CommuteSmart

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Ridesharing in Birmingham: 15 years and growing

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BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- City council adopted a revised transit code Tuesday that officials have said will allow app-based companies to do business in the city.

Representatives with one app-based commuter service company, Uber, have said the revisions make it difficult for them to operate.

While it isn't clear whether new rules would prevent Uber from ever coming to Birmingham, figures show the metro area's 15-year-old public ridesharing program is growing.

About 20,000 people who live or work in Jefferson and Shelby counties now participate in CommuteSmart, which began in 1999 and is administered by the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham.

Modified programs also exist in Huntsville, Mobile and Montgomery.

CommuteSmart matches riders with similar commutes to take advantage of alternative transportation including carpools, vanpools, bus rides and biking to reduce the number of vehicles on roadways.

Riders work out travel arrangements among themselves and share the costs of their commutes. CommuteSmart is a public service and participants aren't paid.

Compensation has been at the heart of a nationwide discussion in recent years about whether services such as Uber, with paid drivers, count as ridesharing programs.

Changing the definition, some say, would have unintended impacts on public programs by adding requirements for participants.

CommuteSmart is funded through the Federal Highway Administration as a ridesharing program.

Riders can keep track of their alternative commuting miles and earn incentives. Costs are shared among vehiclepoolers. For vanpools, that includes insurance for the vans, which are provided by a contractor who performs background checks.

In 2013, the Birmingham-area program added more than 4,000 new riders, growing by about 20 percent figures show.

In fiscal year 2013, the program reduced vehicle miles in the metro area by 15.2 million -- about 10.5 million through alternative forms of transportation and about 4.7 million through vanpools, records show.

The figure translates into about $6.3 million in savings and a carbon dioxide emissions reduction of about 6,000 tons, according to program figures.

The added benefit is that vanpool miles are reported to the National Transit Database, a national logbook used to allocate Federal Transit Administration funds said Scott Tillman, planning and operations director for the regional planning commission.

The planning commission gets a reimbursement for vanpool miles. That money is used for area transit, Tillman said.

Last year, the reimbursement totaled about $400,000, he said.

If the ordinance had changed -- especially grouping Uber under the rideshare definition -- planning officials fear that would have made it difficult for participants to continue using CommuteSmart.

Those changes, Tillman said, would have required drivers to get permits, business licenses and extra insurance.

Tillman said companies such as Uber are helpful because they add options for commuters.

"We are all for different transportation options as long as they fall within the guidelines of city codes," Tillman said.


via al.com

Shelby County Park and Ride Lot Open to the Public

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Commuters can now utilize the Shelby County Park and Ride lot which is located adjacent from the Shelby County Airport. This lot features 125 to 130 parking spaces for commuter to to link up and share the ride. Shelby County officials expects most people utlizing the Park and Ride lot will be heading into Birmingham or Montgomery to work.

Federal money under MAP-21 was used to build the lot was approved by the Bir­mingham Metropolitan Planning Organization with Shelby County paying the local match. This project was completed because Alabama Department of Transporation (ALDOT), Shelby County, and the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham all worked together to move this forward. Shelby County has now joined Blount and Chilton counties in hosting park-and-ride lots just off Interstate 65.

County and state officials expect this lot to start out as a spot for carpooling, but have hopes that the lot could become a spot for other forms of mass transit. Visit www.commutesmart.org to begin receiveing incentives to carpooling or vanpooling during your work commute!


May is National Bike Month and CommuteSmart celebrated National Bike to Work Day on May 16, 2014. The CommuteSmart team welcomed 63 bike commuters who made the choice to cycle to work. This year, instead of having a fun ride around the city, CommuteSmart hosted 7 "energizer stations" around the Birmingham region. CommuteSmart's goal was to celebrate commuters taking a healthy alternative form of transportation to work while also reduce traffic congestion and vehicle emissions. Local coffee shops around the city posed as "energizer stations" and donated a cup of coffee and provided an opportunity to meet up with other riders who biked to work. Those who biked to work were rewarded with free coffee at various coffee shops around Birmingham, as well as free t-shirts and bike gear.

