A "Beat It"-style streetfight is brewing in urbanizing Atlanta, pitting vehicle commuters who covet wide, passable roadways against groups that have come to be known — collectively and derogatorily — as the "bicycle lobby." This sentence, from a recent Letter to the Editor column published by Reporter Newspapers, basically sums up the anti-lobby perspective: "Atlanta was built by people who drive cars for people who drive cars, and no amount of wishing we were Portland, Ore., will make it so." Other weapons in that argument's arsenal insist that Atlanta is too hot, hilly and spread out for true bikeability and concepts like "complete streets" to take hold. Still, Mayor Kasim Reed and groups like the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition have made no secret of their push to implement new bike lanes and make the ATL a top bike-friendly town in the next couple of years. So who's right? And should pro-bike folks be concerned by opposition that seems to be more vocal by the week? To illustrate, we've rounded up a few greatest hits from recent anti-bike-infrastructure writings around Atlanta.
But first, some context to make pro-bike Atlantans happy:
Atlanta's Bike Score — an algorithm-based gauge by Walk Score that measures intown bike-friendliness — shows signs of improvement. Since 2013, the city's overall bikeability rating has jumped from 43 to 50, earning it bona fide "Bikeable" status now. That's still meager compared to the nation's Bike Score leader, freezing-ass Minneapolis, which chalked an impressive 81. If Atlanta's too hot for biking, shouldn't four or five months of sub-freezing temperatures be too cold?
The rating boost can be attributed in large part to the Beltline and recent cycle-friendly additions to Midtown and downtown, where buffered bike lanes have debuted in recent months. The Peachtree Center Avenue Cycle Track — a north-south route connecting Edgewood Avenue to Peachtree Street on downtown's eastern flank — is one such initiative. The second (and final) phase of the 10th Street Cycle Track, which links the Beltline to the heart of Midtown, is another. Both projects claimed parts of busy intown streets, and last we checked, the world has not ended.
And now for the naysaying…
In the aforementioned letter, commuter Brad Young, who's driven Peachtree Road on a daily basis for 25 years, offers these pointed observations:
"Nobody cycles to and from work regularly on Peachtree, so we won't reduce the number of cars on the road. We will have the same number, but they will move slower and extend rush hours considerably …"
"The bike lanes on Pharr Road are not inducing cyclists to use that road. Pharr is flatter and straighter than Peachtree, thus it is much more bike friendly. But no surge in bike use. So the theory 'if you build it, they will come' is nothing more than a childish dream …"
"Atlanta is not a bikeable city. It's hilly and hot, and the rain is torrential. The two cyclists we see in an average week on Peachtree are back in their cars when the summer squalls soak the streets each afternoon. Bike lanes for October and April is an extravagance Atlanta cannot afford …"
But wait, there's more ...
A few weeks ago, Jim Cosgrove, the board secretary of Buckhead's Neighborhood Planning Unit-B, offered some skepticism that a "complete street" plan would work on a vital, heavily trafficked corridor like Peachtree, adding:
"Simply speaking, look at Pharr Road. We need to decide whether we are going to drive on streets in Buckhead or going to ride on bikes and streetcars. This is about the bicycle lobby. I cannot drive my kids to baseball practice on a bicycle."
Also in Reporter Newspapers, native Oregonian Jaci Johnson chimes with a short letter that insists biking infrastructure is no kind of panacea:
"If Atlanta really wants to spend its money wisely, it will standardize Peachtree's turn signals and turn lanes in order to have a consistent flow up and down the overly traveled street. It will pay attention to the horrible and rapidly deteriorating road conditions … If a greener city is desired, there are many fine programs that have their origins in Oregon. Biking lanes are not one of them."
Even the AJC's city-prowling and typically levelheaded columnist Bill Torpy took a cynical stance on efforts to enhance biking infrastructure earlier this month. He wrote:
"The fit fellows in Lycra shorts have inordinate clout. Only about 1 percent of Atlanta area commuters are bikers, according to Census surveys, (an optimistic number) but planners are increasingly calling to erase traffic lanes to give them elbow room …"
"Increasingly, terms like 'road diet,' or 'complete streets' or 'road rightsizing,' are thrown about in well-intentioned Orewellian Speak … 'Road choking' might be more precise …"
"A couple years back, Mayor Kasim Reed announced the city would double bike-friendly lanes to 120 miles by the end of 2016. The idea is build it and they will come … One day, perhaps, 2 percent will commute by bike."
Would anyone like to offer a rebuttal?
· Cheap, Midcentury Buckhead Condos Duke it Out [AJC; subscriber]
· Letters to the editor on bike lanes: 'Atlanta is not a bikeable city' [Reporter]
· Photos: How Downtown, Midtown Bike Lanes Turned Out [Curbed]