Prior to learning about bike infrastructure in the few weeks of this course thus far, I was oblivious to the plight of cyclists within Atlanta; I did not perceive our infrastructure to be lacking or proficient, but instead, never gave it a second thought. After the group cycling tour of Atlanta, I have a much better idea of how cyclists operate and what concerns could arise. The tour began on 5th Street, where a "Sharrow" exists, designating that cars and cyclists must share the road. Starting off weaving through small, quiet neighborhoods on Myrtle Street, even inexperienced cyclists would feel safe despite any striping or markings indicating cyclists’ presence, as cars were cautious and scarce. Figure 1 shows the lack of striping on this road.
Figure 1. Biking on Myrtle Street (Source: Google Maps)
Reaching 10thstreet, I became aware of the second type of cycling infrastructure I would encounter: a two-lane cycle track. I felt secure up until reaching Monroe, when I was the first one at a busy intersection, as the rest of the group before me had gone through the light. I asked someone to go ahead of me as we approached the Beltline, as I was nervous to be the first one through the intersection. This unique configuration is shown in Figure 2.
The Beltline would be considered a safe haven for a cyclist on days without considerable foot (or scooter) traffic, with wide paths and no automobiles. Transitioning to biking on Edgewood, where a cycle lane exists, I felt comfortable but I can attribute this partly to being at the front of the group right behind Dr. Watkins; I never quickly had to question if I should continue through a light at a yellow. I noticed on Edgewood that some oversized cars or trucks would come close to me. I can only imagine that had I been alone, this scary moment would have been amplified. The group tended to get fragmented because of drivers making turns without looking and lights changing. Finishing the tour once the group dispersed, I continued onto the Path Parkway by mself, and again felt very safe, as it is detached from the cars’ roadway. Figure 3 shows the end of my journey, to which I returned to the safety of campus roads.
Figure 3. Path Parkway
The paths traversed on the group cycling tour were the best Atlanta has to offer. Had the tour took place on 10thStreet west of I-85, I am sure my experience would have been far more frightening. Cycling with a sizable group filled with mostly experienced cyclists was a source of comfort, however my experience would have certainly been different had I been alone or if the automobile traffic had been worse, with impatient and mindless drivers. Without a doubt, Atlanta’s infrastructure has seen considerable improvement in the past few years, and even within the past couple of months, such as the new cycle track that continues on by the Georgia Aquarium.
Dutch Cycling Infrastructure
Despite the recent strides made in adding cycling infrastructure to American roads, it still feels like roads with bicycling infrastructure are a rare privilege. The Dutch emphasize cyclists as the priority user rather than an afterthought. As for their infrastructure, elevated paths distinguish between different roadway users and makes cycling and walking far safer (Wagenbuur 2009). In Atlanta, our group could not stay together because of frequent stops, and because of added cautionary time, since cars were not looking for cyclists. The Dutch system allows for more seamless transportation, where cars are respectful of cyclists and cyclists can ride without being anxious of drivers’ impedance (Wagenbuur 2010). At intersections especially, cyclists have minimal interaction with cars, which is safer and more efficient than the American version (Wagenbuur 2014). This is possible through overpasses, underpasses, different elevation levels of roadways, and smart left turn design. Lights control the intersections, allowing trains, buses, cyclists, and pedestrians to each have their turn. Beyond the physical infrastructure, the demographic of cyclists is different. While biking throughout Atlanta, every cyclist we encountered was a male. In the Netherlands, women of all ages, shapes, and sizes bike to and from work just as men do (Wagenbuur 2015). Their infrastructure allows for almost anyone to use the paths safely and effectively, getting from one point to the next. The Dutch are so confident that their paths are safe that almost no one videoed had a helmet on (Wagenbuur 2009). Another interesting note is that, while in the States, many people reserve biking as a recreation activity for sunny days, the Dutch bike in the snow, rain, and cold temperatures. Simply put, the Dutch do not let much come between them and their ability to cycle to and from.
There is no argument that Dutch infrastructure provides a safe way to bike. The Netherlands’ lucrative past combined with many cycling deaths paved the way for cycle paths from big cities to smaller towns (Wagenbuur 2011). I agree that American cities have a long way to go with respect to achieving that same level of comfort, availability, and feasibility. However, I believe that, in the future, the American cyclist can choose to bike to and from work, social events, restaurants, and commercial areas (like the Dutch do) without American governments needing to completely revamp the elevation of roadways and model our cities like Dutch cities. Changing the infrastructure would of course be ideal, and the same quote, “Build it and they will come,” would eventually apply (Wagenbuur 2011). However, for the time being, the population of car drivers in the United States needs to change their mindsets about the role of cyclists on the roads. My experience biking on Atlanta’s infrastructure was reassuring and motivating, however I am sure that if I biked daily, I would have more dangerous interactions and perhaps change my current thinking that our infrastructure does not need to be completely changed.
To illustrate people's comfort with cycling in the United States, I observed the results drawn by a survey. It will help to gain a perspective on the type of infrastructure necessary for the average person’s comfort level.
