Earth Day Aiken entertains while teaching about the environment 15 (copy) (copy)

Lizzy Lewis, left, and her mother, Margie Lewis ride their bicycles in downtown Aiken.

The Aiken region is unique in many ways – its charming downtown, countryside and rural roadways, and its university. News of a possible set of bike lanes connecting the USC Aiken campus to Aiken’s downtown is a breath of fresh air and reason to be proud. Value is added by slightly adjusting this existing set of streets, and thus improving mobility between these two destinations. Students get an enhanced, additional form of mobility – one that is healthier, cheaper and more fun than a car.

The region also recently received some attention for a less positive reason – safety for people bicycling and walking was recently in the news for an unexplained uptick in crashes. In the first five months of 2019, there were three fatal crashes involving people driving cars killing people riding bicycles; each of the crashes occurred in Aiken County. Pedestrian fatalities in Aiken County are consistently around three to four each year.

Our neighbors in Georgia were also in the news for street safety issues. Last year in the Augusta region, there were three bicycle fatalities. And in the 2019 Dangerous by Design report (produced by Smart Growth America), Augusta-Richmond made the top 20 list for the most deadly places to walk/be a pedestrian in the United States.

We highlight these issues to elevate the importance of the City of Aiken’s actions with this possible bike lane. Bike lanes not only offer greater mobility options, but also make bike travel safer. Eliminating traffic fatalities is difficult work and there are hopeful signs on both sides of the Savannah River.

We challenge the leaders in the region to focus their energy on improving people’s lives by making bicycle and pedestrian safety a central focus for their own cities and counties. Here are the current efforts occurring on both sides of the river:

South Carolina does not have a distracted driving law; yet traffic fatalities have decreased notably since the distracted driving bill was passed in Georgia. South Carolina also doesn’t have a Complete Streets policy at the state level like Georgia does. Let’s support both of these efforts in the statehouse and the SCDOT Commission.

The Augusta Regional Transportation Study (the Metropolitan Planning Organization for the region) has a great bicycle/pedestrian plan – it needs to be implemented, which can’t be done without funding and political will.

People killed walking and bicycling are trying to get to or from home, work or school. They are trying to get exercise to stay a bit healthier. They are spending time with family and friends to build memories and enjoy the outdoors. They are trying to lessen their environmental impact on the world. They do not deserve to die on our roadways for not having a car or choosing not to use one. The people that were killed could have been your neighbor, your child’s teacher, or the person that made your dinner. We can do better.

Palmetto Cycling Coalition & the SC Livable Communities Alliance

Wheel Movement

Aiken Bicycle Advocacy