Part 1: Cycling in Atlanta
Last Friday’s bike tour was the first time I had rode a bike in Atlanta. I was honestly expecting the worst after everything I had heard Dr. Watkins and the class mention. I am used to biking in suburban areas where no, there aren’t designated bike paths, but biking in the street amongst cars isn’t a danger to your well-being because of the low volume of traffic. I will admit I do always bike for enjoyment and seldom as a means to get from point A to point B.
The 2 hour, or 8 mile bike tour we took of Atlanta’s best cycling infrastructure was surprisingly comfortable to me. I believe there are distinct reasons for this however. I was being guided by Dr. Watkins and part of a whole group of about 20 people that definitely made a presence to vehicles on the road. Because I am unfamiliar with the bicycle tracks in Atlanta, if I had been trying to do the tour alone I wouldn’t have known all the warnings Dr. Watkins gave us about which connections and turns are tricky, when to be more careful, or even which streets had actual bike tracks.
We also went during a time when not many people were using the bicycle facilities we were on. On the two way bike track along 10th Street, no one came in the opposite direction of us so I felt like I had plenty of room. But given the small lanes and the street debris taking up most of the second lane I think I would’ve felt very uneasy if a bicycle had come in the opposing lane, let alone a group of 20 bicyclists like us. Furthermore, when we were on the BeltLine, there was barely anyone there! If you go on a weekend however, or even a weekday afternoon when it is warmer out, the entire east side we rode on is incredibly crowded. I think I’d feel not only unsafe but also like a danger to others if I were to bike on the crowded BeltLine.
It was incredibly frustrating to witness vehicles not respecting the bicycle tracks also. It seems unless there is some sort of barrier between the track and the roadway they will take over. This barrier however, does very little to contribute to how safe I felt on the track. On 10th Street there was barrier but some were knocked down and obstructing the way, or completely gone – a clear indicator that a car had hit it. The barrier was there but there was still so little space between the bar and myself on the bike that a million terrible scenarios went through my head as I biked down crowded streets.
Part 2: Cycling in the Netherlands
Mark Wagenbuur’s videos showed a very clear contrast between Atlanta’s bicycle infrastructure and the Dutch’s. I was incredibly surprised to learn they had made that dramatic of a change in their way of life in just 1973. The Dutch designed their bicycle infrastructure to be completely separated from vehicles. This is a feature that I believe adds so much more safety to their infrastructure.
In the Netherlands cycling is perceived as a means to get to where you need to be. But it is very relaxed and leisurely. His video “Cycling in the US from a Dutch perspective” identified just how different I didn’t realize it was. It’s true that people in cities in the States tend to have the reputation of always being in a hurry, of racing from one place to the other. This just isn’t the case for the Dutch. Everyone they showed in the Netherlands wasn’t dressed for an intense workout or wasn’t speeding down the road with a look on their face that said they were 15 minutes late to work. Even the types of bicycles seemed to be different! The Dutch used more leisurely bikes it seems from the videos while bicyclists in the U.S. seemed to be using intense mountain bikes.
I will admit the video “Bicycle Rush Hour, Utrecht III” did scare me a bit. If I was not used to biking in the Netherlands (as I am not) I don’t think I would feel comfortable with so much bicycle traffic especially if I didn’t know exactly which way I needed to be going. This could’ve been because the video was sped up however. I do believe their infrastructure – from bicycle roadways to signage to striping – would make it a lot easier than I think it is.