Surveys conducted in Portland, Oregon categorized cyclists into four categories: Strong and Fearless, Enthused & Confident, Interested but Concerned, and No Way No How. The surveys found that bike lanes only satisfy 8% of the surveyed people and that most people are interested in cycling but need protected facilities to feel comfortable. Overall, this is an accurate representation of our class going into the bike tour, even as transportation engineers (Geller, n.d.). Below is a visual representing survey results from Portland, Oregon.
The bike route taken by our class included areas of redevelopment including the BeltLine and Krog Street Market, as well as parks like Piedmont Park and Centennial Olympic Park. Bike infrastructure is accessible for places of leisure but is not found outside of these key locations. This makes the majority of people who fit into the “Interested But Concerned” group feel unsafe riding on streets that connect to these areas of the city as protected cycle tracks do not exist outside these areas.
I felt especially safe when riding with the class around Atlanta as opposed to riding alone. The phrase “safety in numbers” comes to mind when explaining my confidence with Atlanta’s biking infrastructure. I mostly felt comfortable biking not because of the bike paths that separate drivers and bikers but because of drivers’ behavior. I noticed drivers move away from bikers and sometimes drive into the opposing traffic lane when the lane was available to give bikers more space. I most often saw this behavior in drivers when riding on roads with sharrows – a shared lane marking. Sharrows alert motorists that bicycles will be present in the lane and have a direction arrow in the flow of traffic to reduce wrong way riding. Figure 2 is an example of a sharrow.
I mostly saw sharrows on our biking tour, in addition to cycle tracks and bike lanes. Sharrows located on Spring St NE did not help me feel safer as a cyclist as the roadway had several lanes of traffic and construction. Driver behaviors highlight a major safety concern in our current biking infrastructure as they feel the need to move out of the way, driving differently than the roadways intended use. Cycle tracks were located at Piedmont Park as well as Centennial Park.
Figure 3: Cycle Track on 10th St NE by Piedmont Park (Source: Google Maps)
I spotted cyclists along 10th St NE by Piedmont Park in Midtown. Cyclists tend to be more comfortable biking along the park as there is a designated cycle track on the side of the road closest to the park for two lane cycle traffic. There were a lot of markers at entrances to the park indicating to drivers and pedestrians that bikers are present. Additionally, bollards were placed every couple of feet along the street adjacent to the park with several altogether at the intersection of 10th St NE and Monroe Dr. NE, the entrance of the BeltLine. These bollards are plastic vertical posts with reflective strips to provide a buffer between cars and cyclists.
Figure 4: Cycle Track with Bollards on 10th St NE Closest to the BeltLine (Source: Google Maps)
My favorite part of the bike tour was cycling on the BeltLine because the pavement was wide enough to ride next to others in the class, and enjoy the artwork surrounding us. I noticed the pavement was divided in two slabs of differing materials to designate bi-directional traffic. Below you can see the left side of the path is more coarse and the right side is smoother pavement.
Figure 5: Cycling on the BeltLine (Source: Google Maps)
The BeltLine would have had a very different vibe had we gone as a class on the weekend, as there would have been more people on the path including pedestrians with pets, scooters and sporty cyclists. With less traffic, it was easy to maneuver around people without feeling like I was posing a risk to pedestrians. One couple on the BeltLine asked me if our group was biking for health class. It must have been unusual to find a group of people who decided to bike together on a lovely Friday afternoon if it was not structured for class. Although it is true that we had to participate in the bike tour, it shows the unfamiliarity locals in Atlanta have with bikers, and especially non-sporty bikers.
Bike lanes are a step-up improvement from sharrows with painted markings for the bike lane. I don’t feel as confident with bike facilities in Atlanta when making left turns as it involves sharing a lane with cars. Luckily, and almost too conveniently, our group made a low number of left turns. I feel more at risk of getting hit when at a stoplight that I will be passing straight through, when cars on my left will be making a right turn. There is low visibility that would make most people uncomfortable. I also don’t think most people feel safe cycling in Atlanta’s infrastructure because it is disconnected.
Figure 6: Bike Lane on Edgewood Ave SE (Source: Google Maps)
Downtown Atlanta incorporated more safety in design with bollards located near street intersections, and concrete curbs along busier, narrower roadways like Ted Turner Drive, to notify drivers if they get too close to cyclists. I appreciated this infrastructure because there was heavy traffic and more intersections along the route. However, if I was cycling alone instead of in a group I would not have felt as safe as drivers probably wouldn’t have recognized me as well.
Acceptable distances for bikers in the Netherlands to travel is about 15 km (~ 9 miles) and the best of Atlanta’s biking infrastructure was seen in a mere 7 miles while experiencing slight discomfort in a large group (Wagenbuur, 2018). This is something to consider when most people are interested in biking and Atlanta’s infrastructure hasn’t caught up to accompany those interests.
