Our tour of Atlanta’s bicycle infrastructure was along some of the most common bike routes in the City. I have ridden all the segments of the ride several times. We rode from Tech Square through the Midtown neighborhoods, along the 10th Street cycle track, through the East Side Belt Line Trail to the Edgewood Ave bike lane, onto the Peachtree Center Ave NE cycle track, through the John Portman Blvd protected cycle track, and finally along the Luckie Street protected cycle track back to the Georgia Tech campus. The route is shown in Figure 1. The entire ride was about seven miles in total and we experienced a variety of bike infrastructure.
Atlanta is not known for its stellar bikeability, and I think much of that has to do with the driving culture within the city. We are a car-centric city, which correlates to the lack of safety felt by bikers and disincentivizes bike travel. Our class rode in a large group, which likely increased our perceived safety on the roads. However, I have ridden this exact route many times, and while I consider myself a confident rider, I am very cautious when riding on most of Atlanta’s on road bike facilities. Figure 2 shows the cycle track on 10th Street that the class used, and the thin bollard barrier between the contraflow vehicle traffic. Figure 3 shows the Peachtree Center cycle track, which has a similar treatment, but with significantly more turning vehicle conflict points. Figure 4 shows the Edgewood Avenue bike lane, which has no separation at all from vehicle traffic.
Overall, these portions of the ride made up most of the trip. I feel that the unsafe nature of the on-road facilities contributes to the lack of bike travel in Atlanta. Research shows that people feel much safer with separated infrastructure and with the exception of the Belt Line, Atlanta mostly misses the mark when it comes to serving its potential biking community.
Dutch Cycling Infrastructure
The Dutch emphasize biking as a competent mode of transportation, a stark contrast to the United States. In fact, Mark Wagenbuur, Dutch cycling reporter, compares biking in the United States to a chase between bike riders and vehicles. He indicates that there is no trust between modes and that biking is seen as an activity for children. He goes as far as describing sharrows, a commonly used bike facility marker, as “useless paint” .
The Dutch design of roadways shows a clear prioritization of bicyclists over cars, and that is manifested in the figure of 1.3 bicycles per person in The Netherlands . From the initial steps of the roadway planning process, Dutch designers make the roadway as narrow as possible and always plan for cycle tracks on both sides. This ensures protected infrastructure as much as possible, which is always unless at junctions. Even at junction points, the Dutch design intersections in a way that eliminates the need for bicyclists to mix with vehicle traffic unless a left turn is necessary. As Wagenbuur notes, the most important design element of bike/car conflict points is the space necessary for cars to wait for bicyclists to pass while also not blocking vehicle traffic . In contrast, U.S. design almost always mixes bikes in in with the flow of vehicle traffic. After viewing Wagenbuur’s videos, it seems that not only is the Dutch roadway design significantly more bike friendly than U.S. facilities, but the bike etiquette of riders is also better. Watching the videos of bike traffic in The Netherlands makes it apparent that educating the bike population is an additional need for the United States .
As I stated before, clearly there is a significant difference in bike facility design in the United States and The Netherlands. I believe that historically the United States has bought into the notion that our main goal is to push cars through a space as fast as possible, and that we can always build our way out of congestion. Since the conception Interstate Highway System in 1956, we have been focused on making it easier to drive, and I think we are only recently trying to plan for other modes. It is more difficult to plan for bikes in the United States due to the hilly and sprawled nature of our landscape. In contrast, The Netherlands is significantly less expansive, making active modes more preferred. Finally, the Dutch transit system between cities is much more complete, making it feasible to travel by bike within the city and by transit in between cities. Often in the United States, traveling between cities is not possible without using a single occupant vehicle.
In my opinion, bike facilities in Atlanta range in terms of level of comfort. This level of comfort obviously depends on the skill of the rider, but the bike facilities in Atlanta definitely range in terms of separation/protection from vehicles, speeds of vehicles, and other factors. We witnessed this range during our bike tour of the city last week, which is shown in the figure and described below:
Source: City of Dunwoody, GA
Separated Multi-use Path
The most comfortable facility along our route was the Eastside BeltLine—a multi-use path that cuts through the city along a repurposed rail line. What made this the most comfortable facility is the fact that it is completely separated from traffic, which means bicyclists don’t have to worry about cars zipping by within a few feet of them, and they rarely have to worry about the any intersections with cars. I think that most people in Atlanta, regardless of age or ability, would feel safe riding on the BeltLine.
Source: Google Maps
Mixed-traffic on Streets with Low Traffic Stress
The second most comfortable segments of our ride took place streets with low levels of traffic stress. Traffic stress refers to the amount and speed of cars on a roadway. Generally, streets with low levels of traffic stress have speeds of less than 25 mph and volumes under 1000 vehicles per hour. On these streets, even though the bicycles aren’t separated from the vehicles, bicyclists feel safe, as cars aren’t common, and they are slow if they are present. I think a majority of people would feel safe biking on this type of street.
