It’s great to see Raleigh tackling streetscape issues in and around downtown. It was awesome to see Hillsborough Street receive bike lanes and to see the newly installed pedestrian cross walk near the YMCA. We participated in an advocacy ride last summer to encourage city council implement this plan. We’re excited to see more bike lanes and sharrows (or shared-lane markings) pop up around town; it makes for safer shared roads. We’re hyped about the addition of bicycle racks in downtown too, particularly the creative ones that were part of the Raleigh Racks competition. We donated frames to this project and the rack will be installed in the Warehouse district later this year.
Have you seen business and community interest increase as the City has moved forward with efforts to improve biking in Raleigh?
Our business has experienced an incredible amount of growth since we moved to our current location last June. We’re talking exponents here. We’re excited to see what the next year will bring. For us to succeed as a business we need more folks patronizing our shop in the next year. We haven’t spent any money on advertising, so most of our business comes from referrals, word of mouth, and the Internets. We have high hopes for the remainder of 2013 and need the continued support of the community to help us realize our dreams of owning a successful bike shop.
Are you or the shop part of any community groups focused on cycling as exercise or cycling to generate awareness?
Yes, a few things.
The Benelux Café social ride takes place weekly, on Tuesday evenings at 6:30pm. This is a great 10 mile social ride where folks of all abilities to gather to ride together for an hour or so. There’s three routes that we typically follow and have had as many as 80 folks participate. It’s a fun way to get to know other cyclists, to exercise safely as a group, and to relax with a beer afterwards at the café.
The Oaks and Spokes festival in March is an event we helped plan and sponsor recently. It’s a multi-day cycling festival in Raleigh. 2013 was the inaugural year and was a great success. The Triangle Tweed Ride, the Wesa Cat, FrankenBike Parts Swap, the Raleigh Bikes Art Show, Kidical Mass, and the Oak City Open bike polo tournament were some of the events that took place this year. Fun times!
The Oak City Cycling Project accepts donations of used bikes and bike parts. We’re a drop off point for the Durham Bike Co-Op who come to the shop monthly to pickup used bikes, parts, and tires. We hope to help 1304 Bikes, Raleigh’s bike co-op, in the future with their operations if they are able to secure funding to rent their new space.
We are part of the Bicycle Benefits Program. Folks who have a Bicycle Benefits sticker on their helmet receive 20% off service on their bike when they ride to the shop. It’s a great way to encourage cycling to local businesses instead of driving.
Tell us what’s on your wishlist for Oak City Cycling in 2013.
Well, we all want to own about 6 more bikes!
For 2013, we’d like to see the City continue to stripe more bike paths and sharrows throughout town. We’re really excited for the Greenway expansion and the downtown connections to the Neuse River Greenway, and the North American Handmade Bike Show coming to NC next year as well. We’ll definitely be closing shop to attend this event in Charlotte.
Shop-wise, we love seeing new faces in our shop and our passion is to continue to put more folks on bikes. We’d like to continue selling many bikes and accessories to folks, to continue improving our space and to be the most friendly, open, and talented mechanics so all of your bikes will be riding smoothly around town.
P.S. See breathtaking photos from their rides around Raleigh (and on their Instagram account).
P.P.S. Find out more about bike share programs from the Raleigh Urban Design Center, via the Raleigh Connoisseur.