Dutch Cycling Infrastructure
Cycling for adults and children in the Netherlands is viewed for practicality: getting from point A to point B. While adults over 65 cycle to get to destinations, they also cycle for leisure. Because cyclists in the Netherlands bike to school and work, they don’t feel the need to bike in their free time. In the US, cycling is predominantly perceived to be leisurely, where people will even drive to locations to start biking where it is perceived to be more fun (Wagenbuur, 2013).
Cyclists are thirty times more likely to get injured cycling in the US than in the Netherlands. The way people dress to bike is a great indicator of how comfortable people are on bikes (Wagenburr, 2018). US cyclists will wear helmets for protection and exercise clothing like spandex as they try to keep up with moving vehicles. This satisfies only the Strong & Fearless and the Enthused & Confident cyclists. Cyclists in the Netherlands are much more relaxed in dress, wearing business and casual clothing without helmets as vehicles are not a threat to them because of differences in their infrastructure (Wagenburr, 2013).
After WWII, the Netherlands became wealthy and several highways and roadways were built for motorized traffic that resulted in several thousand deaths per year. In addition to protests made by the public for child death tolls, a global oil crisis pushed the government to incentivize biking to save energy and lower costs. Cycling in the Netherlands is perceived to be safer and more environmentally friendly than driving cars. Cycling provides more space for housing closer to the city as there is limited space used for car parking, which improves people’s quality of life. Cycling is perceived to be safer in the US when there are more people on the streets cycling, even though there is limited biking infrastructure. The built biking infrastructure pushed people in the Netherlands to bike, whereas in the US, people bike by choice even when the infrastructure is poor (Wagenbuur, 2011).
There is a variety of biking infrastructure for intersections in the Netherlands as compared to the US. US bike lanes either stop at intersections and continue after the intersection as pedestrians and vehicle drivers will share the space, or there will be dashed lines painted on the road and green paint used to signal a shared space. From the Dutch perspective, bike infrastructure is most necessary at intersections to direct traffic. Red pavement designation for bike paths in the Netherlands continue through intersections to both lead cyclists on the right path and show vehicle drivers where bikers are located. In the Netherlands, bike and vehicle roads meet at 90-degree angles most often when vehicles are at low speeds (under 16 miles) and for small intersections. This angle is most safe as drivers have a better view of the cyclists. For larger intersections, bike paths are separated on the outside of the junction, so they don’t interact with vehicles. Countdowns exist on traffic lights in the Netherlands to avoid bikers running red lights (Wagenburr, 2014).
The Netherlands' push factors for developing safe biking infrastructure are not unique to the Netherlands. Cycling infrastructure developed differently in the U.S. and in the Netherlands because of people’s values. In the U.S. people tend to value speed and getting as quickly as possible to their destinations. This value places vehicles at higher importance to bikes, and so bikes are integrated with vehicles in order to be most efficient, and for people to reach destinations quicker. In the Netherlands, people tend to value safety over speed, and so bikers were separated from vehicles to avoid collisions. _________________________________________________________________________________
My name is Liston Mehserle, and this semester I’ll be writing blog posts exploring sustainable biking infrastructure throughout the semester as I take CEE 4660, Sustainable Transportation Abroad. Previous to attending Georgia Tech, I lived in a medium-sized town by the name of Perry, located an hour and a half south of Atlanta. My experience with transportation there was not in any ways what one would think of as sustainable or effective. While I once saw a small sign noting an intercity bus service, public transportation was nonexistent. More recently the transportation authority has been painting bike lanes on certain routes, however a culture dominated by automobiles lead to high speeds and a lack of mindfulness of cyclists that removes the option for all but the most reckless of those looking to travel on two wheels without a motor. Shown below is a comparison of Midtown and my home zip code from Walk Score.
Comparison of Midtown and Perry, credit Walkscore.com
Lack of infrastructure for all but the automobiles is a theme, as sidewalks are few and far between. There are multiple factors leading to Perry’s approach to infrastructure. Rural development with its lack of dense planning created large distances between residents and points of interest. It is not unheard of to travel 15 miles or more to a point of interest, especially if located in an outside community. Perry’s start as an agricultural society led to most residents depending on trucks and other vehicles to haul equipment and resources. Ultimately, the general apathy towards transportation effectiveness and lack of concern towards personal or environmental health leads to a situation where there is little to no outlook of improvement to the transportation system.
In all fairness, I had no interest in transportation before arriving in Atlanta. In my mind, only one metric mattered: speed. It was not until a radical conversation with a traffic engineer, where it was remarked that a goal for Midtown was to slow traffic, that the gears began to turn, and I started to realize the dynamic nature of transportation. Over time I also began to bike quite a bit. Initially my interest in biking was more due to fascination with the mechanical side of the machine, but over time I’ve begun to value cycling more as a mode of transportation. This is due to the experience I’ve had zipping around Midtown by bike. Biking as a mode has proven to be loads of fun and has convinced me that the bike is the best way to get out and experience your surroundings. While I may drive past a small shop in a car and completely miss it, the lack of separation from the environment and reduced speed of a bike allow for a more mindful transportation experience.