Source: Google Maps
Two-way Cycle Tracks
On our tour, we also rode on a couple two-way cycle tracks. These facilities offer some protection from vehicles, but a hesitant rider might not feel comfortable on them. This is due to the fact that the protection (at least in our case) is plastic bollards, which doesn’t stand much of a chance against the vehicles that are only a couple of feet away. Additionally, at intersections, the cycle track ceases to exist, which may make the rider feel vulnerable.
The last type of bike infrastructure we rode on was the traditional bike lane. Even though the bike lanes segregate bikes from vehicles, using one can still make a bicyclist feel vulnerable. There is no protection from vehicles, and they are driving very close to you, which can be intimidating. Additionally, vehicles don’t always respect the bike lane, as oftentimes you will encounter a driver using the lane as a temporary parking spot. Therefore, bike lanes are probably the least comfortable type of bike facility that we encountered.
Source: Google Maps
Bicycling in the U.S. vs. the Netherlands
The Dutch view bicycling differently than we do here. In the Netherlands, bicycling is a mode of transport that should be used by all, rather than just those who are brave enough. This is why their infrastructure separates bicycles from other modes of transport, and the relaxed culture of bicycling leads to people of all ages, genders, fitness level, and even clothing type to utilize the bicycle as a means of transport. In contrast, here in the U.S, bicycles are seen as a vehicle, and therefore should be put in the same right-of-way as cars; sometimes bikes are mixed into car traffic and sometimes they’re right alongside it. This makes biking a more serious activity, forcing riders to try to keep pace with traffic, which reserves it for people who are physically fit and brave enough to ride. This juxtaposition is exemplified at intersections. In the U.S, bike infrastructure tends to stop at the intersection, which leaves bicyclists in a vulnerable position. In the Netherlands, however, bikes are given protected areas to wait at intersections, and they have designated lanes at the intersection, which are usually colored to make motorists aware of their presences.
Source: Mark Wagenbuur
Chamblee-Dunwoody Gateway Recommendations. (2015, May 29). Retrieved February 14, 2019, from http://bikewalkdunwoody.org/initatives-2/chamblee-dunwoody-gateway-recommendations/
Google. (n.d.). Atlanta. Retrieved from maps.google.com
The cycling infrastructure of Atlanta is, in my opinion, more robust than most non-bike riders give it credit for. In Midtown, we rode through some neighborhoods. Although these roads in them didn’t have explicit bike infrastructure, it was still very comfortable to ride on them, as there really wasn’t much traffic coming through. Then, when we got to the cycle track on Piedmont, I hardly thought about the traffic to my right. The city has done a very good job with that lane by putting space between cyclists and automobiles.
Figure 1: The cycle track by Piedmont Park that feeds into the BiltLine. (Source: Google Maps.)
To make it even better, it flows smoothly into the BeltLine, the most robust piece of bike infrastructure in Atlanta. It has become clear to me that the BeltLine has helped serve as a catalyst for better bike infrastructure in Atlanta, and riding along it only made that clearer. I imagine riding on the BeltLine is how the Dutch must always feel while riding a bike: safe, at ease, and without the worry of cars being extremely close to you. The BeltLine is very exciting to me; it’s one of the projects that made me interested in Civil Engineering in the first place. I continue to be amazed and inspired by how such a simple idea can improve the standard of living in an area so drastically.
Figure 2: The full BeltLine project, in all its glory. (Note: the creation of some parts of the loop remain in progress.) (Source: https://beltline-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Get-Connected-Map-2016)
Riding Downtown was admittedly not as comfortable as riding in Midtown, but I was still pleasantly surprised that there were some well-designed cycle tracks. Most of the riding was smooth, but it is obvious that some of the intersections aren’t that safe and could use a better design.
Figure 3: The cycle track is a good start, but it’s clear that turning at this intersection would be a little difficult. (Source: Google Maps)
What’s most surprising to me about all of this infrastructure is something that Dr. Watkins mentioned at the end of our tour: Atlanta really only started actively trying to integrate bikes in the last few years. To me, that’s very exciting, as it shows that there is plenty of potential to continue to vastly improve the city’s transportation system.
Dutch Cycling Infrastructure
For all the praise we could heap onto the City of Atlanta for taking important steps towards bike integration in the past few years, our infrastructure is the little league compared to that of the Dutch. A statistic from one of Mark Wagenbuur’s videos on Dutch biking infrastructure is perfectly illustrative of this: bikers are thirty times more likely to suffer an injury while riding a bike (Wagenbuur, 2011). Thirty! The reasons why are obvious, though. Primarily, the change towards bike transportation started from the top. When it became clear that people were fed up with cars ruling the roads, the Dutch government sprang into action. “Build it and they will come,” was their mindset beginning in the 1970s (Wagenbuur 2014). They started to change their policy on transportation to one that prioritized people on bikes. Automobile traffic is an afterthought to them in the same way that bike traffic is an afterthought to planners in the United States. Now, bikes are an integral part of Dutch culture. It’s eye-opening to me that such a drastic change can take place because of the actions of some protesters, leading to large scale changes in transportation that have revolutionized the country.