"We've done this 11 or 12 years now and usually see about 40-60 cyclists participate," explained Lindsey G. West, Deputy Director of Operations at the RPCGB. "In the past, we've done a group ride in the morning, but instead of a group ride this year, we're doing the energizer stations at the coffee shops so it will really be a bike-to-work because people don't have to worry about doing one specific ride."

Special thanks to Lucy's Coffee & Tea, O'Henry's Coffee, Urban Standard, Crestwood Coffee, Church Street Coffee & Books and Starbucks in Irondale for participating this year. Also a special thanks to Redemptive Cycles whom provided free bike tune-ups to those who biked to work that day.

RPCGB hopes to expand Bike to Work even further into the region next year, please reach out to Jeniese Hosey at jhosey@rpcgb.org if you are interested in getting your community involved in 2015 and visit the Bike to Work website at www.b2wbham.com for more information!

RPCGB hosts Leadership Alabama Bike Tour

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Leaders from all over the State of Alabama visited Birmingham this past week and toured parts of downtown Birmingham on bike. Lindsey West, Deputy Director of Operations, led the group of more than 60 riders on a 5.5 mile tour of the city center. Starting at the Uptown District, the route took the riders through the Civil Rights District, Railroad Park and Regions Field, Pepper Place and Jones Valley Teaching Farm before ending back at Uptown. Presenters, such as Camille Spratling, Cathy Sloss Jones (Class of VIII) and Frank Stitt (Class XXI) and Grant Brigham were onsite at each of the locations to present to the Leadership Alabama Class of XXIV. The growth and support of the cycling community and the Birmingham Bikeshare discussions prompted the tour to be taken via bike.

Michelle Roth, Leadership Alabama Program Manager, coordinated the event with RPCGB through, Leadership Alabama member and RPCGB Executive Director, Charles Ball. According to the website, "Leadership Alabama gives established leaders across Alabama exposure to the broader fabric of the state. It develops a network of relationships and provides a structure for this network to seek mutual understanding of problems and priorities for Alabama's future. Leadership Alabama encourages its members to act, individually and in concert, to move Alabama forward to help our state reach its full potential."

The ride began with a bicycle safety instructional from Stan Palla, with Alabike. Guides along the ride included: Clay Ousley, Mike Kaczorowski, Jana White and Shannon O'Dell. Bikes and helmets for the riders were rented from Cahaba Cycles and marks their largest group rental to date.

View pictures from the ride here.

National Bike to School Day at Bluff Park Elementary

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(BPES) - Bluff Park Elementary School held a bicycle parade in partnership with Children's of Alabama, Safe Kids Alabama and Safe Routes to School Central Alabama on May 7 as part of National Bike to School Day.

The celebration began at 7:15 a.m. with a morning arrival parade of students riding their bikes from Shades Crest Baptist Church down Park Terrace to Bluff Park Elementary. An afternoon dismissal parade rolled out of the school at 2:45 p.m. as students returned to Shades Crest Baptist. Bluff Park Elementary was selected as the site of the event because a large number its students ride their bikes to school each day.

The purpose of Bike to School Day is to educate children and their families about how to ride a bike safely, encourage them to always wear a bike helmet and to promote good health by exercising. In the week prior to the event, safety experts from Children's conducted puppet show and other demonstrations to teach safe biking habits to Bluff Park students and distributed bike helmets to those who didn't have one. Last year, 28 children were treated at Children's of trauma injuries sustained in bike wrecks. A trauma is a life-threatening or life-altering injury.

Earlier in the school year, Bluff Park Elementary hosted several Walk to School Day events in partnership with Safe Routes to School of Central Alabama which utilized a Walking School Bus, supervised by adult volunteers, that followed three neighborhood routes. Several hundred students and parents participated. Safe Routes to School is a movement to create safe, convenient and fun opportunities for students to walk and bike to school.

Children's of Alabama has provided specialized medical care for ill and injured children since 1911, offering inpatient and outpatient services throughout central Alabama. Last year, families made more than 670,000 outpatient and nearly 14,000 inpatient visits to Children's from every county in Alabama and from 45 other states and four foreign countries. More information is available at www.childrensal.org.