With that, we now come to my purpose in taking this class. While I’ve enjoyed biking, it is not hard to make the claim that the bike as a mode of transportation in America (especially the South) is severely underutilized. Looking at places like my hometown and even much of Atlanta, the lack of quality biking infrastructure serves as a major hurdle if people are to view biking as a legitimate option for all. Additionally, beyond the physical barriers, I hope to investigate any cultural factors that stand in the way of cycling. Studying the Dutch approach to cycling excites me as the bike is ingrained in their culture and is prioritized in their approach to transportation. The Netherlands should serve as a great case study as I look to start a career in transportation that can hopefully bring the bike and public transportation to the forefront of transportation in America.
Additionally, I’ve never had the opportunity to travel to a country outside of the United States, so I would be remiss not to mention the fact that I am grateful and downright excited to visit a new culture and setting. Be it the tulips or the herring, I am ready to visit the Netherlands!
Biking infrastructure in Atlanta, even on the best corridors, still feels dangerous to an average cyclist. Automobile drivers tend to assume that bikers will not be on the road because they are rare, and so as a cyclist, you cannot assume that anyone will stop or yield when they are supposed to. Being in a large group fixes some of the problem, as cars notice the first bike and then the rest can follow safely. When passing through intersections or making left turns, cyclists must stop and check if drivers are prepared to stop. Bike lanes feel moderately safe, but when cars pass at speeds upwards of 35 miles per hour, the lanes feel narrow. Cycle tracks separated by plastic posts, such as the one shown in the picture, feel slightly safer because of the space between cars and bikes. The cycle track would feel a lot safer with a sturdier divide, like a lane of parked cars or a row of concrete barriers. Cycling on neighborhood streets feel safer than cycle tracks despite having no biking infrastructure. The drastically reduced traffic speed helps to make bikers feel equal to drivers and allows for equal priority for all travelers.
Figure 1: 10th Street Cycle Track with plastic dividers (Source: Becker, 2013)
I would not feel safe biking on Atlanta roads by myself, regardless of where I was going. I was able to follow along with the group and navigate the planned route, but I would worry about making turns and findings safe travel lanes on my own. Even when streets have bike lanes or cycle tracks, they vary in terms of placement and are sparsely labeled. Additional signage or connections between paths and tracks would help a great deal when navigating new roads.
Dutch Cycling Infrastructure
The Dutch have done an incredible job of making cyclists a priority and building infrastructure to make biking safe and efficient. The train station at Delft is a great example of how much easier biking is in the Netherlands. Cyclists go down a ramp and into a large bike parking area in which bicycles can be secured at ground level or raised using a simple hydraulic system as shown. Connecting cycling with transit is an area in which America needs to dedicate more resources, as it allows people to travel long distances without the use of personal automobiles.
Figure 2: Bike Parking in Delft Train Station (Source: tudelft.nl)
Intersections still present unique challenges for bike infrastructure, but the Dutch have created systems that allow for safe travel by all users. Use of roundabouts is prevalent, with cycle tracks going the whole way around and space for cars to stop and wait for bikes before and after crossing traffic lanes. When left turns are necessary, signals allow bikers to make the turn in two steps, with signals coming one right after another. Intersections in the U.S. seem to treat bikes like cars, mixing all travelers and allowing them to traverse the intersection together at their own peril.
The Netherlands has made a cycling a priority because it was the will of the people. After World War II, cars became affordable and automobile traffic dominated the roads. Pollution and safety became a concern, and so protestors fought for increased cycling. The government dedicated time, money, and lane space to making biking safer and more efficient across all parts of the Netherlands. The Dutch do a great job of designing roads based on safe speeds for all vehicles and separating by types. They designate six modes of travel based on size and speed: walking, cycling, light motor vehicles, cars, buses and trucks, and track vehicles. Each has its own specific design challenges and requires different corridors. American infrastructure often combines all modes or separates into only two or three categories.
Becker, J. (2013, July 17). 10th Street Cycle Track [Photograph]. Retrieved from
My name is Ben Weishaar and I am a third-year undergraduate student pursuing a Civil Engineering major with a Global Engineering Leadership minor. I am from Germantown, Maryland, a large suburban town about an hour north of Washington, DC. Germantown is about a fifteen-minute drive from the end of the DC metro, so I took the train into the city often growing up. Local bus service was available around me, but most people traveled by car. I lived along the 270 spur off the DC beltway, so rush hour traffic was always a problem. Very few people biked for transportation, and most roads do not have any space for bikers to travel safely around cars.
How have my travels influenced my thinking on transportation?
My travel to this point has been relatively limited. I took a trip to Italy with my family when I was 10, I went to Canada with friends when I was 18, I have traveled up and down I-95 from Boston to Jacksonville, and I have been to Chicago. The only aspect of transportation I remember from Italy was going up and down the hills of Tuscany on narrow, bumpy streets, in a stick shift van that my grandfather barely knew how to drive. My trip to Canada included planes, trains, and automobiles, but nothing struck me as innovative. I have been on trains in Boston, Chicago, and New York, all of which are far superior to the MARTA. Until now, I have never focused on transportation systems when traveling, but I am excited to learn from the Netherlands and their advanced biking systems.
