Visiting Charleston, South Carolina

Antique bike in a real life still life.
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Can you see what is wrong in this picture?

April is not a great month in Ottawa, so my wife and I had planned a trip to South Carolina and Georgia’s low country along the coast. The coast line resembles very much the Dutch coast line of about a thousand years ago before the Dutch closed the gaps between the sand banks. That in it self doesn’t make it a holiday destination, unless you are a geography buff, but the lush green and warm weather definitely do.

Ottawa’s ski season is over in April, the weather is usually not something to write home about, the trees are still bare and it can be quite cold. In the past, we used to volunteer for the Tulip Festival early May and there were many nights in the Dutch tent that we were freezing our butts off. We even brought heaters in one night.

While we were sitting in 25 degrees (77 Fahrenheit) in Charleston, SC we were reading Alex the Puffin’s updates on wind gusts and wet snow in Ottawa. Nothing gives one more pleasure than the weather miseries of others. Especially Alex’ because a third of the year, he twitters pictures from Munich, Nice, Oslo, San Francisco or Berlin, sitting behind a large Beer stein on lush green terraces, no matter what season it is.

Antique bike in a real life still life.

Charleston is only about a 1600 km flight (1000 miles), but there are no direct flights unfortunately so it is a bit of a hike to get there (via Washington f.e.). A ticket was about 650 dollars return (Malaga, Spain, 100 dollars more with Air Transat), but it is worth the trip: we had a great time.

Narrow Olde Worlde one way streets of yore slows traffic down to a trickle and allows cyclists to cycle around without being concerned too much about safety. Few people wear helmets.
Meanwhile in Ottawa…

We thought Charleston and Savannah were absolute gems, with tons of great historical buildings (costing tons of money too), Magnolias the size of maple trees, wafts of Jasmine all over, beautiful restoration work and a very cycleable down town area. Compared with down town Charleston, the Byward Market looks like a parking lot of a second hand car dealership. Did I mention beach cycling on the Isle of Palms and Tybee Island?

Despite being from Holland with its magnificent beaches, I had never cycled on sand before. Great to just cruise over the beach.

Speaking in Charleston

In advance I had contacted the bike and walk community (Charleston Moves), where Tom and his friends are working on cycling advocacy to design safer routes for cyclists to get out of town (to the beach for example). They recently released a 100 page report, outlining the $42 million economic benefits Charleston could realise by promoting cycling and walking. I offered to talk about cycling in the Netherlands and in Ottawa and so on April 16, I stood in front of about 30 people (which is considered a good turn out for Charleston) to show some successes in the Netherlands and what we have accomplished in Ottawa so far. They loved the story, thought it was very inspirational and what particularly tickled their interest was the use of bike counters and the open data.

Tom, of Charleston Moves, generously invited us over for a home cooked shrimp and grits dinner in his Charleston Single.

Tom invited us over for dinner at home, a Charleston single (with lower and upper piazzas for the connoisseurs, see picture). He told us about Charleston Moves big project: the Battery to Beach project:

The Battery2Beach Route (B2B) is an initiative of Charleston Moves and a proposed new foundation of a regional Charleston people-powered connectivity plan. The route will cover 24 miles from Isle of Palms through down town Charleston to Folly Beach. Marked by distinctive signage, the goal is to make the route safe enough for bicycle riders of all ages and abilities.

We were shown these incredible bike storage boxes. I have never seen such sturdy cases. Every door is also a ramp to a cage to store a bike in. It must cost thousands of dollars and in my humble personal opinion they are a bit over designed. They were certainly a conversation piece.

From a distance, it looked like one of those trucks that moves poultry around. Heavily engineered, your bike is certainly safe there. I could do with less.
Sometimes a bit of a “je ne sais quoi” feeling, as if we were in France…
Many people seem to use their bikes for the short distance, a chore here, a bite there.
There were very few signs in down town, possibly because of the historic character, but likely also because the old (narrow) road design doesn’t allow for many mistakes (read: accidents) such as speeding, wrong parking or unexpected fast right turns. All felt very civilised. A stern warning helps too I guess.

I will write more about our visit over the next few weeks. Meanwhile sign up for alerts with your email address and check out the Ottawa Bicycle Culture Youtube clip:

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