Biking’s new appeal

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.

Commenting is open below.

Growth, equity in bicycling access

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.

Make complete transit experience safer

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.

10 comments Add your comment

Auden L. Grumet, Esq.

June 5th, 2013
4:12 pm

Anything that promotes and increases participation in bicycling/cycling (”biking”) is AWESOME and should be widely and intensely encouraged!! KEEP IT UP ATLANTA!!!


June 5th, 2013
11:43 am

Some of the commenters here may not have noticed, but cycling in Atlanta has exploded in recent years, with more and more people commuting and riding for errands. In fact, bicycle mode share has increased nearly 300% in the last decade. Atlanta is really a great and practical place for cycling – most of its neighborhoods are just a few miles apart, perfect for a quick bike ride – and it’s gotten far safer just in the last few years, as more cyclists take to the roads and motorists learn how to interact with them. The Mayor and City Council’s recent interest in cycling and other non-car-oriented transportation improvements is a huge development, and will be critical to Atlanta’s growth as a smarter, more livable city.


June 4th, 2013
1:54 pm


June 4th, 2013
1:52 pm

I moved to Atlanta last year by way of San Francisco. While I lived in San Francisco, I was an avid, daily, commuter biker. I became extremely adept at dodging drivers not paying, bicyclists blowing thru stop signs, trolley tracks threatening to topple you at a moments notice along Market Street, and received a few tickets for various moving infractions along the way.

Yes, people were actually ticketed on bicycles, and cars.

Now consider Atlanta. Rarely, if ever, are motorists stopped, and ticketed for the hundreds of moving infractions they each individually commit in a given month (illustrative purposes intended only), let along bicyclists. For example, pedestrians have the right of way to cross an intersection when a walk signal is displayed. They do not have to yield to vehicles.

However, the prevailing mentality of drivers in this city seems to be somewhere between “I’d win the battle” to “I’ll kill them and leave”.

Seriously, this city has the worst trained drivers. This is what not enacting drivers training laws until 2007 buys you, stupid driving habits. You can’t blame people for not knowing.

Which is where enforcement comes into play. APD, pull over motorists for failing to yield the right of way to pedestrians, the bikers blowing thru to the front of the line, the cars cussing and swearing at bikers, the bikers hitting cars. Do you best to raise the awareness of the issue.

In the absence of a state mandated drivers training course for everyone (EVERYONE) born in GA, the best way to raise awareness and foster cooperation is thru enforcement of existing.

A bike lane won’t save a biker from a reckless drivers, much as a stop sign won’t save a pedestrian from a reckless biker.

Also, you’re all just terrible drivers here.

Seriously, really bad.


June 4th, 2013
1:21 pm

I don’t really ever see bikes riding down the roads to and from offices, you know, as bike commuters taking a car off the road. I occasionally see what could be a high school or college student with a book bag riding a bike. I always see little Lance Armstrong wannabies in their $250 biking outfits prodding along trying to prove some sort of iron man attitude, typically at the back half of rush hour (cause they had time to drive home, change, and head off for a ride) along major thoroughfares that lack bike lanes and often times sidewalks. Then when they approach a traffic backup or hit a red light, they ride all the way to the front of it and essentially park their butts in front of the lead car (this is when there is no bike lane, which of course is the majority of the time). That, among other little short cuts and tricks that cyclists seem to like to pull because they aren’t in a car and are too good to follow the traffic signals, is why there is this still prevailing motorist vs bike attitude.

Until every street in the area has dedicated lanes and signals for cyclists, they will be in the vehicle lanes. It would be nice if those who do chose to exercise on a road followed the same rules that they are so swift to shout out to the cars they are passing.

But I also get to see cyclists “me first” mentality when on dedicated exercise and hiking trails all around. Ever see someone on a bike yield to a pedestrian(s)? No. They whiz on by clipping people and zagging around walkers and joggers because they sure as heck don’t want to slow their roll down. Kind of acting the same way they like to complain about vehicles acting towards them.


June 4th, 2013
10:14 am

Atlanta was, is, and will be a city with a motor vehicle mindset. People driving cars often don’t think to look for cyclists, or view them as inferior because they choose not to drive. While the city is incrementally improving roads with repaving and bike lanes, there are many roads and streets which are completely inhospitable for bike riding. At night, biking can be dangerous depending on where you are, as the threat of being accosted is prevalent in many places. All of these factors greatly discourage bike riding in the city, and it will take a long time for these characteristics to change.

On my way to work, I was hit by a car who failed to look out for bikes when I was doing the right thing. On the flip side, I have seen cyclists do dangerous things and willfully breaking the law: such as biking through a red light with traffic still flowing. It is no wonder why Atlanta car drivers are not comfortable with bikes on the road yet. Bike riders must not only do the right thing, but assume that motorists will not look out for them in order to remain safe. All bike riders should read up on safety guidelines to prevent an accident.

Until Atlanta radically improves the condition of roads and connectivity, bike riding will remain for the disenfranchised, the license revokee, or the downright crazy. I myself am in the latter category.

El Duderino

June 4th, 2013
6:55 am

This appears to be two separate topics. The first is about racial inequality in who rides a bike and who doesn’t, and the second is about bike safety as it relates to motorists and pedestrians.
So most likely what’s going to happen is that there will be government mandates and racial quota requirements before bikes can be bought and sold.
I’m more concerned about those huge packs of bikers that take over the road, blocking passage and blasting through Stop signs and intersections without any regard for anyone but themselves.


June 3rd, 2013
8:55 pm

Sketch @ 7:04 pm – Obviously, I am unaware of that change, will be interesting to see it how it reads. Howeve,r this does not negate the fact nothng been ongoing concerning Driver Education of the Law and Cycling.

NO memorable PSA ads on Tv,Radio or posted anywhere around Atlanta. Not even the most frequently traveled Bike Streets and routes. I would say the response has been Tepid. A Lot of gracious plattitudes, but short on the Task of getting a more educated and aware driver. The area where most of the physical injury and damage is caused.


June 3rd, 2013
7:04 pm

Bernie you are wrong. The law recently changed regarding how much space drivers must give a bicyclist.


June 3rd, 2013
6:44 pm

Its called, How do you like my New Hood Ornament? says the Typical Atlanta Driver.

let’s be Honest! Nothing has Changed to Educate the Average Driver in Metro Atlanta about sharing the Road with Bike Riders. No new Public Service announcements or advertising. No New proposed penalites or fines for violators of a Biker’s rights on Atlanta Streets. ZERO!

Yet we are to accept these political plattitudes graciously as a real concern and change.

This is just more Political Grandstanding for Votes in the upcoming City Of Atlanta Election Cycle. Mayor Reed is just making another attempt to consolidate a shrinking voting block of support for his re-election bid for Mayor of Atlanta.

Mr.Watson such Pretty words from You and Mayor Reed. Please Show the Citizens and Bike Riders of Atlanta any Tangible actions taken recently by YOU, the MAYOR or the Atlanta City Council that can be readily identified to support these claims of Safer Biking on Atlanta streets.

What we have seen and know is a recent Crackdown on Bike Riders City Wide by APD. Outside of the crackdown on the Bike Riders, please show us the Beef of your words here.

There are none that can be seen other than these very selective Feel good words of Support.