Goals for the course
I have spent the past two summers working as an intern at a land development consulting firm in Germantown, and some of my work involved transportation planning and roadway section design. I presented options to clients based on lane use for driving, parking, biking, and walking, as well as space for trees and benches. Montgomery County Maryland recently passed a bicycle master plan, hoping to create safe travel for cyclists and reduce the number of vehicles on the road. Learning about how the Dutch use infrastructure to encourage safe and efficient biking will be incredibly useful for my future career. Many areas of the United States are pushing for sustainable transportation, and many Dutch techniques would be help create safer bicycle infrastructure here. I would like to continue my work in land development, and I want to be able to incorporate sustainable transportation solutions into future projects. I am also looking forward to spending time with industry professionals from the U.S. and the Netherlands. I would like to continue building my professional network and learn from the experiences of Professional Engineers in different areas.
As a more confident bicyclist with some experience biking in Atlanta and other cities, I felt very comfortable on the bike tour; however, I doubt most people would feel as safe and comfortable as I did. Additionally, we rode on the best parts of Atlanta’s bike infrastructure which always consisted of at least a bike lane. Other parts of Atlanta, especially on busy streets with “sharrows” or no bike markings at all, are much more intimidating to me and, I would expect, are likely a main reason some people do not bike much in Atlanta. Figure 1 shows a "sharrow" on 10th Street that is, from experience, one of the more intimidating bike routes to ride on. In the back of the picture on the left is the cycle track, which is much more comfortable to bike on.
Figure 1. 10th Street Sharrow to Cycle Track (Source: Google Maps)
There was one moment in the bike tour as we were going through an intersection that I felt a little nervous that the car to my left was closer than I would have preferred. There was also a time when we had to stop at a signal on an uphill, which made starting up when the light turned green very difficult. These challenges were present in downtown even with bike infrastructure. I noticed that the cycle track leading from downtown to campus was where I felt safest, with the exception of the BeltLine, because there was a barrier from vehicles and there were bike signals. Figure 2 shows this cycle track and the curb separating the vehicle-way from the bike-way.
Figure 2. Cycle Track on Luckie Street with Curb Separation (Source: Google Maps)
Cycling Infrastructure in the Netherlands
After watching some of Mark Wagenburr’s videos on YouTube, it became obvious that biking in the Netherlands is much more casual, comfortable, and ordinary than in the United States. In the U.S., we tend to bike in athletic clothing and ride racing bikes because we feel like we are trying to keep up with vehicle traffic (Wagenburr, 2013). In the Netherlands, people wear their clothes for work or school on their bikes. I feel like biking is the Netherlands version of walking in a way (Wagenburr, 2010). In the United States we perceive biking as something only as group of fearless people do, but in the Netherlands, anyone can bike, including children.
Beyond the separated infrastructure for their bikes along roads, the Dutch build intersections that make sure bikes are visible and vehicles have space to yield without blocking other traffic. The Dutch designs also make sure that there are either physical barriers or excess space between bicyclists and motorists. This varies from the U.S. in many ways, but particularly that in the U.S. we expect bicyclists to act like motorists at intersections by intermixing with the traffic. (Wagenbuur, 2014)
I found the video about the history of biking in the Netherlands to be one of the most interesting I watched. While the 1970’s oil crisis had an impact on creating bike policy, it was really the activism of citizens, once they realized how many bicyclists deaths there were, that created a movement to design safer infrastructure. It was after protests and civic engagement that policies went into effect to create the biking culture that the Netherlands is known for today. (Wagenbuur, 2011)
I think the United States has been more attached to their vehicles than people in Europe, especially in the Netherlands. There are a few reasons for this, one being our limited public transportation outside of buses and another being our vast suburb culture. If you look at cities like New York and San Francisco, there are more people using transportation modes outside of cars because areas are densely populated and the public transportation systems are close to those of cities like London and Paris. In cities like Atlanta and New Orleans, there aren’t as many alternative modes for most people and many people live in suburbs, so they choose to or have to drive. I believe that this car-culture is why we haven’t had a movement pushing for policy changes like there was in the Netherlands in the 1970’s.
Wagenbuur, M. [BicycleDutch]. (2010, April 28). Bicycle Rush Hour Utrecht (Netherlands) III [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-AbPav5E5M
Wagenbuur, M. [BicycleDutch]. (2011, October 9). How the Dutch Got Their Cycle Paths [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XuBdf9jYj7o
Wagenbuur, M. [BicycleDutch]. (2013, June 19). Cycling in the US from a Dutch Perspective [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2THe_10dYs&feature=youtu.be
Wagenbuur, M. [BicycleDutch]. (2014, February 23). Junction Design in the Netherlands [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpQMgbDJPok
Hello, and welcome to my Sustainable Transport Abroad blog! My name is Corey Whitlock, and I’m a 3rd year civil engineering student.
