I bike to work 3 or so days/week. But today was more “bike stuff” than usual.
In the morning I went to the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition breakfast, held at Atlanta Beltline Bicycles. It was to kick off Bike to Work Month. Great food, and I met a few fellow Georgia Tech faculty members to create a team for the monthly bike-to-work events (we are team “Fuzzy Bees”). While there, I checked out the bikes. I had been to their shop when they were located in Avondale Estates. Since moving to the beltline, they have a much bigger shop and a GREAT selection of used bikes. Biked 55 minutes biking to the breakfast and then biking to work.
I worked late and left campus around 7PM. I decided on something a bit risky – biking down Ponce de Leon Ave. I don’t normally bike on city street where the cars like to drive sometimes faster than 40 mph on a crowded street. The road has been restriped with the intent of a bike lane — in fact, all is there except the bike lane stripe – there is plenty of room for cars to pass. I biked Ponce from Peachtree to Murder Kroger – it was awesome! It lowered my commute time – a lot – vs winding around neighborhood streets. This will have a big impact on bicycle commuting when the bicycle lanes are finally painted.
It occurred to me while biking down Ponce that bicycling in Atlanta has some similar feelings of joy and frustration as driving/riding a car in country with developing infrastructure, like India or China. There are brief episodes of speed and progress, punctuated by lots of wandering awkwardly around side streets along the way to your destination. My daily bicycle commute is certainly that way.
Atlanta infrastructure for bicycles is developing fast. I had not ridden the Beltline trail south of the Freedom Parkway trail before. Like the the rest of the East Beltline, development along the trail is evident everywhere. Businesses and real-estate developers see what a catalyst these trails can be for urban neighborhoods.
Where are we going with this? Many have fought for bicycles to have equal access to roads. This was a good idea when we were starting from nothing. But I think we need to rethink this share the road bike==car approach. Bikes are different. Bikes are not cars. They are not pedestrians. Just as cars and pedestrians have different “modes of operation” so do bicycles. I am legally supposed to ride on the road, but in some places it is crazy to do so. Or cars yell at you. At the same time, the sidewalks in other places are poorly maintained, or crowded, or unsafe for a bike to pass a mom pushing a kid in a stroller. Our infrastructure is starting to reflect the unique aspects of bicycling as a mode of transportation. I hope in the future we finally realize that bicycles need distinct traffic laws from cars or pedestrians, and stop trying to pretend they should behave like one of the other. I am not asking for special privileges, just a legal framework that reflects how a bicycle is safely operated and interacts with traffic. It may not mean special lanes, but a different way of considering intersection design, or stop lights. I hope that these discussions will eventually lead to changes that reduce car/bicycle conflicts, which seem to me to be on the rise as more people in Atlanta take to the streets on their bicycles.