Last week I received an email to our info@bikewalkgreeville.org address titled “Bike Commute”.  The writer shares a challenge many living in and moving to Greenville are facing:

“Hi!

I’ll be working at GE’s office at 201 Brookfield Pkwy. I would prefer to bike commute as we are a single car family.

Can you recommend a route from the N. Main neighborhood that would be remotely bikeable? I am fine with some sidewalk time, short cuts, whatever. I’m a stubborn and resourceful soul, so just looking for a way to get it ĵ.

Looking forward to getting into the area… and helping to promote a walking/biking culture!

Thanks!”

 

My immediate reaction upon reading this email was he could not have picked a worse destination for a bike commute!  Brookfield is the classic suburban office park, built close to the East Butler interchange of I-385 and near congested Woodruff Road.  It was designed for access only by car, not by bike.

Brookfield Office Park-Google maps
Brookfield Office Park-Google maps

The GE campus, including the gas turbine manufacturing operation, has been located on nearby Garlington Road for almost 50 years.  As they grow, GE leaders have stayed committed to the location, which unfortunately has now become the heart of Greenville’s suburban sprawl and traffic congestion.

In order to properly advise our correspondent, I reached out to other local advocates who I know are committed to bicycle commuting in Greenville County. Mary McGowan, who blogs at Rebel Without A Car, wrote a wonderful reply about how she would never live near that part of town.  However, Mary did successfully commute from near downtown to Mauldin Elementary school, near Brookfield, using both her bike and the hourly Greenlink bus to the Golden Strip. Unfortunately for would be bike commuters and our bike culture in Greenville County, there are not many souls as brave and resourceful as Mary.

James Thomas, a long time bike advocate, told of his plan to move to the Verdae area so he can have a safe two mile bike commute to Hubbell Lighting when the Swamp Rabbit Trail extension is completed.  James cautioned that safely getting to the Brookfield complex will be challenging, even for the fearless cyclist.

Former BWG Board member and GE employee Jason Albert, who lives in the North Main area,  provided details of his fifty-five minute bike commute.  Once weekly, Jason commutes to GE using the Swamp Rabbit Trail and ICAR bike lanes before he is confronted with treacherous Woodruff and Garlington Roads.  Jason reaffirmed the desire for wanting to live in N. Main where he loves the quality of life.  Jason also offered that most GE employees live in the suburbs of Mauldin and Simpsonville, which makes for an easy commute, albeit by car.

I sent a follow up email to asking for some more details about his planned move to Greenville.  He is in his thirties and moving to Greenville as a mid level manager for GE.  He and his wife have two children.  He went on to say, “We are part of a large group of people, across all age spectrums, who are driven not only to reduce our ecological footprint, but also to save money, improve our health, and increase our quality of life. Thus, a city culture that embraces and encourages walking and biking is a big deal to us. I firmly believe that if the area businesses would like to attract the motivated and talented — of all age groups, but especially the young — then having that type of culture is key to its success.”

We at Bike Walk Greenville couldn’t agree with you more.

It has been widely reported that there are an increasing number of people who want to live in cities that allow people to safely bike and walk on a daily basis.  Retrofitting suburban Greenville County to be safe for biking and walking is far too big a challenge to be achieved in the next ten years.  However, adding a network of protected bike lanes in downtown Greenville is certainly achievable.

I find it encouraging that Erwin Penland chose to add a new building downtown rather than build a less expensive campus in the suburbs.  In making this decision, they knew the talented, young people they want to attract prefer walking and biking, and the city lifestyle.

GE famously decided to move their headquarters from a suburban Connecticut campus to downtown Boston earlier this year, citing similar factors that our writer is now facing in his move to Greenville.  Maybe it is time for GE to rethink their commitment to locating their knowledge workers in the suburbs of Greenville.

Perhaps it is not feasible for GE leaders to relocate the Greenville campus downtown or near more complete transportation infrastructure, to allow employees to commute in a manner other than by car.  However, they could consider a private partnership with the SCDOT and Greenville County to help fund needed bicycle improvements to get to their campus.  Hollingsworth Funds recently provided $700,000 towards making Verdae Boulevard walkable and bikeable, and that project would not have proceeded without this private sector investment.

In order for Greenville County to have equitable transportation options, it will take investment, on the part of both public and private interests.  If we continue accepting a car centric transportation network, we will lose prospective citizens like the writer who want to contribute to our community.

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