Where I’m from
For my entire life, I have lived in the metro Atlanta area. In Atlanta and its surrounding suburbs, we ironically use a form of transportation to specify whether we’re true Atlantans or not: Interstate 285, also known as “the perimeter” by Atlantans. If you live inside the perimeter, you live no more than 25 minutes from the heart of the city. You’re a true Atlantan. If we apply the perimeter standard, I am no true Atlantan; I spent 16 of my first 18 years in a small city called Lilburn. Lilburn has a little bit over a 12,000 people, and it’s around 40 minutes northeast of Atlanta. So while I’m not an “inside the perimeter” (or ITP as we say) resident, I grew up going into the city quite often, and am as familiar with it as someone could be who has lived close enough to it their whole life.
For some background on Lilburn, Georgia, I’ll provide the highlights. Lilburn is in the southeast corner of Gwinnett County, one of the most diverse, fastest-growing counties in the United States. Of the 3 members of the rap group “Migos”, 2 are from Lilburn, where they attended one of my rival high schools, Berkmar. Yes, I am a very good rapper, and no, I am not personal friends with any of them, but did watch a football game that one of them played in (it was Quavo; he lost). Lilburn is also a talent pocket for baseball; my high school has won 3 national championships in the past 8 years! So, I grew up around the sport for the entirety of my childhood and played until I graduated.
How my travels have influenced my thinking on transportation
For as great a city as Atlanta is, it’s quite common knowledge that it does not have the robust system of transport that many other great cities have. In fact, my home county, along with multiple others within the metro area, has refused to allow MARTA (the train system) to expand into them! So when we needed to get somewhere, it was almost always by car. And though Atlanta has taken massive strides towards a more integrated system of transit with projects like the beltline in recent years, Lilburn still has more steps to take before biking can be a true from of transit.
My view of transportation has been heavily influenced by three things, and two of them have been trips I’ve taken (the third is the creation of the Beltline, the project that inspired me to become a civil engineer). The first trip was one to Washington DC, and I took it when I was 12. On that trip, I got to ride the Washington Metro, which is arguably one of the more robust subway systems in the United States. I remember being incredibly impressed that the trains could actually take you to places you wanted and needed to go to. As a kid who grew up with MARTA, this was all but normal to me. I also took an incredible bike tour of the city, which was influential in that I really got to understand firsthand just how effective, and healthy, bike transit could be. The other trip that has influenced my perception of transportation was a trip I took last winter break to London. I got to ride the London Tube around, along with the multiple bus lines connected to the stations (yes, the fun red, double-decker ones!). Once again, I was reminded of how effective a well-designed subway system could be, and the impact it could have on a city’s people. Both of those trips have made me keenly interested in transportation. Atlanta is a place I can truly call my home now, and we have a lot of improvements to be made before we can truly call it a transport model for the modern world. One day, however, I hope that can change.
My goals for this course
I have a few goals, and they are as follows:
To understand how Dutch culture and attitudes drive their devotion to sustainable transport, and to evaluate the necessary cultural changes the United States would need to undergo.
To come up with some good ideas on how Atlanta’s transport system could be improved.
To think of ways that I could be a leader in sustainable transport in the United States.
I’m extremely excited to have the opportunity to study all of this in this class and to travel to the Netherlands to learn hands-on! I’ve only been to Europe once, when I went to London, so I’m psyched for such a cool opportunity.
To kick off our series of cycling tours, we started with our home City: Atlanta, GA. Unfortunately, I was slow to recover from a cold and could not participate in the tour with the rest of the class. Instead, I dragged my fiancé out on a Saturday to do the ride with me (Thanks, Abe!). Figure 1 shows our route, which contained a combination of various types of bicycle infrastructure, from “sharrows” to dedicated bicycle paths (more on the infrastructure lingo can be found below).
Figure 1. Route map (Source: Google Maps)
ALTA uses a metric called “Bicycle Level of Traffic Stress” to classify cyclists into four general categories (altaplanning.com, 2017) as shown in the figure below. I would classify myself “Interested, but Concerned” because I generally want to cycle, but am hesitant due to lack of connected infrastructure. Unlike my classmates who participated in a 15-person group ride and benefitted from safety in numbers, I endured a more typical cycling experience by biking the route with just one other cyclist.
The first leg of the route ran down 10th street, a major east-west corridor running through midtown Atlanta. 10th Street utilizes “sharrows”, as shown in the photo below, which are meant to indicate a shared roadway for vehicles and bicycles. The sharrows also indicate general placement of a cyclist relative to vehicles in the roadway. I felt uncomfortable biking in the roadway with vehicles, and thus was ashamedly confined to the sidewalk for most of this leg. I did see a few brave souls in the roadway, but I can’t imagine that even a “Strong and Fearless” cyclist enjoys fighting vehicles for space along this corridor.
