Bike lanes good for business

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

Today, a bicycling advocate writes that business and traffic in Atlanta will both improve with the introduction of more bike lanes — especially protected bike lanes — while an in-town community leader says education and respect are needed for drivers and cyclists to get along with each other. A new transportation culture is evolving, and cooperation is the key to moving everyone along.

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Bike lanes better for business and traffic

By Rebecca Serna

Picture a vibrant street in downtown Marietta, Hapeville or East Point; historic Roswell or Norcross, or Midtown Atlanta. Humming with businesses, shops, restaurants, even residences. People walking, cars pulling in and out, delivery trucks pulled to the right, and more and more, bicycles. As it turns out, giving more people on bikes access to our most active streets is not just good for riders’ health, it’s good for business.

Economic opposition to bike lanes usually rests on the idea that it will make driving less convenient, or that having fewer drivers means fewer people will visit local businesses. But this simply isn’t true.

Though it may seem counterintuitive, overall traffic flow can improve with the addition of bike lanes, especially if turn lanes can be added as well. Cars tend to slow down to actual posted speeds, which results in a smoother overall flow. Reducing some of the reckless speeds of metro drivers also helps reduce crashes.

Bike lanes and sidewalks are also economic generators for local businesses. Survey results have shown that because people on bike or on foot spend less money on driving expenses (gas, maintenance, parking and insurance), they tend to use that extra money on more trips to local stores. On the other hand, drivers are less likely to spot and hop out at a new establishment, or run into a friend and decide to get coffee or dinner.

Seattle recently installed a bike lane on a major thoroughfare; that quarter, businesses on the street experienced a 350 percent increase, followed by a 400 percent bump the next. In New York, retail sales jumped 49 percent on streets where protected bike lanes were added. Other cities including Austin, Memphis, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington are also finding connections between economic growth and bicycling improvements. Surprisingly, streets with bike lanes are safer for drivers, too. In New York City, crashes with injuries on streets with protected bike lanes have fallen by 40 percent or more.

These bike- and pedestrian-friendly streets are good for residents’ bottom lines as well. Property values near bikeways average 5 percent higher than for properties that are not. recently rated Georgia as having the highest car-ownership cost in the nation. Bike lanes can reduce the pressure on families to own multiple cars by making it possible for some members of the household to bike for transportation. A work or shopping trip becomes a found opportunity to get some exercise and save money.

Maybe it’s time to try a new strategy, even if it requires tools as cheap and low-tech as the bicycles in our garages. Safe and welcoming bikeways give people options — to escape Atlanta traffic, spend time with families and friends, get exercise while getting places, and support Atlanta’s wonderful businesses — by bike.

Rebecca Serna is executive director of the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition.

Drivers, bikers need to respect each other

By Sam Massell

Atlanta can attribute much of its success to its means of transportation, from one form to another — railways spreading like fingers of the hand; airlines connecting us to the world; mules pulling streetcars shuttling residents to downtown offices … and more to come. I have previously described mobility as man’s “fifth freedom,” facilitating access to jobs, shops, parks and the rest of the city. I was proud when the 1996 Olympics introduced our community of Buckhead with the international bicycling competition.

Bringing back some form of the streetcar is the most popular buzz among big-city planners, but when cost becomes part of the equation, as it must, a doable reform to consider is adding bicycle lanes. What we have to start with is the realization that a blend of opportunities should be studied. For any two-wheel option to materialize, it will have to be accompanied by an extensive educational program.

I don’t know the stats, but my daily observations convince me that bicyclists are increasing at an accelerated pace. So too, however, is the automobile. What decision makers are starting to address is the need for coexistence, and even the Georgia Department of Transportation agrees. It’s predictable, too, that the influx of apartments (more than 7,000 at different stages of development in Buckhead alone) will generate a burgeoning bicycle culture.

What we begin with, however, are a number of serious conflicts. Being honest, we must admit that the average automobile driver has little respect for the cyclist — and vice versa. If that wasn’t a bad enough foundation, it’s important to note that neither one knows or understands the rights and responsibilities of the other. About the only plus side of the argument is the absence of anyone claiming it’s a racial issue.

We’re fortunate our city has the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition as a responsible resource. It’s worthy of our support, in return for which it elicits pledges from members to learn the law of the road and obey every safety procedure. Nonprofit organizations like the Buckhead Coalition can help by co-publishing instructions it distributes to its members and other civic organizations on ways bicycle routes can improve the flow and density of automobile traffic.

It’s going to take time and patience. Historically, Atlantans have been willing to test the newest methods of transportation, and they will again, giving the bicycle its day in the sun. It’s not very costly, it’s very healthy, it doesn’t make noise or other pollution, and it can — given its rightful fair chance — be a welcome new mobility option.

The business community is not likely to ask drivers to switch to bicycles, but motorists can agree to welcome cyclists into the formula. I think we’ll probably have to agree that Atlanta — because of hilly terrain and distances between home and work — doesn’t offer an ideal place for many to opt to commute by bicycle. But the blend of possibilities can make a difference, so let’s give it a try.

Sam Massell, a former Atlanta mayor, is president of the Buckhead Coalition.

25 comments Add your comment

Jett Marks

September 11th, 2013
11:48 am

Mr. Marx, although there remain gaps in our perspective, I think we share some common points of view.

I think we agree that the responsibility for covering costs of providing transportation infrastructure should more closely align with the benefits received. I’m not against fees for cyclists. I’m arguing that it is motorists who benefit more than cyclists.

We might agree that to provide appropriate infrastructure, we should raise additional funding. You’ve expressed the idea of charging cyclists for a greater share of the costs for bike lanes. We should keep this idea on the table. I think it might be feasible once we’ve taken the steps to lure people away from their cars and and we have enough cycling patrons to make this practical.