Safe Routes to School of Central Alabama is a joint initiative of United Way of Central Alabama and the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham. It strives to accomplish several objectives including increased safety, physical activity, traffic mitigation and improved air quality. Safe Routes to School partners with schools to educate and encourage students to walk, and works with cities to improve infrastructure to be more conducive for walking and biking. More information is available at www.saferoutesal.org.

More information about Bike to School Day is available at www.walkbiketoschool.org. See PHOTOS from today's event here.

via Hoover City Schools

Every time he braked for a group of cyclists, the pastor would pound on his steering wheel.

This is dumb--you're in the way! Why are you on the road?

He would hover behind the last rider in line, fuming until he could pass. Then he'd stomp on the gas and roar by the riders, inches from bare elbows. If they cringed, too bad. It served them right. They didn't belong on the road.

Then last March, Jason Williams began a journey to the other side of the windshield. There, somewhere along the edge of the asphalt, the youth pastor discovered, to his own surprise, that bikes do in fact belong. It just took a few miles on two thin wheels to figure out how, and why.
It had nothing to do with cycling.

It had everything to do with change.

"I was inspired by a young man who I mentored," says Williams, who founded Aspire, a mentoring program for kids. His inspiration, 11-year-old Xavier Taylor, was overweight and out of shape. "I wanted to tell him he needed to eat healthy, work out and take care of himself."

But the mirror showed a 36-year-old mentor who was also overweight and out of shape. Kids will learn more from us modeling than telling them what to do, the pastor told himself. So he started walking. Walking progressed into jogging. Then running. Then cycling, to give his knees a break.

A year later, Williams found himself fitter, healthier and 110 pounds lighter.

He had discovered a new community. He had met new friends on nearly every ride. He had rediscovered on the bike a childlike joy, and he chased it 75 miles a week. The wide-open view framed by handlebars was so different from the one through the windshield.

"You get a brand-new perspective on a bike," Williams says. "You take in a lot more things."

Williams shared what he learned with Xavier, who started eating a little differently and moving a little more. Last November, the pair learned to mountain bike. Xavier struggled up the hills. Williams encouraged him. And somewhere along the 2.4-mile trail, the pastor rediscovered the bike once again: this time as a tool for ministry, a vehicle for life's lessons.

A vehicle for change
Stories like this play out every day across Alabama. On the road and on the trail, on cruisers and hybrids, kids and adults are rediscovering something nearly lost for a generation. Their stories illustrate why bikes matter, even in a state where riding a bike is still miles away from mainstream.

Alabama is ranked No. 49 among bicycle-friendly states, with scarce infrastructure, dismal funding and few legal rights for cyclists. The state's drivers include kind and courteous people unaccustomed to seeing bike on the road, and who sometimes drive -- intentionally or not -- in ways that put them in danger. Which is why Alabama is the fourth-deadliest state for pedestrians and cyclists. And why we're ranked dead last in the nation for walking and biking to work. Nearly two dozen states require cars to give cyclists 3 feet when they pass, including Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana. Alabama has yet to pass the 3-foot law.

You could look at these numbers and see hopelessness. But cyclists lean towards the sunny side of the street (blame the endorphins), and a lot of them see opportunity. Alabama is ranked No. 42 in inactivity and No. 46 for obesity, with 33 percent of the population considered overweight. And the bike is one of the most accessible, affordable and practical tools we have to change that.

"Biking is a sport that you can easily do into your 70s, and it is also a great family activity," says Doug Brown, a retired corporate insurance broker working to get more kids on bikes. "There are now several organizations that refurbish and recycle old bikes, and everyone should be able to afford one."

Despite considerable obstacles -- few protected paths, non-existent bike lanes and roads with little or no shoulder -- the local cycling community is thriving in spite of its challenges. The Birmingham Bicycle Club counts 230 members. More than 750 women have joined Magic City Cycle Chix, a nonprofit group that hosts women's rides and clinics. Dan "Dirtdog" Watson's weekly cycling dispatch has 1,000 email subscribers. You can join a group ride any day of the week, and in it you will meet the broad spectrum of people who make up this friendly community. They are doctors, mechanics, artists, students, scientists, teachers, pastors and more.