Figure 3. Sharrow pavement marking along 10th Street
Moving along 10th, we came upon Piedmont Park, Atlanta’s “Central Park”. I found sweet salvation in the protected bike lane, pictured below. The protected bike lane is just that, protected. Although not always aesthetically pleasing, bollards (plastic posts) clearly delineate lanes for vehicles from lanes for bicycles. Busy intersections have increased visibility for cyclists due to an abundance of pavement markings that signal the increased presence of bicycle traffic to drivers. More cyclists were present along this leg, indicating an increased level of comfort.
Figure 4. 10th Street intersection pavement markings within at-grade cycle-track
Next, we entered Atlanta’s Holy Grail, The BeltLine. The BeltLine is a multi-use pathway that allows bicycle and pedestrian traffic only. Since we took our ride on a pleasant Saturday afternoon, the BeltLine was jammed pack with cyclists, pedestrians, and to my dismay, scooter-ers. Nonetheless, the cycling environment was generally comfortable, and certainly non-life-threatening.
Figure 5. Atlanta's BeltLine near Ponce City Market
The rest of the ride was a mix of mostly on-street unprotected bike lanes, protected bike lanes, cycle tracks, and bicycle-only paths. High-traffic locations utilized curbs instead of bollards and green pavement markings at driveway locations where vehicles and bicycles intermix. See photos below:
Figure 6. Dedicated bike greenway
Figure 7. Cycle-track in downtown Atlanta protected by bollards and a median
Figure 8. Cycle-track near downtown Atlanta separated from roadway by curbing
Figure 9. Green pavement markings at a busy drive-way for increased cyclist visibility
Figure 10: A round-up of my thoughts while biking in ATL (Source: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DyrLoBHWkAAFYsE.jpg)
Dutch Cycling Infrastructure
In addition to our ride, we were asked to watch a series of Mark Wagenbuur videos (YouTube handle = Markenlei; web page bicycledutch.wordpress.com). The difference in infrastructure between the US and The Netherlands is strikingly apparent, even in videos. Some of the best infrastructure in Atlanta could quite possibly be considered the worst infrastructure in The Netherlands. Below are some of the main take-aways from the videos:
The Netherlands truly understands the benefit of separation. Most of the time, bicycles and cars do not share the roadway. When they do share, cyclists get precedence. Not only is infrastructure separated horizontally, but vertically as well. Different elevations keep all moving bodies where they need to be.
Intersections go further than just green paint, featuring bicycle-only traffic lights, refuge islands at the median, and two-point left turns.
Not only are bicycles and vehicles separated, but bicycles and pedestrians are separated as well. I don’t want to knock the BeltLine, but some sort of separation would be most likely prevent several pedestrian/bicycle collisions.
There is a true cycling network, meaning infrastructure exists throughout the entirety of a trip. Furthermore, cyclists aren’t forced to take a specific path in order to benefit from the infrastructure because it exists nearly everywhere.
There are a LOT more cyclists. People are more willing to cycle because there is thoughtful, connected infrastructure in place. Cycling isn’t just for the strong and fearless or enthused and confident, but the “interested, but concerned” as well!
Personal Response: NL Vs ATL
So why is infrastructure in the US, specifically Atlanta, so different than infrastructure in The Netherlands? Here's a quick timeline of the chain of events leading to increased bicycle-infrastructure in The Netherlands:
Post WWII: The Netherlands experienced an uptick in economic activity leading to higher rates of automobile ownership. As ever-expanding roads became more congested, cycling deaths increased. Many deaths were those of children, causing outrage among the community and an outcry for safer streets.
Late 1960's - Early 1970's: A national oil and economic crisis compounded the need for alternate modes of transportation. Working on parallel tracks, bicycle advocates and government officials promoted cycling as the answer.
1975: The Netherlands begins experimenting with bicycle-specific infrastructure, creating bicycle paths in locations like Tilburg and The Hague. Cycling increased in these locations by up to 75%.
Today: The bicycle-specific infrastructure was a success due to increased safety and decreased dependence on the automobile, thus proving an effective strategy for combating several issues. Netherlands design policy now mandates inclusion of bicycle-specific infrastructure on ALL new streets. (Yes, all).
The first two bullets on the timeline sound mighty familiar (hint, hint: US). However, the US did not institute bicycle-specific policies in the 60's and 70's, but instead promoted larger freeways with high speeds and increased capacity. Policy and design emphasis was on moving cars quickly and not much more.
The main point that we can learn from the Netherlands is that it's not too late! Some cities in the US are starting to feature more bicycle-specific infrastructure on their own, but without more bicycle-specific policies and better design standards, the argument for more infrastructure will continue to fall flat.
Happy Cycling, ya'll. More Soon.
