Biking and walking are getting a lot better in Macon, thanks to local advocate Rachel Hollar.
Rachel Hollar is the energetic spark behind the success of Bike Walk Macon, the leading advocacy group in the Macon-Bibb County area. I recently had a chance to catch up with Rachel to discuss how cycling culture has changed in the Macon area since Rachel founded Bike Walk Macon in 2015.
Back in 2015, Rachel was, like a lot of people, someone who relied on her car for most things, including the short drive from her home to her place of work. One day she decided to try something different and rode her bicycle to work instead of driving. It was a short ride, only about a mile. But Rachel discovered that riding her bike not only felt great, it was easy, fast, and she always had free parking. Once she started riding regularly, she immediately felt happier, healthier, and connected to the people and community around her.
Inspired both by her daily bike commute and the occasional group ride, Rachel had the vision to believe that Macon could do much more to encourage cycling and that the cycling community had much more to offer back to Macon. She did some research and applied to 880 Cities, which awarded her an Emerging City Champion Fellowship. Her idea was to have a voice both for improving bike infrastructure and for bringing people in the community together. “Bike Macon” was born. The initial response was amazing, and Rachel quickly realized that the interests of the cycling community and Macon-Bibb County pedestrian advocates were typically one and the same, so she reorganized the group as “Bike Walk Macon.”
Bike Walk Macon took on its first major project with Open Streets Macon, a street party that opened up a major thoroughfare to people. The event was an immediate success and now is on its 4th year. People in Macon responded wonderfully to seeing how great their city can be when you remove cars and trucks and return the streets to the people.
Since Bike Walk Macon started, the cycling culture in Macon has improved tremendously. Not only have the people in the area responded, but local Government has too. Where there had been virtually no bike lanes previously (less than 1 mile), Macon now has over 6 miles of dedicated bike lanes and is adding more as the roads are upgraded. Downtown Macon has more than 60 public bike racks, a repair station, and even a Bicycle Parts Vending Machine.
A couple of years ago, Macon received not just local, but national attention for installing 5 miles of Pop Up Bike Lanes. Bike Walk Macon, in conjunction with a volunteer group called Macon Connects, installed temporary bike lanes and left them in place for a week. The results were measured and the number of people riding bikes increased more than Tenfold on those areas. The old movie line “If you build it, they will come” proved to be 100% accurate.
Going forward, Rachel and the many bike safety advocates in Macon are pushing local government to enact a Complete Streets policy while also looking to spread more community events and educational opportunities. Statistics show that approximately 1 in 3 people in Macon don’t drive, and Bike Walk Macon hopes to make its community as safe as possible for everyone to enjoy life outside a car. WIth Rachel Hollar’s commitment, that vision is bound to become a reality.