"It's a community of diverse people with diverse occupations," says Sonja Rieger, 61, an art professor at UAB. "You can start a ride with a person you've never met, and by the time you finish, you've made a new friend."

One of the most surprising advocates in the state is Bo Jackson. After hip surgery ended his professional career, Jackson discovered cycling as a low-impact way to stay in shape.

"It's a very social exercise," says Jackson. "I've been riding bicycles since I was 4 or 5 years old. I have really gotten into cycling in the past [few] years from the standpoint of physical fitness, because I don't run any more. It's another way to keep my legs and back strong."

When Jackson created an event to raise money for Alabama tornado relief, he could have centered it around football or baseball. Instead he chose cycling, one of the few sports at which he is not off-the-charts exceptional.

Bo Bikes Bama drew nearly 800 riders from 24 states and raised $700,000 in 2012 and 2013. It gave everyday athletes the chance to ride shoulder to shoulder with ESPN's Greatest Athlete of All Time, who struggles up hills just like the rest of us, joking breathlessly, "Bo and hills do not get along."

This is one of the signs across Alabama that the bike is emerging not only as a means of health and fitness, but also a mode of transportation, a social vehicle and a source of tourism and economic development. From scenic country roads to rails-to-trails paths to an expanding network of mountain-bike trails, the nation's second unfriendliest bike state (on paper, at least) is becoming a surprisingly popular place to pedal.

"I have ridden in 35 states, I don't find our state any less friendly than any other state," says Stan Palla, 58, executive director of AlaBike, an advocacy group. "I ride 5,000 miles a year, and I don't have that many issues with drivers. We are starting a new campaign that Alabama is bicycle friendly."

Trails to dollars
On any given Saturday, the dirt trails at Anniston's Coldwater Mountain are buzzing with bikers from several states. Some of them have driven a few hundred miles for a taste of the Alabama singletrack -- dirt trails just wide enough for a bike -- that's drawing national attention in publications like Bike magazine, DirtRag and Bicycling.com. A short pedal from downtown, Coldwater's 4,000 rolling acres were acquired by the Forever Wild land trust specifically to build a mountain-bike park. With 25 miles of purpose-built trails that ride like roller coasters of dirt -- and plans for 50 more -- it is a key piece of Anniston's blueprint to become "the Southeast's most bicycle-friendly community."

Between the topography of the Appalachian foothills and the mild winters of our Southern clime, Anniston has the makings of a four-season biking destination -- something even the Whistlers and Park Cities of the world can't claim. To get there, Anniston is investing in ways to make getting around by bike convenient and enjoyable: adding bike lanes, connecting Coldwater trails to downtown and completing the last stretch of the Chief Ladiga trail, a former railway converted into a flat, paved path. It links with Georgia's Silver Comet trail, which stretches all the way to Atlanta.

The potential payoff is multifold: enhanced lifestyle amenities for residents, a quality-of-life differentiator for companies looking to relocate, and an economic boost for local businesses. The city already reaps great benefits from its annual cycling events. The 100-mile Cheaha Challenge ride draws 500 to 600 participants, and the Sunny King Criterion race attracts downtown crowds as big as 7,000. Those visitors spend money at local restaurants, shops and hotels. That's a big deal to a town of 25,000.

"We compare it to a ski mountain -- downtown would be the ski village," says Mike Poe, a financial advisor who is a driving force in the city's bike events. "The demographic of mountain bikers is similar to skiers -- educated, affluent, like to travel. But you don't have the overhead of the lifts, personnel, having to groom the slopes. And it's year-round."

Coldwater is the latest blue-chip in Alabama's singletrack portfolio, which includes several state parks: Oak Mountain, Tannehill, Monte Sano, Ft. DeSoto, Guntersville and Chewacla. You'll also find great riding in Syacauga, Trussville and Tuscaloosa. This embarrassment of riches could be the making of a "trail of trails" that is the mountain-bike equivalent of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. "We are passionate about partnering with the biking community to create the next generation of state park customers and advocates," says Greg Lein, Alabama State Parks director.