Wagenbuur , M. . [Markenlei]. (2011, October 9). How the Dutch Got their cycle paths [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XuBdf9jYj7o
Hi there! Welcome to my Sustainable Transport Abroad Blog. If you didn’t already catch my name, I’m Jenna Krieger, and I am a first-year graduate student at Georgia Tech where I am pursuing a Master’s in Civil Engineering as well as a Master’s in City and Regional Planning. Please check back often as I will be documenting my studies throughout the semester including all of my adventures in The Netherlands.
Enjoying my first Braves game as an Atlanta Resident
A Throwdown for my hometown..
I grew up in the wonderful midwestern town of Lincoln, Nebraska. For any fellow Cornhusker fans out there, Go Big Red! After graduating high school in Lincoln, I moved to Ann Arbor to pursue an undergraduate degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Michigan. Upon graduation in 2013, I was bit by the “Detroit bug” and the rest is history. I may be slightly biased, but I truly believe that modern day transportation was born in Detroit. Home to the widest streets I’ve laid eyes on, The Big 3, and what’s claimed as the first freeway in America, there is no doubt that Detroit earns its name “The Motor City”. Although cars may be Detroit’s claim to fame, America’s Comeback City has a growing cyclist culture. Don’t believe me? Check out my typical Monday night ride with 1000 of my best friends: Slow Roll. With the addition of new trails, like the Dequindre Cut, and plans for larger networks like the Joe Louis Greenway, some Detroiters have traded four wheels for two.
My home away from home, Detroit, MI
How transportation has changed me and how I plan to change transportation..
After growing up in suburban Nebraska, it was my (naïve) assumption that if you wanted to get somewhere, you had to drive. Upon moving to Ann Arbor, I was given advice from a fellow U of M Alum to ditch the car and learn the bus system instead. Although taking the bus set off a few internal alarms, I didn’t want to be the odd one out, and I reluctantly accepted what I thought would be a transportation challenge. I had nothing to worry about! The bus system was not just efficient – it was easy. Daily trips, weekend trips, airport trips, essentially any trip, could be made by bus. You missed the bus? Take the next one, it will arrive in under 5 minutes. Then, when I moved to Detroit, a city that is notorious for poor public transportation and a high percentage of transit-dependent citizens, I was reintroduced to biking. Biking went from a weekend hobby to a useful mode of transportation. Detroit’s wide streets, built for a population of 2 million people, yet transporting less than half this amount, were conducive to cycling – even for the less experienced rider.
Even though I haven’t yet experienced the bicycle network of The Netherlands or the bullet trains of Japan, I can tell you this: living without a car is possible in the US and there are places where transit or alternative modes of transportation are working. Hopefully, someday soon, efficient alternative transit will be a reality for all cities across the US. This leads me to…
My goals for the course..
1. Evaluate how other countries have complemented mass transit with alternative modes of transportation and how this combination has affected land use
2. Understand how a non-vehicular transportation network incentivizes users to reduce the number of trips made by vehicle
3. Determine how alternative modes of transportation could be integrated into the current roadway infrastructure in the US, focusing mainly on the Atlanta area
4. Discover the additional benefits created by alternative transportation modes e.g. healthier citizens, safer streets, etc
Hi! My name is Laura Kelly and I am a third-year undergraduate Civil Engineering student with a focus in Transportation. I grew up in the town of Lawrenceville, Georgia, and have lived in the same place my entire life. I did not have much exposure to the many modes of transportation I now know about as a youngster; beyond traveling via automobile, I only saw biking as a hobby I would never be really immersed in, and public transportation as an ineffective way to travel when I had a car available to me. As far as traveling went, my family typically stayed in Georgia excluding a few automobile trips to South Carolina or Florida. During the summer of 2018 I interned in the Roadway Design group at the Georgia Department of Transportation. The juxtaposition I witnessed daily was palpable: all my life I had believed cars were the only way to travel, however getting to work I took public transportation and walked, never once relying on my car. And yet, every day at work I solely worked on roadway projects that would benefit cars, and was even told to overlook the complete streets guidelines since it was not a current priority for the department. Since that experience, and during the last two years at Georgia Tech, I have become an avid walker, and most weekends I enjoy going on 6-9 mile walks around Midtown and Downtown. I love thinking about how a high-school Laura would have never considered walking to school just because it seemed so far away, however now I walk double that distance just for fun!
Goals for the Course
I have never been very far outside of Georgia, much less the United States, and have never studied abroad, so I am both excited and nervous for this trip to The Netherlands! As mentioned previously, I really enjoy walking, yet (while I know how to) have never been very big into biking, besides recreationally at parks by my house and at the beach. I really hope this course changes my mind on that and encourages me to bike around campus and to locations outside of campus. I also hope to learn about how The Netherlands’ policies encourage biking in urban areas. I am very excited to learn more about the signing and marking of the streets of Dutch cities, as that is one of my favorite things to learn about within transportation.
I hope to make a lot of friends in this course and improve my communications skills through interactions with transportation professionals and public officials. Lastly, I am looking forward to examining a corridor that is in Atlanta using design guidance from The Netherlands, since I really enjoy working on projects near to my location that I have a personal experience with and genuinely want to improve.