Bicycle projects are usually lumped into the “other” category — at least, that’s how it used to be, and, we often hear, that’s how it’s always been.
Well, those assumptions no longer hold. The Complete Streets movement is gaining ground in unexpected territory — metro Atlanta, poster child for sprawl.
Last year around this time, the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition was pushing for bike projects on the regional transportation sales tax project list. The final regional list approved by the Roundtable sets aside less than 1% of funding for stand-alone bike projects.
I’m here to tell you that’s a good thing.
Bicyclists and the bike-curious have been “standing alone” for far too long in this region and in this state, and we’re tired of it — we want to roll forward, into the future. So we were thrilled to find good solid bicycle infrastructure hiding under the heading of roadway projects on the region’s list that goes to voters July 31.
The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition and other cycling advocates have been working for decades towards acceptance of our position on the road. “Share the road,” we exhort drivers. “Same road, same rules,” we tell cyclists over and over.
It’s time to see those messages to fruition by voting yes on July 31 for the regional transportation sales tax.
Opponents will tell you the regional transportation sales tax will lead to more sprawl in Georgia. I disagree when it comes to metro Atlanta; our region’s infamous sprawl is the result of a complex array of factors, not just wider streets or more lanes.
What just under half the regional projects — and yes, I’m talking about the roadway projects — will do is add more pavement. Adding more pavement creates opportunities to add dedicated space for people to opt out of traffic more permanently: bike lanes. And, setting bike lanes aside, most bike crashes don’t even involve a car. With so many bike crashes caused by the sad state of our pothole-ridden pavement, I’m all for a little repaving.
There are over 40 projects with bike lanes or multi-use trails on the regional project list, but they’ve gotten almost no coverage, hidden as they are mostly within the roadway project descriptions. We came up with this list of the ten noteworthy regional bike projects, or you can visit our detailed post on the referendum to see all projects.
On the City of Atlanta’s local project list, to be funded with its 15% of the penny sales tax revenues, is a mouth-watering array of bike (and pedestrian) candy. We calculated that the city of Atlanta local project list alone would add 29 miles of city of Atlanta streets with bike facilities - more than doubling our current mileage of on-street bikeways! It was too hard to pick a top ten from the City of Atlanta’s list, so we grouped them by neighborhood here.
Check out your neighborhood’s projects; I bet you will be pleasantly surprised. Even if you don’t live in the city, you should care about our region’s core and recognize the transformative elements of these projects.
My personal favorite project is the Complete Streets conversion of DeKalb Avenue, bringing an end to the so-called reversible “suicide” lane and adding 2.6 miles of bike lanes and turn lanes. I biked Dekalb Avenue into work the other day, something I rarely do given its reputation, and got the most peaceful feeling thinking about the future of the street. Far from the harrowing experience it is today, a revamped Dekalb Avenue alone would connect thousands of Atlantans along our most populated and bike-friendly neighborhoods from
Decatur to Atlanta. Not only would the city add bike lanes on this corridor, it would also create a multi-use path connecting Arizona Avenue to Rockyford, connecting up with the popular path to Decatur.
And this is just one project on the City of Atlanta’s local list. Here are a few more to give you the flavor:
* In Grant Park, Cherokee Avenue will get bike facilities from Woodward Avenue to Georgia Avenue and a multi-use path for bicyclists and pedestrians will be built along Cherokee Avenue from Grant Park to Chosewood Park. There will be bicycle safety improvements along Boulevard from Memorial Drive to McDonough, most likely two travel lanes, a two-way left-turn lane and bicycle lanes or parking depending on neighborhood preference, as well as a including a roundabout (slowing driver speeds) at Englewood. In Peoplestown, a multi-use path will be added to Boynton Avenue from Hank Aaron Drive to Martin Street.
* In West Lake, a multi-use path for bicyclists and pedestrians will be added from the Lionel Hampton Trail in Mozley Park to the existing trail in Anderson Park, connecting to MARTA West Lake Station, Turner Middle School, and the Kindezi Charter School.
* In Sylvan Hills, Sylvan Road will have bicycle facilities from Lee Street to Langford Parkway.
* In the neighborhoods around the Atlanta University Center, bike lanes will be added to J.E. Boone Boulevard (formerly Simpson St) from J.E. Lowery Boulevard (formerly Ashby St) to Northside Drive, and to J.E. Lowery Boulevard from J.E. Boone Boulevard to Mitchell Street. M.L. King Jr Dr will undergo a lane conversion from Ollie St to Northside Dr to add pedestrian refuge islands, on-street parking and bicycle lanes east of Sunset Ave.
Reading the remainder of the list, you get the strangest sense that Atlanta is putting feet first, followed by pedals, followed by metal. That’s the right order for a city, and it’s a first for ours.
It’s about time, too. With 250,000 college students enrolled every year, Atlanta is a college town that forgets its students. We risk losing that highly educated workforce as they graduate and move to cities with better transportation networks with options beyond the single-owner car.
By failing to realize that these Millennials — who outnumber Boomers, by the way — care less about owning a car and would actually prefer to bike, walk, or take transit more and drive less, we will allow Atlanta’s elderly infrastructure to age our population. If we don’t invest in alternative transportation options, we’ll lose the youngest wage-earners to the Charlottes, Portlands, and Austins, just as their grandparents are retiring. This leaves the generations in between stuck with the bill. The array of transit and bike/ped projects on the regional and local list will go a long way towards continuing to attract smart, young people to our city.
And unlike the temporary relief from congestion that comes with expanding the belt of general roadway miles, bike lanes and other bikeways (including the popular Path system of multi-use trails for biking and walking, as well as the updated “cycle tracks” cropping up in other cities that create physically separated space for bicyclists within the street) provide long-lasting benefits for both our careening transportation network — and for community and individual health.
Let’s face it: our car-centered lifestyles aren’t just padding our own waistlines; they are reducing the lifespans of our children. Georgia ranks 2nd in the nation not for obesity — but for childhood obesity, a phrase that shouldn’t even exist, much less roll off the tongue so often or so easily. Proving access to bicycle and pedestrian paths is a crucial step toward improving the health of our children. They deserve the freedom (and the incidental health) riding a bike gave kids all over this country not so very long ago.
That freedom to choose how you move — that’s what biking, and a "yes" vote on July 31, is all about.
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