I just read in the Beaufort Gazette (doesn’t everyone peruse their website daily?) that the town of Beaufort is in the process of adding sharrows to some of their busier streets. In addition, they’ve recently installed ten bike racks at various places around town. Says Mayor Billy Keyserling:
"Our goal is to make it comfortable and safe for people to move throughout Beaufort, whether they're on foot, in a car, on a bike, in a wheelchair, on a bus or riding a horse-drawn carriage. Roads need to be more than just thoroughfares for cars and trucks."
What an enlightened view.
Though the downtown and historic districts are wonderful for walking, Beaufort is even more fabulous for bicycling. It’s flat, and, except for a few roads, the traffic is calm and leisurely. (The horse-drawn carriages certainly help with this. You want to calm your town’s traffic? Sprinkle a few carriages here and there and traffic drops to a nineteenth century pace before you can say Edgar Allan Poe.)
I can’t say I’m a big fan of sharrows, painted arrows on the road indicating that the lane is meant to be shared between cars and bicycles. On any road with a speed limit above 25mph, bike lanes are much better. That way bikes have their space, cars have theirs, and far less conflict is to be had by all. But at least sharrows remind drivers that bicycles may be present, and in that respect they are better than nothing.
Here in San Francisco I’ve been a hardy urban bicyclist for the last three years. I bike or walk half my trips, including grocery shopping. I’d do even more if I weren’t constantly shuttling teens around in carpools. But bicycling in San Francisco, while enjoyable and rewarding, is rarely a tranquil experience. Beaufort, on other hand, as one glides under moss hanging from oaks in the sleepy afternoon heat, offers a timeless, limpid serenity. Lovely. Though I have to admit I’d rather experience this serenity this in temperatures under 90 degrees than over.
Charleston is another great bicycling town with its own brand of bicycle chic, and Hilton Head offers some of the best physically-separated bicycle infrastructure in the country. They deserve their silver medal as one of the nation’s top bicycle-friendly communities!
Bicycles are one of the most efficient machines human ingenuity has ever devised. If it weren’t for the fact that they didn’t appear in America until after the Civil War (although reports of something called a velocipede popped up in Scotland as early as 1839) and also for the fact that Beaufort’s antebellum roads consisted mostly of sand lined with oyster shells--not the best bicycling surface before rubber tires came on the scene, although very pleasant for horses, I imagine--I might have tried to slip one into Beaufort 1849. Instead, the characters ride on horseback or in carriages, or, when they’re in need of a constitutional, they walk. As proper antebellum characters should. Ah well. I can bicycle in Beaufort now.