Curious about how to best navigate to and from campus as a graduate student? Getting Around Grad School is our three-part series on the various transportation options available to graduate students at UCSC. This edition features current M.S. in Environmental & Sustainability Studies/Master of Public Administration student Sylvie Baele (’14), and how to be a “utilitarian” cyclist at the College. Sylvie is the Program Manager for Second Chance Bikes here in Charleston.
My passion is “utilitarian” cycling (aka commuting), but I also ride recreationally for fun and fitness. Active transportation (not alternative transportation, please and thank you) is a breeze in Charleston due to the mild climate and flat terrain. When it floods (which it does, a lot) bikes can be brought inside and won’t float away like cars often do. Traffic can be frustrating downtown when you’re in a car, but it’s super easy to avoid on a bike, so a bike commute is often shorter and less stressful. Also, parking a car in Charleston is not a fun game. It’s often hard to find a spot, parking tickets are expensive, and parking meters only allow you to pay for 2 hours a time, which is not ideal considering many graduate classes are over 2 hours. On the flip side, you can park your bike closer to your destination and it’s free!
Lessons and Pro-tips from a Long-time Utilitarian Charleston Cyclist:
- Biking to campus is super easy from anywhere downtown and somewhat easy from West Ashley, Park Circle/North Charleston, and Mt. Pleasant. If you don’t want to ride to whole way from your residence, you can also put your bike on CARTA, our local bus system highlighted in a previous blog. CARTA is super easy to use if the routes and stops are convenient, but the buses don’t run terribly frequently. I used it for several years in tandem with my bike to get to deep Mt. Pleasant for work (15 miles each way). The ride took about 45 minutes and during it I would read, do homework, etc. Use your student ID for free rides on CARTA!
- Invest in a good lock. U-locks are great and will last you a long time. Don’t leave your bike locked up outside overnight if you don’t have to. Especially to the wooden railing on your old Charleston house, especially the skinny vertical posts. They are almost always partially rotted and not secure. When you lock up, do it properly- through both wheels if possible, especially if you have quick release skewers and not nuts that bolt down. Be sure that the bike is secure and won’t be knocked over by a car or pedestrian once it is locked up, or it may not be in good shape when you return to it.
- When you’re on King Street, lock your bike up in the dedicated bike corrals. It’s illegal to lock up anywhere else (like lamp posts, sign posts, trees, etc) in some sections on King St., and your bike may be impounded by the local PD. I think it’s $40 to get it back, but you’ll also have to buy a new lock. It’s a big hassle, so I’d definitely avoid making that mistake.
- Beach cruisers are designed for cruising on the beach, not riding downtown on narrow historic streets. Yes, this is technically my opinion, but I’m the one writing this blog post, and it really is an obvious fact to me. While they are sometimes less expensive, they are bulkier and difficult to maneuver up/down stairs, through doors, and around obstacles in the road. They might feel easy to ride at first, but I promise they are not often not comfortable for riding longer distances (even a mile can be rough) or when riding at a speed that flows well with traffic.
- Speaking of traffic… It’s best to avoid it when possible, at least when you first start biking around any place that is new to you. Pick your routes intentionally and pay attention. Are there other people riding bikes on your route? That’s a good sign. For example, St. Philip St. is ideal for riding to campus as opposed to King St., so most days you’ll see a number of people on bikes, skateboards, etc. Look for sharrows, we have a some on a few roads downtown. There are a couple bike lanes in Mt. Pleasant, on Spruill Ave from North Charleston, and there is a lovely shared use path called the Greenway in West Ashley. Check out these resources and map in the list above for suggested routes, current infrastructure, and future bike and active transportation projects.
- In South Carolina, bikes have the rights and responsibilities of any other vehicle on the road. This means that you should ride in the road in the same direction as other vehicles, stop at stop signs, and wait for red lights to turn green. When riding, maintain a straight and predictable path, about 2 ft or a third into the lane, and do not veer towards the curb when parallel parking sections end. This keeps you in sight of motorists and forces them to only pass you when it is safe to do so. This feels counter-intuitive at first, but I promise if you do this, you’ll be safer and eventually feel more in control of the cars behind you. If you insist on riding on the sidewalk, please do it slowly and cautiously.
- Choose a bike that fits you well and is comfortable to ride. You will be more likely to use it. Size charts are easy to find online. When you are straddling the bike with your feet on the ground, you should have at least a couple inches of clearance and the nose of your saddle should poke your tailbone. At the bottom of the pedal stroke your leg should be fairly straight with a slight bend, not totally extended and locked out.