One such partnership is to thank for the crown jewel of Alabama mountain biking. The world-class trails at Oak Mountain State Park are the result of a public-private partnership between Shelby County and the Birmingham Urban Mountain Pedalers, a nonprofit club devoted to building and maintaining trails. Together, BUMP and Shelby County have won more than $400,000 in trail-building grants over the past five years and built nearly 30 miles of trails of all flavors and levels, including a pump track and a downhill flow trail. As a result, Oak Mountain has joined Whistler and Moab on a short list of the world's best trails. It is one of 54 spots around the globe awarded "Epic Ride" status by the International Mountain Bike Association.

On weekends, Oak Mountain's South Trailhead is a sea of roof racks and bikes. During events, the park brims with athletes who come from as far as California to race on nationally renowned trails. The Xterra off-road triathlon pros call Oak Mountain "the best bike course on the circuit" and return every May for the Southeast Championships. On May 31 and June 1, the BUMP 'n' Grind mountain bike race will draw 500 competitors. Team Magic hosts three multi-sport events in the park throughout the summer, all favorites of triathletes from here and around the region.

"The beauty of those events is, people visit the hotels, the restaurants, get gas and sometimes come in a few days ahead of time to practice," says Shelby County events planner Chris Hershey. "I wouldn't be surprised if they brought in over $1 million collectively."

While hard numbers on the economic impact of cycling in Alabama are difficult to come by, other areas have research that shows the vast potential. One study calculated the economic impact of bike recreation and tourism in Wisconsin to be more than $924 million in 2006. Jackson Hole, Wyo., found that its trail system generated $18 million of economic activity in 2010.

Urban riding Every Tuesday at 6 p.m., a motley peloton of riders gathers in front of the Silvertron Café in Forest Park. It's the meet-up point for Le Tour de Ham, a 10-mile social cruise that invites riders of all backgrounds and abilities for a taste of city riding. This is one ride where you won't find a peloton, or pack, of skin-tight shorts and funny shoes. Street clothes are the norm, and any old bike will do (as long as you have a helmet).

"People who have not ridden in years actually get a bike to join our tour because they do not get intimidated like they do with all the other 'geared up' rides," says co-ride-leader Veronique "Vero" Vanblaere, 42. The artist and gallerista at Naked Art Gallery leads the ride with Palla of Alabike. "No Spandex allowed. Slowest rider sets the pace. No one is ever left behind," Vanblaere says.

The ride, which draws as many as 80 riders in the summertime, shows new riders how it is possible to get around by bike in a city without much bike infrastructure. It's a glimmer of encouragement, along with programs like CommuteSmart, which offers incentives (as much as $1 a ride) to use a bike as transportation.

"I ride my bike to work and back every day, saving over $35 per week in gas alone for the 14-mile commute," says Brian Toone, a computer science professor at Samford University and a 37-year-old father of two who rides 450 miles a week. "Yes, there are dangerous elements to riding with so much traffic in the Birmingham area, but most of the drivers I encounter are courteous."

For many would-be commuters, it all comes down to safety. And while the law gives cyclists the same rights and restrictions as cars, many riders would feel safer on protected bike paths physically separated from traffic.

That's the promise of the Red Rock Ridge and Valley Trail System, a network of interconnected bike and pedestrian paths that, after years of planning, is becoming a reality. Ryan Parker of the Freshwater Land Trust says there will be 29 miles of trails and bike lanes completed by the end of 2014, and within five years there should be 50 miles. The trail system emphasizes connectivity, linking parks and green spaces -- including Railroad Park and Red Mountain Park -- with communities across Birmingham.

This is a huge step in making the city bike-friendly, a change that will benefit people from all walks of life, neighborhoods and socioeconomic backgrounds. For someone who cannot afford a car, the bike can open up job opportunities farther than walking distance from home.