Some of our gaps:
– Leaving my car in the driveway when I commute by bike to the office might be called a hobby, but it’s not the word I use.
– I don’t feel like a welfare recipient when most of the roads I ride on do not have accommodations for bikes and motorists scream that I don’t pay property, ad valorem, sales, or income taxes. I don’t feel like a welfare recipient when I leave the parking space open for cars yet there is no place to lock my bike.
– I do feel appreciation – even as a motorist – for the leadership of the cyclists in the 1880’s who organized nationally to provide for good roads prior to the autobile’s prominence. The interstate system wasn’t proposed until more than 50 years after cyclists had literally paved the way.
– We have different ideas of who owns the streets and who can use them. I won’t park my car in a bike lane, but I would expect that I could change a flat on the bikeable shoulder of Hwy 20 in East Cherokee. To say these bike lanes only benefit those who ride a bike doesn’t match my understanding of why we build highways with shoulders that we may stripe for cyclists to use.

Karl Marx

September 11th, 2013
4:56 am

Mr. Marks your trying to use the argument that because you own a car and pay taxes on that car you pay your “fair share” to also own a bicycle and use it on the roads. I too own a car and a motorcycle so using you logic I should not need to pay taxes on my motorcycle. Plus the wear on the road from my motorcycle is also negligible. The truth is you are not paying your fair share are you. The private grants you say pay the majority for bike lanes really are so small and in pays very little to any paving project. The cost you claim is low is also wrong. Recently the cost of bike lanes on GA highway 20 in East Cherokee county cost having an extra auto lane on that road. That’s how much space was allotted and asphalt. How much does one lane cost to build? You general fund argument is somewhat true except everything goes into the General Fund by law in Georgia. That is the problem, 911 fees, tire recycling fees, etc. go in but are not allotted to the causes passed by voters. So the funds taken out for bike lanes actually came from other fees since bikes put almost none in to begin with. Saying bicycles caused the highway system we now enjoy is insane and wrong. Google the Eisenhower Highway System for the real reason for the modern highway system in this country. No you bicyclist are major welfare recipients making everyone else pay for your hobby. The truth may hurt but it is still the truth. What’s next horse lanes? Maybe they will give horse back riders the right to use your bike lanes. Look on the positive side. What a horse leaves behind will give you another obstacle to avoid improving your riding skills.

Jett Marks

September 10th, 2013
9:49 pm

Mr. Marx, this is a good point to discuss. I’m glad we’re sorting out the details.

There are a few points we can discuss:

– We can’t assume that because I ride a bike for most trips that I do not pay the expenses of maintaining a car. I’m contributing the same share of taxes for the car as anyone else who owns a car. The main difference is I don’t spend as much on fuel or oil. Just as there are motorists who have bikes, there are lots of cyclists who have cars.

– In Georgia, only 25% of the funding comes from fuel taxes . The rest of the funding comes from a general fund, so for 75% of the road funding, I’m paying the same as anyone else regardless of how many miles I drive the car or ride the bike. We have cheap fuel compared to most countries because politically, motorists want the general public to pay for their roads instead of setting the tax rate where it is fair. I would love if we increased the fuel tax by 5-10% (or more) and reduced the burden on the general public.

– The cost of a bike lane is really low. This is done when re-surfacing occurs (like Ponce de Leon right now), so what you’re doing is painting the lines in a different spot. Compared to the cost of re-surfacing, the cost of providing a lane for cyclists is tiny. Compared to the number of trips made by cyclists, adding a bike lane is the most cost-effective way to accommodate the 50% of all trips that are cycling-distance yet taken by car. (I think we all want to improve the traffic situation, right?)

– A large portion of Atlanta’s cycling infrastructure is paid for out of private funds and/or grants from federal agencies. I encourage everyone to find out how these public works projects are funded and the proportion of dollars for roads versus cycling infrastructure. The key point however, is that motorists do not pull their own weight and are heavily subsidized.

– The wear on the roadway (requiring re-surfacing, for example) is negligible for bicycles. If we wanted to go after road users who do not pay their fair share, the trucking industry would be a good target. I think we’d all be happier if there were fewer tractor trailers to contend with.

I won’t argue that bicycles pay taxes (and I’m not opposed to fees for cyclists), but I will argue that
– Cyclists are usually motorists and do pay their share of taxes
– Cyclists require MUCH less investment and cost than motorists
– Most of the costs of maintaining our road infrastructure is born by the public and not by motorists alone.

And one more point for the history buffs: We should thank cyclists for the highway system that cars now enjoy. Google “Good Roads Movement” to find out why the roads were originally built for cyclists.


September 10th, 2013
8:59 pm

Bici Cabbagetown said, “Seems as though I live in a different Atlanta than most of y’all.”

If you knew the True and Real History of Atlanta you would know there are many. They ALL Fall between the Lines of the HAVES and Have NOTS. Two Faces of the same Coin. One has more value than the other. Always Have and Always will Be.

Our pretense only hides its true HORROR.


September 10th, 2013
8:56 pm

we just moved to portland where there is a bike culture – and apparently, that is relatively new. but wow – bicyclists are out everywhere. traffic would be worse but for them.

That’s what I don’t get – I’m a huge fan of mass transit – but people always say: oh, we shouldn’t do it. Why? every person who rides a bus or a train – or takes a bicycle – isn’t on the roads with a car and isn’t tearing up the roads and isn’t creating more traffic, so why wouldn’t everyone support those things?
No, mass transit doesn’t pay for itself – but neither do the roads. roads are an expense as well – and there *is* *no* revenue from roads at all – but there is a tiny bit from mass transit to help with costs.