New Cycling Fund moves Charlotte, N.C., forward

Communities / Article

Photo: Author Susan Patterson touring Charlotte on her bike.

I love it when a plan comes together, and a good plan is shaping up to make Charlotte a more bike-friendly city.

It isn’t that nothing had been happening in our city. Over the last few years, much has. Related Link 

For example, we increasingly see evidence of the city’s Bicycle Master Plan coming to ground (When the city has widened or resurfaced many streets, it’s added bike lanes). A nonprofit focused on increasing transportation options and their usage was launched. And last fall, city residents approved bond dollars for a 26-mile cross-Charlotte greenway trail.

I became more aware of Charlotte’s cycling efforts after a trip to Copenhagen last year. Suddenly, I noticed bike lanes and bike route signs, and I joined a group of Charlotte leaders in a rush-hour bike ride in and out of Uptown Charlotte to experience what we have and what we’re missing.

Copenhagen is a true cycling-oriented city, and Charlotte will never be Copenhagen. But we began wondering what Charlotte needed to raise the visibility and viability of cycling here. After all, cycling is growing in popularity. Over the last decade, U.S. bike commuting has grown 47 percent.

Streets are our largest piece of public space and should be used, I’ve come to believe, for activities such as walking and cycling as well as commuting in our cars.

But, how should we build on the noticeable interest and momentum and put these feet to walking and pedaling?

First, there was some talking. In November, Knight Foundation convened more than 60 passionate cycling supporters (several rode their bikes to the meeting – in the rain!).

Key themes emerged: Charlotte needs more cycling events to raise awareness and interest in cycling. Charlotte needs more bicycle education for cyclists and non-cyclists. Charlotte needs more organization and central leadership through some type of hub organization.

Seeding these efforts is Knight Foundation’s new $600,000 Cycling Fund at Foundation for the Carolinas.

A self-organized group of cycling leaders developed a framework for making the best use of this support.

“We’ve been talking about this for months,” said Jane Cacchione, chair of the Charlotte Bicycle Advisory Committee. “Knight’s dollars will help us build on the momentum and make things happen that we know need to happen.

Soon, the Cycling Fund will support its first projects.

Organizations with ideas and projects that fit the strategies identified by the cycling community will be invited to apply for implementation funds.

Within the next two years, we expect to see more cyclists on the streets, and perhaps you’ll even see me with my bike helmet on, pedaling through Dilworth.

Susan Patterson is the Charlotte program director for Knight Foundation.