To that end, Bici Bicycle Cooperative is a non-profit community bike shop dedicated to providing affordable bikes, maintenance and education to everyone. Its Highland Park shop, open Monday and Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m., provides volunteer mechanics who help riders fix their bikes for a suggested donation of $5 an hour and accepts donations of used bikes and parts that they redistribute to the community. Bikes sell for $75, but purchasers must put in work with the mechanics to get their "new" bikes rideable. Redemptive Cycles, another community shop in downtown Birmingham, has an earn-a-bike program for those who can't afford to buy one.

"Each year we get busier and busier," says Bici Coop co-founder Anna Carrigan, "which I think is a great representation of how cycling is growing as an activity in Birmingham."

The future, on wheels
About two Saturdays a month, a van with 10- to 14-year-old kids pulls into a field at Oak Mountain. The kids spill out and run, hooting, to a fleet of mountain bikes laid out in the grass by their host group, Trips for Kids. A national non-profit with a 1-year-old Birmingham chapter, Trips for Kids partners with youth-development programs such as Boys & Girls Clubs and the YMCA to reward at-risk kids for good grades and behavior by taking them on a joy ride.

"Many of the children we serve rarely have the opportunity to go biking at a state park," says Todd Love, 51, director of public housing for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Alabama. "Many would probably never set foot on a bike if it were not for programs like Trips for Kids."

After being fitted with helmets and matched with a bike, the kids get a lesson in basic skills like braking and shifting by trained coaches. Then they embark on a short but transformative journey along some of the prettiest trails in the state.

Programs like this aim to revive the childhood experience of riding a bike, with all the freedom and joy it entails. Bikes may have gotten fancier in the last few decades, but the joy of the ride never changes.

"They always leave these events in awe," Love says. "It's like they can't believe this world (park, bikes, kind people) really exists. Inevitably the first question I get asked when we leave is, 'When can we come back?'"

Doug Brown, the executive director of the Birmingham chapter of Trips for Kids, hopes to expand the program to include a bike re-cyclery and earn-a-bike program so kids who fall in love with bikes have a way to move forward. He also hopes the program can feed the ranks of a new high school mountain-bike program launching soon in Alabama.

The National Interscholastic Cycle League announced in April that Alabama is the next official league, slated to launch a statewide high school mountain bike program in the spring of 2015. With an estimated 4,000 kids racing in 13 states, NICA unveiled a Tennessee league last spring and will launch a Georgia league this fall.

"We think of this as a youth development program," says Eddie Freyer, 42, director of the Alabama NICA league. "We're helping them
develop a strong mind, body and character through a sport they can enjoy their entire lives."

Life lessons
"Life is like riding a bicycle," Albert Einstein told his son in a letter. "To keep your balance, you have to keep moving."

The bike has wonderful lessons to teach.

They have nothing to do with cycling.

The boy named Xavier pedaled along in the back of the pack, behind kids who seemed to float up the hills like butterflies. Xavier struggled up every rise, feeling miserable and breathless and hot and unsure he could finish. His mentor, Pastor Williams, told him he believed he could. Xavier kept pedaling and kept breathing. He finished.

At the end of the trail, having sandwiches under the shady pines, the pastor and the boy talked about their journey. It was only 2.3 miles long. But it carried them much farther.

"This is just a metaphor for how life is gonna be," the pastor says. "There are times we want to give up and quit. But you finished the ride. You didn't think you could do it. How does that feel?"

Xavier smiled.

"I'm tired."

Join a club

Birmingham Bicycle Club
bhambikeclub.org

Magic City Cycle Chix
magiccitycyclechix.com

Birmingham Urban Mountain Pedalers
bump.org

Get a bike

Cahaba Cycles
(Homewood, Vestavia, Pelham,
Trussville)
cahabacycles.com

Bob's Bikes (Homewood)
bobs-bikes.com

Bike Link (Hoover)
bikelinkbham.com

Birmingham Bicycle Co. (Crestline Park)
bhambicycle.com

Edgewood Cycles (Homewood)
edgewoodcycles.com

Brick Alley Bikes (Hoover)
brickalleybikes.com

Bici Bicycle Cooperative (Southside)
bicicoop.org

Redemptive Cycles (Downtown)
redemptivecycles.com

Alabama cycling, by the numbers.

