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Give the Car a Rest 

It's Bike to Work Week

I'm a little awestruck every time I see one of those intrepid bicyclists, decked out in their cool, multi-colored, skintight outfits, pedaling down a busy thoroughfare while giant SUVs bear down on them. It's scary enough just driving around Charlotte in a car, I can't imagine tackling the Queen City's mean streets on a bicycle with only a thin layer of Lycra for protection. Unlike cities like Portland, which was made with bicyclists in mind, Charlotte is designed for motorists, most of whom don't think much about sharing the road with anything without four wheels and an engine. And that's a shame, because with our mild and sunny weather, Charlotte could be a biker's paradise. It's doubtful Charlotte will ever be on par with places like Portland, but there are some folks working to make Charlotte more bike friendly. It's good news, too, that the city was one of just 15 cities selected to participate in Bike to Work Week (May 16-20), a program launched by the League of American Bicyclists.

The idea is simple. Next week, tear yourself away from the confines of your gas-guzzler and use your bike to commute to work. It's great exercise, helps improve the environment, and saves money. In fact, the average annual price of keeping an automobile running is at least $3,000, compared to just $300 for a bike.

What's that? You say you live too far from work to ride your bike? Well, meet Bill Fehr. Not only does he ride his bike 10 miles both ways from his home near Mint Hill to downtown Charlotte every day, but he works — get this — as a bike courier.

"I travel between 8,000 and 10,000 miles a year on my bike," Fehr says. "Every single morning I'm so elated that I don't have to get in the car. I leave my neighborhood where everything smells like bacon and laundry and hit the road. There's a sea of cars and just one of me, and people look at me like I'm crazy. I love it."

Fehr has been working as a bike courier for Nova Office Strategies since 1998, so if anyone can tell us if Charlotte is becoming more bike friendly, it's him.

"I don't know if it's any more bicycle friendly, but I've seen more bike friendly infrastructure," he says. "There are now more bike lanes and bike racks uptown and on the buses. The city seems to be making an honest effort to change the relationship between bikers and vehicular traffic. I think we're definitely heading in the right direction."

The guy overseeing all these changes is Ken Tippette, Charlotte's bicycle coordinator. Over the last few years, Tippette has spearheaded numerous initiatives to encourage cycling, including installing 47 public bike racks in the Center City and adding bicycle lanes, like the one on Central Avenue between Eastway Drive and Sharon Amity that Fehr uses during his morning commute. "Before, I used to have to ride in the gutter," Fehr says.

Cycling among Charlotteans appears to be growing. According to Tippette, the number of bicycle boardings on CATS buses increased from 19,000 in 2001 to 52,000 in 2004, a 270 percent spike. Tippette himself rides his bicycle from his home in Davidson about two miles to the CATS Park-N-Ride bus stop every morning, loads his bike on the rack, then takes the bus to his downtown office in the Government Center.

Of course for a lot of folks, the last time they were on a bike was around 20 years and 20 pounds ago, so they aren't quite ready to ride their bike all the way to work. In that case, why not try tackling a few short trips first — like to the end of the driveway, then maybe to the corner drugstore (perhaps to pick up some smokes and a six-pack). Before you know it, you too will be sporting one of those super-cool skintight outfits on your newly sculpted body and cruising by all those suckers stuck in traffic. Happy Peddling!

For more information, check out:

CDOT's Bicycle Program (http://bike.charmeck.org) promotes cycling as a safe and convenient transportation option and recreational activity, and implements the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Bicycle Transportation Plan.

BIKES of Charlotte (www.charlottebikes.org) is an advocacy group working to promote safe bicycling for recreation and transportation in the Charlotte area.

If you have an idea for the Urban Explorer column, contact Sam Boykin at: sam.boykin@cln.com or 704-944-3623.

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