Bicycle City: A Place for Car-Free and Sustainable Living

May 27, 2010· 2 MIN READ
Salvatore Cardoni holds a political science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.

bike_city_cover_artAmerica, say hello to Bicycle City—Gaston, South Carolina’s entry into sustainable, green living. The planned bicycle-only development, which will not allow cars, will be home to 10 eco-friendly houses and 4.5 miles of interconnected bicycle and walking trails.

Bike City homes will be built for comfort and sustainability. Photo: Courtesy

Founder and co-developer Joe Mellett hopes to begin construction “this summer or fall” on homes situated on the 160-acre tract of land that he and his fellow investors purchased for nearly $1 million. The company has the option to purchase an additional 600 adjacent acres.

“There are other industries—solar, wind, what have you—that address the individual components of climate change, but Bicycle City puts it all together into one home,” says Mellett.

Bicycle City’s homes, which will be up to 1,600 square feet, will be constructed according to one of two eco-friendly building guidelines—the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certifications or One Planet Living’s 10 principles. Lot price tags will range between $25,000 and $35,000, with individual homes clocking in just north of $100,000. Plans for “bicycle taxis” are also in the works.

“The beauty of that is that if you want to live next to your car, you buy a lot on the perimeter of the community and you’d be within under a minute’s walk to your car,” says Mellett.

Eighty-seven million Americans ride bicycles, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. And there are more bicyclists in America than skiers, golfers, and tennis players combined, according to a survey conducted by the National Sporting Goods Association.

“It is a fairly bold plan that reflects the growing awareness on the part of Americans that bike-friendly places to live are good places to live,” says Tim Blumenthal, President of Bikes Belong, a nonprofit organization dedicated to getting more folks on bikes more often.

Developer Mellett’s first foray into bicycling-for-the-better came in 1986.

Bicycle City co-founder Joe Mellett (on left) with Richard Register of Eco City Builders. Photo: Courtesy Joe Mellett

That year, as a member of Alpha Phi Omega—the National Service Fraternity—Mellett and two friends, in an effort they named “4,200 Miles For Kids,” cycled cross-country to raise more than $1,000 for Big Brothers and Big Sisters and United Cerebral Palsy.

“I saw what a great way bicycling was to see the country,” says Mellett.

The idea to develop a bicycle-only community didn’t germinate until after Mellett read John Naisbitt’s national best-selling book Mega Trends.

“He said the future of communities will be high tech-high touch—with people more and more having an overload of technology, that they would embrace the high-touch side of life like nature, exercise, and community,” says Mellett.

Fast-forward to 2006 when Mellett was finally in the financial position—he and three others sold the rights to People Working With People, an now-defunct college directory website, to—to make his dream come true.

Mellett says the Gaston location was chosen for three reasons. One, it is relatively close to Columbia’s numerous college communities. Two, Gaston is located in Lexington County, which has recently built many bike-only green ways that connect the county car-free. Three, this summer, a state-of-the-art South Carolina State Farmers Market will open, which Mellett says he hopes will entice home buyers with a penchant for organic farming.

Newton Boykin, the project’s director of land acquisition and development, says that Mellett has been hyper-conscious about ensuring that Bicycle City is eco-friendly and sustainable from the get-go. “When I was creating the bike paths, he wouldn’t let me cut any trees that were over four inches in diameter,” says Boykin.

And what of Bicycle City’s potential pitfall—needing cars in the case of emergencies? “There will be a permeable services accessway, that has a strong gravel support underneath it, such that an emergency vehicle can drive over it,” says Mellett.

On Monday night, Mellett met with Lexington County officials to go over the plans for Bicycle City. “It went well—they are very supportive of bringing this green destination to the area.”

As for plans for the future?

Well, in addition to taking Bicycle City to the national level, Mellett plans to move into one of the community’s first 10 homes—though only part-time at first.

“I can’t pull my daughter out of school right now,” jokes Mellett.