Once a year, a forest of bicycles springs up in downtown Anniston. Hundreds of cyclists line up, ready to zip through the city's downtown streets in the Sunny King Criterium.
Cycling is almost nonexistent there the rest of the time.
Claude St. Germain doesn't see why that has to be the case.
"If it was more bike friendly here, more people would ride," Anniston resident St. Germain said. "That might bring some more people in here."
This spring the city of Anniston plans to start marking 13.67 miles of bicycle lanes, focusing on downtown streets. City officials and some residents agree Anniston isn't now a city of cyclists. Still, they think the creation of dedicated lanes and signs, coupled with future economic and housing development, could encourage more residents to ride — increasing health and wellness in the city, while bringing it one step closer to becoming a cycling hub in the state.
Germain, who lives on Christine Avenue, which is part of the city's bicycle lane plans, said he envisions residents in their 30s and 40s would start to ride bicycles more if lanes and signs were in place.
"It would be something to bring people into the city to spend a bit of money," Germain said.
Leonard Daniels, who also lives on Christine, said he didn't see why adding bicycle lanes wouldn't encourage more people to ride.
"They do 5Ks down here, so why can't they do more bike rides," Daniels said, referring to the annual Woodstock 5K footrace, which includes a portion of Christine.
The city wants to create a loop of bicycle lanes through downtown — from 11th Street to 18th Street on Cobb Avenue, then along 18th Street to Christine Avenue. The bicycling lanes would then turn westward at the Christine and 11th intersection and end at Cobb. Lanes and signs will also be added from Fourth Street to Alabama 202 along Noble Street.
The city also wants to add share-the-road lanes along Baltzell Gate Road, Summerall Gate Road and Coxwell Road, 10th Street and Clydesdale Avenue.
When incorporated with planned extensions of the 33-mile Chief Ladiga Trail and the Coldwater Mountain Biking Trails, city officials hope the downtown project will attract more out-of-town cyclists. Doing so could mean more sales tax revenue for the city's coffers and the revitalization of Anniston, officials have said.
Eddie Williams, of Cobb Avenue, said, however, that just adding lanes won't be enough to get more residents to ride. Williams said a good portion of Anniston's residents are elderly and too old to ride. He added that residents will need a reason to ride bicycles downtown to the shopping district.
"Regardless of how many trails you put downtown, if there's nothing to attract them downtown, who's going to ride?" he said.
Indeed, downtown is lined with empty storefronts, but the city is working to change that, Mayor Vaughn Stewart said.
Armed with an in-house economic developer and a recently created downtown development authority, the city hopes to recruit more business and fill shops on Noble Street. Stewart said the city is also looking at housing redevelopment downtown — particularly at creating lofts in various unused buildings there — all to create more residential density. Residents who live closer to downtown stores would be more inclined to ride bicycles there, he said.
"But it's not going to be overnight and we don't expect it to be," Stewart said.
Stewart said he foresees bicycle riding evolving downtown, starting with more baby boomers using the lanes recreationally.
"And they'll be out with their grandkids," Stewart said. "And if we do our work right and educate elementary-age kids, we'll see them out riding their bikes more ... and with them come the parents."
After more people live near downtown, as the city plans, then more residents will likely start commuting to work if they are employed downtown.
Patrick Wigley, owner of Wig's Wheels, said he sees residents cycling to work downtown already.
"Once the bike routes are established, we'll see a bunch more usage," Wigley said. "And hopefully we'll see more usage from kids going to Anniston High School."
Councilman Seyram Selase said he sees a combination of local residents and outside tourists taking advantage of the new lanes, especially once they’re connected with Chief Ladiga and the Coldwater Mountain trail system.
"Still, to local citizens it is still a new phenomenon," Selase said of cycling. "But I think as bicycling becomes increasingly popular, residents will take more advantage ... and I think the bicycle lanes will draw more attention downtown as we redevelop it."