The bike ride last Friday was the second time I have ridden a bike on the streets of Atlanta even though I have owned a bike for several months with great intentions of using it for daily activities. Experiencing the various bike facilities in Atlanta made me feel more comfortable about biking than I anticipated, as I found that it really was not that scary once we started riding. The Beltline of course made me very comfortable, as there was low pedestrian traffic and no vehicle traffic. However, there were some sections of the route that did make me cautious. For example, riding downhill at a relatively high speed on the 10th St cycle track next to vehicle traffic made me cautious of the fact that a stick or object on the pavement could lead to a dangerous situation. I felt more comfortable on the flatter Luckie St cycle track, because it seems there would be more time to react in such a situation. While the bollards separating the cycle tracks from the travel lanes are not the most ideal barrier, they provide some level of comfort and keep cars from parking in the bike lanes, which could be another issue that makes me hesitant about biking in crowded areas.
The smooth transitions between the different facilities was one of the most comfortable aspects of the ride, as this is something I focus on when planning a bike ride. I appreciated the intersection infrastructure at 5th St and the ramp that led to the bike lane on Edgewood Avenue. We experienced a less smooth transition when initially turning onto the 10th St cycle track from Myrtle St. The flashing RRFBs do help this situation, but it can be uncomfortable if you are not confident that the car drivers are aware you are pulling out in front of them. This bike ride made me regret recently purchasing a black jacket instead of a brighter color, because throughout the ride I wanted the drivers to be fully aware of my proximity to their vehicles. This is not an issue on the Beltline and much of the Dutch bike infrastructure, which makes for a more carefree ride. Nonetheless, biking through Atlanta gave me a different and unique perspective of the city, and I plan to use biking as a mode of transportation much more in the future.
Mark Wagenbuur’s “Cycling in the U.S. from a Dutch perspective” video explains many ways that cycling is perceived very differently from here in the U.S.. A certain mindset about cycling is apparent in the Dutch culture, and this mindset is supported and maintained by the infrastructure. The lack of safe bicycle infrastructure in the U.S. leads to behaviors that are considered strange by the Dutch including the wearing of helmets and lycra. The attitude towards bicycling in the Netherlands is as if it is as much a part of life as driving is here. Many Americans could not imagine life without a vehicle, especially in the suburbs, as they are essential to safely and efficiently getting from A to B. We do not wear special, spandex clothing when we drive our cars, and we usually do not think twice about many aspects of the driving experience. We also mostly do not use our cars solely for leisure activities, and we generally feel safe when driving because the infrastructure is designed to make us feel this way. The relaxed way we perceive driving in the U.S. is similar to the way cycling is perceived in the Netherlands.
Wagenbuur's videos also highlight the impressive design and infrastructure utilized in the Netherlands, which allows for the relaxed mindset towards cycling as a primary mode of transportation. The video, "Junction design the Dutch - cycle friendly - way" walks through the differences between U.S. and Dutch intersections, which are simple design changes that have significant results for improving safety. A main difference is that the bike lane is kept to the right so that they do not have to cross car traffic. This eliminates the conflict point and the need to look backward to check for oncoming traffic. Wagenbuur explains that this is achieved by creating an extra curb which acts as a protective island. The stop line is shifted back to account for the pedestrian crosswalks, which is a safer alternative because they have a shorter distance to cross. Driver awareness of both pedestrians and cyclists is improved by greater sight distance from all angles. Cyclists are sitting in front of vehicles when they are making right or left turns, requiring the drivers only to look forward, which is much safer. These design elements, in addition to no shortage of paint color and markings, differentiates Dutch intersections from those in the U.S..