Transportation in Atlanta. Many thoughts come to my mind regarding this subject and if you've had any experience at all traveling in or through Atlanta, I'm sure you wouldn't be surprised when I say very few of those thoughts are positive. Cycling aside, even driving a car through Atlanta can be an unnerving occasion for the inexperienced. The large number of one-way streets causes you to question every turn you make as you check a second or third time for that not-so conspicuously placed "One-Way" sign. The scarcity of highly-visible lane striping in some areas causes you to question whether you're actually in your lane and the horrid pavement conditions in other areas force you to serpentine around obstacles or risk a visit from AAA. So if the current state of automobile infrastructure in Atlanta alludes in any way to the state of its cycling infrastructure, you could easily assume that it's not in great shape.
To start off this lovely conversation of Atlanta's cycling infrastructure, let's talk about sharrows. If you're like 99.9% of America and have never heard this word before, sharrows are painted symbols within roadways that consist of a bicycle and an arrow. What these symbols are intended to do is to indicate to drivers that they are to share this roadway with cyclists. There's one little problem with this intention. A majority of drivers don't even enjoy sharing roadways with other drivers. If you have tough skin, I encourage you to drive around Atlanta at 5 mph below the speed limit and count the number of drivers that try to encourage you along with a honk or two. Now imagine if these drivers get stuck behind a cyclist going 15 mph below the speed limit. The idea that a roadway can be effectively and safely shared by cyclists and automobiles is no where short of bogus. As an experienced cyclist within Atlanta, I've noticed that the presence of sharrows does not affect my sense of safety when traveling along a roadway. Sharrows or not, drivers will still pass you within 12 inches without reducing speed. Conclusion: sharrows are no more than wasted paint.
Be not dismayed, for sharrows are not the latest and greatest in Atlanta's cycling infrastructure. Dedicated cycle lanes and cycle tracks are more prevalent in Atlanta than you may think. These lanes a directly adjacent to the roadway and are occasionally "protected" by plastic poles or a concrete curb. Stress levels are much lower when riding in these lanes as separation is the most important factor in cycling safety. Still, this level of separation is only minor and with the ambiguity of cyclist movements at intersections, accidents are still prone to happen.
This brings us to the Atlanta Beltline, the crème de la crème of pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure in Atlanta. Apart from intersections, the Beltline is completely separated from automobiles, providing a safe place for cyclists and pedestrians to travel. The only fault I can see with the current design of the Beltline is that pedestrians and cyclists are not separated. They all share the same path with no markings designating where cyclists should ride. From my experience walking and cycling on the Beltline, cyclists often have to go around pedestrians and pass them at higher speeds and this produces the possibility of accidents between pedestrians and cyclists.
If you've only ever seen American cycling infrastructure, you may think that Atlanta's isn't all that bad. There are a decent number of bike lanes with a relatively large cycling community within the city compared to other American cities. Everything changes when you see the infrastructure within the Netherlands. To be honest, it's difficult to compare the two because they are so different in terms of design approach and methodology. From my own personal experience of cycling in Amsterdam and from what I learned from the Mark Wagenbuur videos, the Dutch design philosophy is drastically different. This stems from the perception in the Netherlands that cycling is a legitimate form of transportation. Here in the states, cycling is viewed more as just another recreational activity. Because of this, there is a large focus on the prioritization of cycling infrastructure throughout the entire country. One of the biggest differences is that cars must yield to cyclists at intersections in the Netherlands. This concept is unheard of in the US where cars dominate the roadways. In short, Atlanta has significant room for improvement, although comparing the Netherlands (the poster child of cycling infrastructure) to any other country seems a little unfair. With the current projects underway in Atlanta, though, the future is definitely looking brighter for cyclists in Atlanta.