Two Wheels and 3,000 Miles to Go

The people-powered East Coast Greenway is coming—and it’s good. 

If you travel much on US 17, you’ve probably seen at least one of them, churning away at the pedals on a bike laden with overstuffed saddle bags. Most likely, these intrepid bicycle adventurers are following the route of the East Coast Greenway, a network of cycling and walking trails covering much of the Eastern seaboard. A third of the route is on protected paved trails, while the rest consists of streets and roads—for now. When it’s finished, the East Coast Greenway will provide a safe path of more than 3,000 miles, connecting hundreds of cities and unique natural areas from Florida to Maine.

Here in Savannah, the Greenway has the potential to reinvent local modes of transportation. Imagine dusting off your old 10-speed and pedaling out to historic Darien for a well-earned basket of fried oysters and a local craft beer. On the way home, you could stop by the Sapelo Island Visitors Center to learn about Gullah Geechee culture, followed by a stop at the 18th century cemetery and Congregational Church in Midway. Rolling back in to Chatham County, you could enjoy the shade and relaxation of the East Coast Greenway trail segment connecting Love’s Seafood to the Coastal Bamboo Garden—all in all, a lovely ride through the Coastal Empire for anyone with two wheels and determination.

Thanks to widespread interest and a vibrant local bicycling culture, the East Coast Greenway will be here before you know it. Soon enough, anyone who wants to embark on a self-powered odyssey—whether three miles or three thousand —can choose their own adventure.       

A volunteer works on a bike for the New Standard Cycles program. Photo by Kim Turner

Reasons for the ride

Back in early April, a hearty band of Savannah-based ultra-runners tackled a grueling non-stop race from Hutchinson Island to St. Marys. Before them, a duo of long-distance walkers followed the route from Key West to Calais, Maine to raise awareness of opioid addiction and overdose. Throughout the spring and fall months, by ones and twos, bicycle tourists from all over the world explore coastal Georgia’s hidden towns, natural beauty, and restaurants.

Sometimes the groups are much larger. In October 2017, I accompanied a group of 40 Greenway supporters on an epic weeklong tour of the Greenway’s route from the Wilmington River in North Carolina to Ellis Square here in Savannah. During our tour we enjoyed quiet country roads and beautiful trails in Charleston and Beaufort, and banded together during the more heavily trafficked stretches of US 17. Rain and exhaustion aside, riding a bike home from North Carolina reaffirmed my belief that perseverance is mostly a matter of repetition and stubbornness. Like the little train said, if you think you can, you will.              

East Coast Greenway map. Courtesy East Coast Greenway Alliance.

Safety first

For years, the nonprofit Savannah Bicycle Campaign has been advocating for safer places to ride: bike lanes and dedicated trails like the East Coast Greenway. This work led to Savannah’s recognition by the League of American Bicyclists as a bronze-level “Bicycle Friendly Community.” Persistent advocacy has prompted the city to install bike racks throughout the city and to complete the in-progress Truman Linear Trail, a six-mile paved path that will connect Lake Mayer Park Park to Daffin Park.

Outside their efforts toward building better cycling infrastructure, this mostly volunteer organization also refurbishes donated bikes for low-income residents, guaranteeing them safe, reliable transportation to and from work. Dubbed “New Standard Cycles,” this program has successfully donated hundreds of rejuvenated bicycles to propel recipients’ lives forward. The first recipient of a New Standard bike was an Afghan translator for the U.S. Army who fled Taliban persecution with his family, and equally deserving local recipients are selected by SBC’s partner nonprofit and social service agencies, then provided with bikes customized to fit their needs.  To aid anyone looking to get around Savannah by bike, the Campaign also produces free color-coded “Bike SAV” maps, which make more low-stress routes obvious and easy to follow.

The Midnight Garden Ride is a Savannah Bicycle Campaign tradition. Photo by Back River Photography

The main event(s)

The annual “Midnight Garden Ride” draws hundreds of local Savannahians and tourists every October for a Halloween bike parade through the Historic District, with police escorts to maximize relaxation and enjoyment. Families flock to this evening adventure, and a post-ride concert at Grayson Stadium keeps the festive atmosphere rolling. Smaller-scale themed events like the annual Tweed Ride in February and Seersucker ride in September promote carefree, costume-friendly fun for Savannahians and visitors alike.

Riders suit up in costume at the Midnight Garden Ride. Photo by Back River Photography

Hitting the road

While Savannah Bicycle Campaign serves as a hub for cycling events and engagement, the bicycle culture of Savannah is broad and diverse, helped along by our flat topography, favorable climate, and an 18th-century city plan conducive to two-wheeled transportation. Stylish SCAD students get around the Historic District on foot and by bike, and local sport cycling clubs lead weekend long-distance rides. Bachelorette parties and other revelers jointly pedal party bikes, while couples snuggle up in cozy pedicabs heading from hotel to happy hour. National bike tourism companies draw visitors to Savannah’s boutique hotels for a bit of rest before two-wheeled explorations of historic neighborhoods like Tybee Island, Bonaventure Cemetery, and Isle of Hope. Some of the city’s best hotels offer their guests complimentary bikes for in-town sightseeing, while other visitors take advantage of Chatham Area Transit’s CAT Bikes, available for short-term rentals at the transit station and in Ellis Square.

Savannah Bike Map. Courtesy Savannah Bicycle Campaign

After years of slow progress in terms of Savannah’s urban cycling infrastructure, a new cohort of advocates, community leaders, and city officials are lobbying for bicycle culture as an agent of safety and local economic development. Their most ambitious vision is a Tide to Town network of urban trails, inspired by the wildly successful Beltline project in Atlanta and the already completed Greenbelt trail circling the city of Carrollton. Leveraging the Truman Linear Trail (already underway) and planned trails on the Springfield Canal, Tide to Town will create a horseshoe-shaped network of canal bank trails, protected bike lanes, and other shared-use paths linking dozens of Savannah neighborhoods. The western arm of the Tide to Town trail network will also serve as Savannah’s stretch of the East Coast Greenway, connecting the city to this cycling superhighway.

To help make the East Coast Greenway a reality, visit greenway.org. For more about the Savannah Bicycle Campaign, visit bicyclecampaign.org .

 

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