Atlanta's Cycling Infrastructure
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.
Figure 2. ALTA Survey of Bicycle Level of Traffic Stress (Source: https://blog.altaplanning.com/understanding-the-four-types-of-cyclists-112e1d2e9a1b)
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.