Last night at the YMCA on Jessamine St., a group of about 20 passionate bicyclists from all around Knoxville, and with varying interests sat down to discuss how to put together a Knoxville bicyclists' coalition.
"We decided to have a meeting and see if there was any interest," said Jim Richards. "We looked at this as a mechanism to get together."
Richards is the general manager of the Mast General Store downtown, the Downtown Business Representative on the Knoxville Transportation Authority, president of the Smoky Mountain Wheelmen Bike Club, and a daily bike commuter. Richards, along with Kelley Segars, the principal planner of the Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization, and Caroline Cooley, a doctor, a bicycling advocate, and board member of Bike Walk Tennessee, an organization dedicated to improving conditions for bikers and pedestrians, started holding meetings with local cyclists to gauge the level of interest local bikers had in forming an umbrella group that would advocate for all cyclists in Knoxville, and not just individual bike clubs.
Other attendees ranged from bike club representatives to casual riders, and commuters, who shared with the group how they stay safe on the roads ("If you're more visible...[cars] go way overboard around me," said Maryville cyclist Dave Penegar), what they'd like to see to improve safety ("Florida has the highest fatalities rate and they don't have many bike lanes," Cooley said), tools they'd like the coalition to provide for the Knoxville bike community (an interactive map of rough spots, harassment incidents, etc), and how to accomplish their goals.
Nothing official was decided, but there seemed to be a consensus that Knoxville needs a local advocacy group like Bike Walk Tennessee. Cooley, who's a board member with that group, said it's all well and good to talk about these grand plans, but that it will take a lot of work to put it in motion on a volunteer basis.
"I think that's what this is about. Who's going to step up?" said Elle Colquitt, communications manager of Outdoorknoxville.com. Colquitt pointed out that there was one big bike club in Chattanooga that its members were really excited about.
"We all want to ride! [But] it's making phone calls and sending emails," she said of the actual advocacy work.
An underlying message of the night was brought to the forefront by Sue Buckley, founder of VIBES (Visually Impaired/Blind Enhanced Services) and an avid tandem bicyclist.
"I don't think [Knoxville's bike clubs] understand--we need to stick together," she said.
The group addressed the fact that there are many different bike clubs who all have slightly different interests by deciding an umbrella group like BIke Walk Tennessee would be a suitable answer.
The gathered cyclists also discussed at length the type of education cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians all need, and how to distribute the information. Suggestions ranged from starting early, banking on little kids making sure their parents follow the rules for sharing the roads with bikes, to getting meetings with the chief of police and sheriff to make sure police officers take seriously reports of intimidation and harassment aimed at cyclists.
The meeting went on for more than an hour, and sometimes the conversation got a bit too far into the weeds. But, Richards said, "That's the passion people have, and you don't want to stop the passion."