Biking on paths & mixed streets in Atlanta: a culture shock

I took a nice 8-mile bike ride through the city this weekend. That’s not terribly far for hardcore cyclists, I know. But for an out-of-shape guy on a small-wheeled folding bike with only one speed, it’s a haul — particularly on hilly terrain and in the heat and humidity of summer weather that’s overstaying its welcome

I got a chance to experience various degrees of bike infrastructure during the ride. There were streets with wide sharrow lanes, ones with proper bike lanes, ones with no bike lanes but quiet enough to travel safely, and ones without any level of cycling safety — where I cowardly rode on the sidewalk (as long as no pedestrians were on it) to avoid a pedaling panic attack. 

And then there were the ped/bike paths: the Atlanta Beltline and the PATH trail. With no cars in the mix, these are safe places to ride and walk. And though a I appreciate them greatly, particularly in the way that they allow new cyclists to practice riding in a danger-free zone, there’s a significant culture-shock type of experience that comes from shifting between these paths and mixed-traffic streets. 

The path experience is a calm, peaceful ride (slightly less so during the weekend-afternoon crush) that lets you take in the view. Above, notice the serene setting of the Northeast Beltline, top, and the tree-lined entrance to the PATH at Boulevard, bottom left. The other pic shows a new access point between Edgewood Avenue and an in-construction extension of the Beltline below. 

As soon as you exit a path and hit the street, though, your brain is on high alert, watching for fast cars and always thinking of the next move a few yards ahead. Dangers present themselves constantly in the form of cars entering the road from driveways and parking lots, and from doors opening on parallel-parked cars. And with the regular presence of cars illegally parked in the new bike lanes on Auburn & Edgewood Avenues, high alert mode pays off. 

Could it be possible to correct the disadvantaged status of bikes on Atlanta’s streets a bit? Perhaps by removing some of the advantages given to cars?

In an excellent piece on the relationship between cheap automobile parking and alternative transit use, Matthew Garbett recently wrote: “parking lots and the built environment they create…will not simply disappear because the BeltLine is completed and transit in the city is expanded.”

This is true. Cycling activity is working its way into intown streets that are often dominated by cars, even when the neighborhoods have all the hallmarks of a walkable urban place. Most of those cars zooming by are on their way to easy parking, making the mobility choice an easy one for drivers.

Think about the proposed transit-oriented, mixed-use developments that will be adjacent to MARTA stations. The developers of these TODs are mandated by law to construct (at great expense) the same number of automobile parking spaces necessary for similar projects in transit-lacking neighborhoods on the fringes — significantly undercutting the potential for these to be havens of transit and cycling mobility.

This is the world we’re cycling into. And though those safe paths make for a smooth ride part of the way, eventually we’ll need to make the connecting, mixed-traffic streets significantly more inviting for cyclists, and that will require making it harder to provide those easy parking spots for the cars that are blocking progress.

Streets are closing to cars this Sunday at West End in Atlanta! Come out from 2 to 6 p.m. to walk or cycle the streets as Atlanta Bicycle Coalition once again presents Streets Alive.
Read about the event here
EDIT: oops, mistakenly typed Saturday at first. Corrected to Sunday.

Streets are closing to cars this Sunday at West End in Atlanta! Come out from 2 to 6 p.m. to walk or cycle the streets as Atlanta Bicycle Coalition once again presents Streets Alive.

Read about the event here

EDIT: oops, mistakenly typed Saturday at first. Corrected to Sunday.

The benefit of Atlanta being a late-bloomer with bike shares

There’s a must-read article on the Atlanta Magazine website this week for any bicycling advocate in Atlanta: Six lessons Atlanta can learn from New York’s bikeshare woes : The benefit of being a late adopter is learning from others’ mistakes.

The first of the six is this:

Make sure the equipment works. File this under obvious but important. Rampant software glitches and faulty “docking stations” (rental kiosks) marred the launch of Citi Bike and frustrated many riders eager to embrace the system.
Yes to this. I was able to experience the frustration of a glitch-ridden system this week during a visit to Chattanooga, where there is an extensive bike-share program with docking stations all over the center of the city.
After seeing monthly-card-holding locals ride around on the bikes, I tried to get one myself as a daily rental. I walked all around Downtown Chattanooga to six different stations with no luck as the touch screens froze up on every one half way through the process. No bike for me.

image

Atlanta is launching its own bike-share program in 2015. I’m glad to read that we’ll be using a different system for bike stations:

The good news for Atlanta is that Cycle Hop has partnered with a company called Social Bicycles to provide a more nimble technology. The booking and tracking device is fitted to the bike itself, rather than to a docking station.
New York City’s Citi Bike program has been a runaway success when it comes to annual memberships, but it has been less successful with attracting casual, one-day riders. By coincidence or not, the system is managed by the same company, Alta, behind Chattanooga’s bike share.
Let’s hope Atlanta can learn from the mistakes made elsewhere and launch a great bike share program. I think there’s a real chance it to be popular here.
Nice quote from Jerry Seinfeld during a Reddit interview today:

If you can walk to work or take your bike on a daily basis, I think that’s just about the coolest thing that there is. Every morning I listen to the traffic on the radio, and they talk about how they are jammed and I just laugh. I love traffic. I love traffic reports because I’m not in any of them.

Nice quote from Jerry Seinfeld during a Reddit interview today:

If you can walk to work or take your bike on a daily basis, I think that’s just about the coolest thing that there is. Every morning I listen to the traffic on the radio, and they talk about how they are jammed and I just laugh. I love traffic. I love traffic reports because I’m not in any of them.

(Source: starsonbikes)

"Cycle Atlanta…details the city’s ambitious strategy to add 31 miles of bike-friendly lanes and paths to streets inside the Beltline, doubling the number of bike-safe miles within that proposed loop of transit, trails and parks."

Drivers, bicyclists to share more road: intown streets allow for safer mix of traffic Atlanta Journal Constitution 11/12/13

Yes, the US vs. Europe comparisons (particularly with cities) are tiresome and unfair. Obviously, old European cities were not built for cars the way many US cities were.
But this does nicely illustrate one of the many reasons to undo the damage of US car dependency, particularly by ceasing sprawl and switching to infill growth — alternative transportation modes like cycling more easily serve compact developments than they do car-sprawl.
See the larger infographic here

Yes, the US vs. Europe comparisons (particularly with cities) are tiresome and unfair. Obviously, old European cities were not built for cars the way many US cities were.

But this does nicely illustrate one of the many reasons to undo the damage of US car dependency, particularly by ceasing sprawl and switching to infill growth — alternative transportation modes like cycling more easily serve compact developments than they do car-sprawl.

See the larger infographic here

"Some residents even associate highly visible street changes, like bike lanes, with the displacement of long-time black residents in favor of younger, often white newcomers. “You hear that bike lanes are white lanes"

Bike Lanes in Black and White | Peopleforbikes.org, 10/21/2013