Bike Walk Golden Isles makes important progress in 2021, sets ambitious goals for the future
In December 2019, a public meeting was held in Brunswick to gauge interest in a new bicycle and pedestrian advocacy organization on the Coast. Then the pandemic hit, stopping the effort in its tracks. But only temporarily. Bike Walk Golden Isles, Georgia’s newest bicycle and pedestrian advocacy organization, is again rolling forward, having made significant progress this year.
Van Black, chair of the BWGI board of directors, said he’s proud of the speed with which the organization came together. A steering committee was formed and began meeting twice a month via Zoom, members started participating in socially-distanced outdoor activities, and a survey was conducted to identify priorities for the organization.
“We built a board, we created a solid set of corporate bylaws, established financial systems, and we researched and implemented a comprehensive donor management system in just a few months,” he said.
Black is also pleased with the composition of the board of directors, which grew out of the steering committee, and the expertise that individual members bring to it.
“All of our board members are very knowledgeable and are experts in the roles that they have accepted. They have direct experience in running non-profit organizations, in maintaining and expanding infrastructure, and in creating educational and safety programs,” he said. “Additionally, everyone works well together and has fun as a group.”
Patti Sistrunk, program manager at the Georgia Safe Routes to School Resource Center, serves as BWGI secretary and is also enthused with the organization’s recent accomplishments.
“I’m proud that we’re seeing such an immediate interest from the community while being able to collaborate and partner with so many organizations and people already,” she said. “Every conversation I have about Bike Walk Golden Isles leads to more possibilities. This organization was needed.”
One such opportunity for collaboration occurred in May when BWGI teamed up with Georgia Bikes and Bike Walk Savannah to develop a bicycle education program for hundreds of students at Burroughs-Molette Elementary School in Brunswick. The partnership continued when the organizations offered education programs to students enrolled in Savannah-Chatham County Public School System summer programs. In all, nearly 400 students at seven schools participated in bicycle safety programs.
Bike Walk Savannah Executive Director Caila Brown said, “Having BWGI just down the road allows us to cooperate on issues throughout the coastal region. Our partnership with BWGI will also help us find opportunities to improve connectivity and expand mobility options in coastal communities — and amplify the effectiveness of both our organizations.”
Brown said she’s seen groups in Metro Atlanta work together and is glad to have similar opportunities for collaboration in Southeast Georgia. In addition to partnering with Bike Walk Savannah, BWGI has also worked with the Brunswick Downtown Development Authority, the Gullah Geechee Bicycle Ride Across Georgia Dream Team, the Golden Isles Track Club, the Camden Cycling Club, the East Coast Greenway Alliance, the Coastal Regional Commission, and the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.
Black said the organization is well positioned to promote the region’s reputation as a good place for walking and biking, while advocating for projects that improve safety.
“The Golden Isles are one of the best places in the country for biking, walking, and rolling. Certain infrastructure elements designed to support these activities are currently in place, but there are tremendous opportunities for additional growth,” he said. “BWGI is striving to work with local officials to provide more trails, paths, and other opportunities to enjoy life in the Golden Isles. Additionally, there are many residents here — and tourists as well — who are new to biking, walking, and rolling and BWGI wants to help these people to learn to love these activities, to engage in relevant events, and to be safe while they are enjoying these undertakings.”
BWGI has big plans in 2021, including organizing fun, casual bike rides for people of all ages and abilities, growing its membership, and becoming a, “trusted source in the community for delivering educational and safety programs,” Black said. This year BWGI has participated in and helped to promote the Gullah Geechee BRAG Dream Team’s monthly Justice for Ahmaud Community Bike Rides, staffed a booth at Brunswick PorchFest, and served as one of the local hosts for the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety Capital to Coast bicycle safety tour.
The organization is also ready to represent coastal residents who want safer streets and public spaces, Black said, and members have been meeting with elected officials and other local government staff members.
“We want to be a resource for area politicians, the Georgia Department of Transportation representatives, Department of Natural Resources personnel, and other community officials as they focus on enhancing the local infrastructure by creating more biking, walking, and rolling opportunities for residents and visitors.”
Sistrunk has a similar vision for the organization’s role.
“BWGI will be a collective voice for people who want to bike and walk as well as people who have to bike and walk,” she said. “ I’m a project manager who works in bicycle and pedestrian programs for a living, and I value the important role bicycle and pedestrian advocates play around the state and country. I’ve seen the amazing things groups like Georgia Bikes, Bike Walk Savannah, BikeAthens, the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, Bike Coweta, and Bike Walk Macon do. I want that here where I live and I want to be a part of it. I hope a lot of other people want to be part of BWGI, too.”
Georgia Bikes began providing administrative support to Bike Walk Golden Isles in October 2019, as part of its efforts to strengthen bicycle and pedestrian advocacy organizations throughout the state and help to launch new efforts. If you are interested in how Georgia Bikes can help organize advocacy initiatives your community, email firstname.lastname@example.org.