No. 49 Bicycle friendly states (League of American Bicyclists)
(Source: ASTHO and United Health Foundation)

No. 42 Inactivity; 27.2 percent
(Source: ASTHO and UHF)

No. 50 Biking and walking to work
(Alliance for Biking and Walking)

No. 47 Fatality rates for cyclists and pedestrians (AB&W)

Need to know
(drivers)

• Bicyclists are legally allowed on the road. Considered non-motorized vehicles, they have the same rights and obligations as cars.

• Cyclists have the right to ride two abreast.

• Giving a cyclist a 3-foot berth when passing is not yet law, but cyclists (and their families)
appreciate it.


Need to know
(cyclists)

• Bikes have the same obligations as cars. Which means running a stop sign, or a red light, is break ing the law and can earn you a ticket.

• Alabama law requires cyclist riding at night or before dawn to have a red rear reflector visible from 500 feet when headlights shine upon it. A blinkie may not legally qualify unless it also has a reflector.

• Alabama is one of two states with a contributory negligence law. That means if you are 1 percent at fault, and that 1 percent contributes to a crash, the vehicle may not be legally responsible.

By Kim Cross via Birmingham Magazine


BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- April is Earth Month, and UAB is getting into the environmental swing with several events.

There is an Arbor Day celebration in progress on campus today until 1 p.m., according to the UAB Reporter. The event includes educational demonstrations, a tree-planting ceremony and other activities. One of the sponsoring groups is the UAB student environmental group, Green Initiative.

The remaining events this month are as follows:

Wednesday, April 9: UAB Earth Month Festival, to be held on the Campus Green from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. There will be food, live music, educational booths and vendors selling produce and green products.

There will be about 30 vendors, including the Alabama Environmental Council, Birmingham Public Library, Black Warrior Riverkeeper, Commute Smart, Green Garage, Redemptive Cycles and REV Birmingham, according to the UAB Sustainability web site.

Thursday, April 10: Southern Exposure Film Series, Spencer Honors House, 7 p.m. There will be a screening of short films designed to raise awareness about environmental issues in Alabama.

The films to be screened are "Overburdened: Undermined," "Beltline Blues," "Rain's Gonna Come," and "Forever Wild," according to the UAB Sustainability site.

Friday, April 11: Household hazardous waste collection, UAB Recycling Center, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. UAB faculty, staff and students can bring household items such as paint and solvents to be disposed properly.

Electronic waste will also be accepted, courtesy of Advanced Technology Recycling.

For more information about these events, go to www.uab.edu/sustainability.

For more news from Birmingham, go to www.al.com/birmingham.

via al.com


BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- Downtown's flat topography, wide streets and high concentration of people and jobs are good ingredients for a bike sharing program, a study concluded.

Now that a report has deemed such a program feasible, the next steps involve looking at whether there are resources to financially support and sustain such a program said Lindsey West, deputy director of the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham.

More than 40 U.S. cities have begun bike sharing programs. The concept is have a network of stations where riders can rent bicycles for a period of time, ride to appointments or other destinations and return them to nearby stations.

The goal, planning commission officials have said, is to reduce congestion by giving commuters another option for getting around downtown.

The planning commission contracted with Toole Design Group to explore bringing a program to Birmingham. During a public meeting in November, the consultants said the city has a "good foundation" for a program.

The report is available at BirminghamBikeShare.com.

Toole Design Group's study found that downtown Birmingham can support at network of 30 to 40 stations and a total of 300 to 400 bikes, with the program possibly serving nearby Lakeview district, the St. Vincent's Hospital area and neighborhoods such as Avondale, Forest Park and Highland Park.

The study also identified some challenges to starting a program. The city's bike infrastructure -- system of bike lanes -- "while continually growing, is still not completely developed," the report states.

"Lack of a strong existing network of bicycle friendly facilities is not necessarily a deterrent to bikeshare," the report also states. "Almost every city that has implemented a system has built out their bicycle infrastructure parallel to building a bikeshare system."

The planning commission now will develop an implementation plan. A major part of studying implementation is seeing if financial support exists.