- Invest in bright, USB rechargeable lights. White in front, red (set on blinky mode) in rear. Remove your lights from your bike when you lock up and take them with you. Not only will this prevent them from being stolen, it will also keep them out of flash rainstorms (very common here) and extend their lifespan.
- Get all your necessary accessories before or the same day you purchase your bike. Many shops will install accessories for free if you buy them there when you buy a bike. As I mentioned previously, a good lock and lights are super important, as is a helmet. Get a helmet that has vents, you’ll thank me for the airflow later. Your helmet should fit snuggly and not move when you shake your head. It should be worn so that the bottom of the helmet is roughly parallel with the ground, covering the majority of your forehead. The strap should also be fairly snug under your chin, with room for a couple of fingers. Fenders (at least over the rear wheel) are also a good idea. No one likes showing up to class with a wet “rooster tail” from their ride. I also recommend considering a basket or rack, as this gives you more options for carrying your belongings. Backpacks also work fine but tend to make your back sweaty. I also recommend buying a pump to keep at home. Bike tires need air more regularly than you might think, and underinflated tires are more likely to puncture and slow you down. A good rule of thumb is to add some air at least once a week. The correct amount (or range) of inflation is printed on the side of all bike tires in PSI.
- Find a friend who also wants to use a bike for transportation and team up! Or make friends with someone who already rides a bike around Charleston. This is the most tried and true way to make your utilitarian bike dreams a reality and turn everyday into an adventure. You won’t regret it, I promise.
A List of Local Bike Resources to Explore:
City of Charleston’s Interactive Bike Map is a GIS map that shows current multi-use paths, bike lanes, bike routes, bike shops, and bike parking. It covers all of downtown and also includes parts of West Ashley, James Island, Mt. Pleasant, and Daniel Island.
The People Pedal Plan from the City of Charleston Design Division contains a system map that covers current and future bike infrastructure plans and other relevant information.
The College’s Center for Sustainable Development also has some useful resources, like a map of bike racks and pumps (2) on campus and free short and long term bike share programs. The Center also committed to purchasing and installing several bike work-stations and additional pumps last year, so hopefully that will come to fruition in the near future. Their website also lists some of the locations of commuter lockers and showers, so you can still show up to class looking fresh as a daisy!
Second Chance Bikes is a local nonprofit that accepts donated bikes and refurbishes them in order to help provide affordable, healthy transportation to the community. I’ve been involved with Second Chance Bikes for several years, and over the summer I took on a new role as Program Manager. We provide bikes at no cost to folks through several partner organizations and also sell used bikes to the public at affordable prices. Last year we distributed over 1000 bikes via our partners, and this year we have sold over a hundred bikes in effort to meet the growing public demand for bikes due to COVID-19. The proceeds from all sales support our organization’s work, so if you are looking to buy an affordable bike please check out our online store or get in touch via email, Facebook, or Instagram. We also have volunteer opportunities for folks of all skill levels, so if you’re interested in contributing to our mission please be sure to follow us on social media or reach out directly!
Holy Spokes is Charleston’s local bike share and has special rates for students, $25/6 months or $40/year. The bikes are well maintained and easy to ride, but a bit on the heavy side and need to be returned to a dock location to avoid paying a fee.
The Bicycle Shoppe is the closest bike shop to campus, located near the intersection of George St. and Meeting St. The staff are knowledge and happy to help, whether you just need some complementary air in your tires or have a flat that needs fixing. They also rent bikes, so if you have family or friends visiting they can join you on a ride around town!
Charleston Pedicab/Charleston Rickshaw are awesome locally owned and operated businesses that tote folks around on three wheels. Disclaimer: I work for them as well! Riding in the back of these tricycles is SO much fun and way cooler than taking an Uber or Lyft. I love getting a ride to dinner, a show, or home from a night out. Their rates are pretty affordable at $6/person every ten minutes, especially considering they can get just about anywhere on the Peninsula in ten minutes or so. You can book a ride ahead of time, call to get a ride ASAP, or wave them down on the street.
Other bike-centric organizations and groups to check out: Charleston Moves, Palmetto Cycling Coalition, Charleston Cycle Chicks, Coastal Cyclists, The Thigh Highs, LCR, and Lowcountry Fat Tire Freaks.
See you on the streets!
Looking for other commuting options? The rest of this series covers CARTA bus transit and on-campus parking options!