Rebecca Serna, Atlanta Bicycle Coalition executive director, believes the streets of Atlanta today reflect the priorities of yesterday — and that no matter how adamantly some officials try to avoid it, a future full of different priorities and altered urban sensibilities is coming. Today, Serna offers a rebuttal to a Curbed Atlanta post from last week titled, "Anti-Bike-Lane Atlantans are Getting Increasingly Vocal," in which we rounded up recently published opposition to roadway alterations for biking infrastructure. Serna is the driving force behind Atlanta Streets Alive, which returns this Sunday for a big loop around Old Fourth Ward, Inman Park and Poncey-Highland. She writes:
Our response? Wait 'til Sunday ... This Sunday, Sept. 27, tens of thousands of Atlantans will pull out a bike and ride it on 4.5 miles of car-free streets at Atlanta Streets Alive. Last year's attendance on this route was estimated at 106,000, half of whom were on bikes. The tremendous growth in turnout at our open streets is proof of the demand for more walkable, bikeable and livable streets. Fifty-thousand people on bikes show Atlanta is a bike city that is just now finding its legs, and starting to build the network to use them.
Regardless of the debate over growing pains, we all care about leading good lives in good places. That's what efforts to build a bike network are about — livability.
Some people say we shouldn't build bike lanes on streets like Peachtree Road in Buckhead because "no one bikes there" and "I cannot drive my kids to baseball practice on a bicycle." But aren't we making the same point? High speeds plus no bikeways equals few people on bikes, despite the demand for ways to opt out of traffic, especially during rush hour.
We're collecting video data on bike traffic on Peachtree Road, and there are people biking — mostly people with no other options, whose jobs are in the many shops and restaurants along Peachtree. These are people who have to get somewhere on Peachtree Road and whose bike is their form of transportation. We have an obligation to make sure they get there safely.
In fact, nearly a quarter (23.58 percent) of City of Atlanta households do not own a car, according to 2012 Census data. And nearly half the population doesn't drive when you factor in children and older adults along with car-less or car-free families.
Yet over the past few decades we've focused mostly on making it easier to drive, especially when it comes to trips to work. We built entire roadway networks around car commutes, so it's no wonder most people commute by car.
That's begun to change, however, and the Peachtree Road project is a great example of our state DOT getting serious about their committment to accommodating people outside of their cars as well as inside.
That said, four-foot bike lanes are the bare minimum, and many U.S. cities are no longer building them. A thin white line on a busy roadway will help better organize traffic for everyone, but it won't get the estimated 60 percent of population who are interested in biking but concerned about safety on a bike. We need safe, protected, connected bikeways to make biking a real option for most people.
A little known fact is that Complete Streets with space for motor vehicles, people biking, walking and taking transit enhance the safety of people driving the most! This surprising result is because drivers get in more crashes than is generally acknowledged. By reducing crashes, Complete Streets save drivers time, money, and prevent the long-term health impacts and costs that are associated with high-speed crashes. Everyone wants to get where they're going 10 seconds faster, but we'd also all like to get there in one piece.
If we design streets safe enough for everyone, people will choose a bike when it's a convenient option for their trip. Biking to the store, work, the park, or a friend's house will become the norm. Ridiculous car trips of a mile or two will fall by the wayside, and we'll all experience less congestion as a result.
The cliche "if you build it they will come" is an oversimplification of the reality. If you build a network, people will use it.
We can avoid planning for the future if we want, but it won't stop it from coming. Young people don't want to be tied down to owning a personal car — they want options like taking car-sharing, using transit, walking and biking to get places. For that matter, our aging population is ready to stop driving. Biking is growing fastest among older adults. Let's listen to the twin voices of wisdom and youth, and keep making progress toward a bicycle-friendly future.
Our streets today reflect the priorities of yesterday — everyone wanted to own a car. This was equated with personal freedom. The problem is that too many cars means no one can get anywhere without running into congestion. I will never understand how sitting in traffic is freedom. What I do know is the freedom of getting somewhere on your own power, feeling the wind on your face, and pulling up to the front door without worrying about parking.
Biking is one good solution to our transportation woes, but we can't make it possible without making it safe. We need better bike lanes, and more of them, that provide protection against distracted drivers and speeding cars. Only then will we experience the true freedom of biking in safety.
Atlanta Bicycle Coalition