West said conversations have begun with potential stakeholders including the City of Birmingham, city council, the mayor's office and non-profit and community foundations.

"It's gotta be a priority for all of us," West said. "This is something we don't just want to put out for Birmingham, Birmingham has got to want it."

If done, this would be the first area-wide bike share. Several businesses are participating in internal bike shares including Alabama Power and businesses in the Lakeview district.

via al.com

Do you CommuteSmart?

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Parked in the far lot at the Alabaster Lowe's, sits a large white van with CommuteSmart written on the side. But what is it doing there? And what exactly is CommuteSmart? According to Brian Atkinson, business outreach manager for CommuteSmart, CommuteSmart is a solution to the problem of wasting away while stuck in traffic. "The average commuter from Alabaster to downtown Birmingham drives about forty-five miles round-trip, every day," shared Atkinson. From figures provided by Atkinson, the average savings, for a commuter who finds a way to share a ride, is about $340 per month - or more than $4,000 per year.

But it is not just about money. "Different people use the program for different reasons," explained Atkinson. "Many of our users join for the cash and gift cards program. Others simply realize the substantial amount of money they save by carpooling, vanpooling, bicycling, and teleworking. Still others join just to have someone to pass the time with
while they travel back and forth to work. It helps reduce stress," he shared.

Many people share a ride without joining the CommuteSmart program, but if they were to join, there would be some excellent incentives to be gained. "For each day a commuter chooses an alternative commute option, and logs that commute on our website, they receive $1 per day, up to $70, during the first ninety days. After the initial period, they can continue to log their alternative commutes to receive $25 gift cards for gas, groceries, and other items," shared Atkinson. The benefits do not end with just financial gain. "Logging also makes the commuter eligible for up to five emergency rides home per year, in which CommuteSmart will take the commuter back to their starting point at no cost to them for things such as illness, a sick child, or unscheduled overtime," he stated.

CommuteSmart was officially established at the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham, in 1999, with the mission to improve air quality and reduce traffic congestion. "To meet these goals," shared Atkinson, "the program has evolved to include management of vanpools, rideshare matching for carpools, administering an emergency ride home program, supporting public transit, bicycle and walking commuters, assist businesses in developing transportation demand management plans, and recently studying the feasibility of a bikeshare program (stay tuned for results on bikeshare)."
The need for this program is in the air, according to Atkinson. "Our area consistently ranks among the worst in terms of air pollution," he explained. This pollution is a leading source of respiratory harm, increased cardiovascular issues, and premature death. And the biggest cause of all the pollution? Cars. And while health is a big driving force, economics play a big part as well. "According to an annual study from Texas A&M," shared Atkinson, "traffic congestion has cost our area over $2.2 billion in the past five years in lost time and excess fuel costs alone. By encouraging better commuter choices, CommuteSmart helps to reduce vehicle miles travelled, which in turn improves air quality, reduces traffic congestion, and promotes economic efficiency."

So how is Alabaster doing sharing rides? According to Atkinson's numbers, fairly well. "Of the roughly 15,600 Alabaster commuters, slightly more than one in ten get to work by car or vanpool," he gladly shared. And while many citizens of Alabaster rideshare, many more do not. "The bad news is that the percentage of commuters who drive alone in their vehicle to workplaces from Alabaster is near the bottom third of the forty-eight municipalities tracked in the CommuteSmart program area," shared Atkinson. Roughly 85.6% of all Alabaster commuters drive alone, which is higher than Shelby County's 84.5% and Alabama's 84.3% averages. To register for the service visit www.CommuteSmart.org or call 205-264-8455.

via Alabaster Connection


Residents of the greater Birmingham area continue to lead the state in terms of time spent driving to work.

Click the chart for the average commute times.

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The U.S. Census breaks answers up into five minute segments. In Birmingham, the most popular answer was: It takes me between 30-34 minutes to get to work.

Huntsville, Mobile and Montgomery all saw the most common response in the 20-24 minute range.

Birmingham also leads for the very longest commutes.

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On the other hand, here's a look at the percentage of people in each of the state's largest metro areas who say they can reach work in under 15 minutes.

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via al.com