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.
Commenting is open.
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. Bankrate.com 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.
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.