Moderated by Tom Sabulis
Metro Atlanta is slowly getting up to bike speed. The Georgia Department of Transportation has adopted a “Complete Streets” policy that integrates cycling and pedestrian usage into new construction. Paved trails in Cobb County and the Beltline in Atlanta are new attractions. Today’s columns look at the bike boom among minorities and women and how citizens need to share city streets.
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By Hamzat Sani and Carolyn Szczepanski
When the city of Atlanta first outlined its ambitious streetcar project for Auburn Avenue, there was a glaring blind spot.
Despite being one of the most historic African-American business districts in the country, Auburn was slated for a mere three blocks of bike lanes in the multi-modal proposal.
In response, local organizations — Red, Bike & Green, the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition and the SOPO Bicycle Cooperative — worked with supportive City Council members to pressure local leaders, and organized the Tour de Sweet Auburn bike ride, which highlighted the district’s cultural significance and united neighbors and business leaders behind the push for better bike access.
The event and resulting petition engaged voices usually absent in bicycling advocacy — and soon the city indicated it would include additional bike lanes along the Auburn corridor.
A few months later, the council approved $2.5 million for much-needed bike facilities throughout the city, including areas where residents are predominantly people of color.
Atlanta isn’t alone. A report released last week by the League of American Bicyclists and the Sierra Club — “The New Majority: Pedaling Towards Equity” — dispels too-often held stereotypes about bicycling in America, revealing a steep rise in ridership in diverse communities and overwhelming support for biking among youth, women and people of color.
In fact, the fastest growth in bicycling isn’t among whites, but within the Hispanic, African-American and Asian-American populations, growing from 16 to 23 percent of all bike trips in the U.S. between 2001 and 2009. In the African-American population, the percent of trips taken by bike doubled, far surpassing the 22 percent growth in the white population.
Toppling misconceptions like “black people don’t bike,” the report reveals that 86 percent of people of color have a positive view of bicyclists, and 71 percent say that their community would be a better place to live if bicycling were safer and more comfortable. Groups like Red, Bike and Green are changing the national conversation about bicycling, elevating bikes as a tool to address structural inequality, obesity, environmental justice, job access and youth empowerment.
They are also addressing, head-on, the stark disparities in bicycle facilities in many communities. Whether it’s bike lanes or bike-sharing systems, too many neighborhoods of color are left out of transportation planning decisions and local bicycle advocacy discussions. And that takes a tragic toll: Compared to white bicyclists, the accident fatality rate was 23 percent higher for Hispanic riders and 30 percent higher for African-American bicyclists in 2001, a trend that continues today.
This issue is “bigger than bikes.” More diverse people are now electing to ride their bikes to work, school and play. The opportunity and imperative for cities nationwide? Level the playing field and create equal access to safe and comfortable bicycling for all communities. In Atlanta, and across the country, new leaders are taking their handlebars and pedaling the movement toward equity.
Hamzat Sani is co-founder of Red, Bike & Green — Atlanta. Carolyn Szczepanski is communications director for the League of American Bicyclists.
By Aaron Watson
Sharing. We are supposed to learn it by kindergarten. But sharing is not just an interpersonal skill. It is a social skill, the foundation of civic life. We agree to create communities to provide goods and services that individuals cannot generate alone. We decide to share civic resources for the betterment of all.
On Sunday afternoon, May 19, Atlantans filled Peachtree Street from Five Points to the Woodruff Arts Center to “share the road.” We “took back the street” from gasoline-powered vehicles for four hours of dancing, bicycling, skating and just plain strolling. We reveled in Atlanta’s signature street and its amenities, including its businesses.
But how do we share our streets on a regular basis? Too often, these arteries are designed for and used primarily by motor vehicles, to the exclusion of safe options for alternative modes of transportation.
A few startling new statistics add to a changing picture: The number of miles driven — both overall and per capita — began to drop after 2007, according to a new report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. The Transportation Research Institute at the University of Michigan found fewer young people are getting driver’s licenses than past generations. Baby boomers are retiring and driving less. Gasoline taxes are bringing in less revenue to finance transportation investment.
For many reasons, then, we need to develop a robust, visionary, comprehensive transportation plan that looks beyond the bicycle as the only alternative and combines investments in compact residential development, transit and walking. The attitude shift has begun in Atlanta, through the leadership of Mayor Kasim Reed and the City Council, who have embraced the cyclists. The goal is for Atlanta to become a top 10 cycling city by 2016.
The Atlanta Beltline, a shared resource for walkers, runners and cyclists of all kinds, epitomizes the new attitude. Eventually, its 33 miles will weave through over 45 neighborhoods. Mayor Reed has pledged a $2.5 million investment in biking infrastructure, allowing Atlanta to double its miles of bike lanes. The goal is for Atlanta to become a top 10 cycling city by 2016.
In addition, the city has invested in a new smart phone app that will log bicycling commutes, weekend rides and errands of all its users. The data will facilitate infrastructure maintenance and improvements to enhance safety.
Safety is our No. 1 measure of success, for pedestrians as well as cyclists. The city knows that at least one-fourth of its sidewalks needs to be repaired or replaced. The Sidewalk Task Force has received recommendations for key changes to reduce pedestrian injuries. The proposed 2014 budget may need a line item for sidewalk maintenance. Research shows that nearly half of the pedestrian accidents in the Atlanta region occur within 300 feet of transit stops. We must make the complete transit-based journey safer.
Short-term, small-scale and deliberate actions can lead to long-term, positive change for our city. We can come together to share our streets in a way that respects the ages and abilities of all, using whatever wheels or feet they have to get them from here to there and back again.
Aaron Watson is an at-large Atlanta city councilman.