In an ever-changing world, the delights of a bike ride in downtown Brunswick remain the same.
The historic squares, moss-draped live oaks and friendly neighborhood charm have throughout the city’s storied history created a pleasant experience for cyclists.
Changes, though, like in roadway infrastructure that caters more to vehicle drivers, have added to the potential dangers pedestrians and cyclists face.
A campaign launched this year by the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety aims to prevent the accidents that occur when roads are not safely shared.
“We can look and imagine what it was like to travel around Brunswick hundreds of years ago, when people were riding horses and walking and eventually riding bikes,” said John Bennett, safety education programs manager for the advocacy organization Georgia Bikes, during the final stop Friday of the Capital to Coast tour in downtown Brunswick.
The week-long campaign, which included stops in Atlanta, Athens, Macon, Savannah and Brunswick, highlighted important safety measures in Georgia that allow drivers and cyclists to avoid accidents when on the road together.
A group of cyclists took a 30-minute ride around downtown Brunswick, through Old Town, down Union Street and around the downtown area.
“When we’re out riding today, we’ll have a chance to look at this beautiful planned city and think about the heritage and the history of Brunswick, Georgia,” Bennett said Friday. “We’re also going to ride through some places that aren’t going to be as much fun to enjoy because they’ve been adapted over the years to maximize the speed and frequent throughput of motor vehicles. We need to think about how we can redesign streets to make them safer for everyone.”
Cyclist fatalities are too common an occurrence nationwide. In 2019, 846 cyclists were killed in traffic crashes in America, including 20 in Georgia, according to the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. Preliminary data from the Georgia Department of Transportation shows that the state’s cyclist fatalities increased to 28 in 2020, said Kathryn Curtis, GOHS bicycle manager.
The goal of the Capital to Coast 2021 tour was to bring attention to issues like helmet safety, road sharing information and Georgia’s “3 Feet Law,” which requires a vehicle driver to allow for at least three feet of space between car and a cyclist when passing them on a roadway.
“Essentially what we want to say is we can all share the road together,” Curtis said.
Many in Brunswick and other cities use bikes as a primary form of transportation, Bennett said.
“They use bikes for daily transportation, to get to work, to get to the store, to get to schools,” he said. “We have a lot of people who ride for recreation, but then other people need bikes to get around, so we really need to think about them when we’re talking about street safety.”
In areas that attract large numbers of tourists, there are added risks when those behind the wheel or on a bike are less familiar with the streets on which they’re traveling.
“People come from all over Georgia and all over the United States to experience what we enjoy here every day in Coastal Georgia,” Bennett said. “So what does that mean? We’re sharing streets with people who are not familiar with the street necessarily, people who may be distracted by this beautiful environment and people who may not be used to driving cars around people who walk and ride bikes.”
Cyclists and drivers have to remain alert, he said, to their surroundings and prioritize the safety of all around them.
Numerous advocacy groups around the state work to make cycling and walking a more accessible and safe activity in communities. A group called Bike Walk Golden Isles has made recent strides locally toward organizing and becoming an advocate for these issues.
Tyler Vaughn, events chair for Bike Walk Golden Isles, led the tour Friday and provided bikes for riders.
Vaughn is the owner of Brunswick Old Town Tours, a bicycle tour and rental business in downtown Brunswick.
City Manager Regina McDuffie and Commissioner Julie Martin also participated in the ride Friday. Glynn County Police offered the cyclists an escort as they traveled around the historic downtown area.
Cyclist safety is a priority for the city, McDuffie said.
“We have been working on road projects and certainly looking at how we can make Brunswick more bike friendly,” she said. “It is a beautiful place.”