CCU students continue researching how to make Horry Co. more bicycle friendly

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Community groups across Horry County want to make the area safer for people on bicycles, and on foot. Something unavailable, until recently, was specific local research. A group of CCU students have spent the last year and a half compiling that research, along with their professor, Dr. Sharon Thompson in a two-part qualitative and quantitative survey.

They wanted to find out whether people in the community ride bicycles, whether they want to, why they don't ride, and more.

"We found that people overwhelmingly support making our community more bicycle friendly," says the Sharon Thompson, Professor of Health Promotion at CCU. "They feel that encouraging bicycling would improve quality of life, 91 percent felt this way." Eighty-five percent say they have ridden a bike in the last year. But the reasons people don't- not enough safety or access.

Dr. Thompson spent time in the fall going over numbers with local governments. And soon students will give them more information because they've continued digging into the survey. Two have been working for months analyzing thousands responses from the survey to identify which specific areas of Horry County respondents said need more multi-use paths.

"I've been doing the process now for probably about five months," says senior Jason Lee. "So then, we conducted the qualitative survey based on three different questions: what areas of Horry County do you normally ride your bicycle, what destinations are better served and where would you like to see bicycle routes and lanes and paths."

The first part of the survey started more than a year and a half ago, gathering your responses to their survey. Now they're turning those into a Geographic Information Systems map- or GIS map.

"Basically, we'll take the zip codes, the top responses from each zip code, and then we'll put them in a GIS mapping system to better visualize where people most want to see the destinations and bicycle paths in Horry County," Lee says.

They will label and map out specific areas in the top eight zip codes- Conway is the first, then Myrtle Beach. Lee says Socastee, the Burgess Community, Murrells Inlet and Litchfield are all top-eight zones.

The GIS mapping will allow Dr. Thompson to present her information with far more specific results. "When we present it we will have a much better visual than just a spread sheet with numbers."

"Our population is growing, the percentage of houses is growing," says Chelsea Thomas, a senior at CCU and one of the students who worked on the survey. "Everywhere now there's just communities, but there's no real sidewalk linking the communities."

A lack of bicycle lanes, unsafe road conditions and speeding traffic discourage the majority of people from making bike riding a habit. A huge majority of respondents want to see more bicycle paths, and better-educated drivers.

"We also found that people really believe that this would enhance the quality of life in their community, and that this is a good thing to do," says Dori Sanders, a senior at CCU and the other student who completed the survey.

The vast majority of people who gave input on the survey are not satisfied with how their current community is set up. So, the team hopes local communities answer the call. "This is a rich data source that can be used for planning in the future, to apply for grant funds to make our community more bicycle friendly," Dr. Thompson continues.

Dr. Thompson hopes to present the GIS mapping to Horry County Council and other local governments in the coming months.

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