The Dutch have become experts in bike design. While we in the US see bike lanes with protective barriers as extremely progressive transportation infrastructure, the Dutch would see it as laughably unsafe and unadvanced. Their roadway design begins with automobile lanes, but they allow the bare minimum in terms of lane space. That way, they can provide as much space for cyclists as possible. Lanes for cyclists are separated by automobile traffic with buffers, which help maximize safety. Figure 4 below depicts the Dutch model.
Source: Junction Design in the Netherlands (Wagenburr, 2014)
Additionally, the Dutch have perfected one of the hardest parts of bike integration: intersections. In the US, intersections can be a very dangerous place for cyclists. Turning left, and even right, can pose a threat to anyone attempting to avoid being hit by a car (everyone, probably). However, in the Netherlands, planners use a design for intersections that, like the rest of their transportation infrastructure, prioritizes bikes. Turning right is very easy; the signature traffic protection island ensures a safe turn. Turning left, which is one of the most difficult challenges for cyclists in the US, is made simple by protected lanes and well-timed signals. Figure 6 shows the Dutch model (in red), as well as a similar one that bike-savvy planners can use in the US.
Figure 5: On the right, the typical Dutch design for junctions. On the left, a template for application in the US. (Source: https://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2011/05/05/state-of-the-art-bikeway-design-a-further-look/)
The tour we took of Atlanta was eye-opening for me, and it has gotten me thinking a lot about bike transportation every time I’m walking around the city. We have a lot of work to do, though. After watching the videos about Dutch infrastructure, I’m even more eager to learn about proper bike design on our trip. In order to revolutionize the American transportation system, civil engineers like us need to work with city planners to design safe bike roadways that people actually feel comfortable riding on. I think that if the change starts from a policy standpoint, American culture can start to embrace sustainable transportation. The Dutch did it in a matter of decades, and they’re now the paragon for bike design. So, while the US has its work cut out for it, it’s never too late to rethink how we get around.
Wagenbuur , M. . [Markenlei]. (2011, October 9). How the Dutch Got their cycle paths [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XuBdf9jYj7o
Wagenbuur , M. . [Markenlei]. (2014, February 23). Junction design in the Netherlands.[Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpQMgbDJPok
Hello! My name is Nick Padula; I am a first-year Master’s student studying Civil Engineering here at Tech! I am originally from Atlanta, and have lived here almost my whole life. Atlanta is a car-oriented city, due to a large amount of urban sprawl—many of the people who work in the city actually live and commute from the suburbs. There is a transit system here, called MARTA, which operates trains and buses throughout the city. We also have a streetcar downtown, and some regional buses that run from the city to the suburbs. While there are many options, the system does not completely cover our large urban area, and the times between trains or buses can be long. In terms of cycling, Atlanta has improved greatly in recent years in terms of the amount of bicycle infrastructure.
Why I Love Transportation
I believe that transportation is important for two main reasons: environmental sustainability and socioeconomic equity. I believe that good transportation systems can help address problems in these two areas, and I hope to be able to make a difference in these areas while working in the transportation industry.
My travels have played a big role in shaping my ideas about transportation. I also completed my undergraduate studies here at Tech, and during that time I was able to study abroad twice. My first experience was in Valencia, Spain, the home, in my opinion of one of the most amazing urban feats. The Green River is a 5-mile long park that runs right through the heart of the city. It was formerly a river, but due to flooding issues, the city diverted the river around the city, and in turn put a park in its place. The park contains soccer fields, gardens, museums, stages, and separate paths for walkers, runners, and bicyclists. What makes the park so amazing is the fact that, since it used to be a river, it is situated around 50 feet below the rest of the city, with bridges crisscrossing over it. This makes the park ideal for biking or walking across town, as you are in a vehicle-free area don’t have to cross any roadways. It also offers a green space that, even though it is situated the middle of the city, feels separated from the bustle of day-to-day life.
Source: Brian Phelps
I was also able to study in Seoul, South Korea for a semester. There, I was able to witness how a city of 10 million people was able to move its residents around efficiently. I was extremely impressed by some distinguishing features of their subway system and the hierarchical nature of their bus system.
Source: Getty Images
Goals for the Sustainable Transport Abroad Course
My goals for this course are to learn about the much-storied transportation system in the Netherlands, and evaluate how we can apply a similar system here in Atlanta and other cities around the country. I am especially excited for the opportunity to experience the Dutch transportation system firsthand, as I feel this will enhance our knowledge exponentially. I hope to be able to use my knowledge from this course to bring new ideas to the transportation engineering field, ideas which could be implemented here and around the world!
Getty Images (n.d.). Shot of Subway Train Platform at Seoul station. Retrieved from https://www.gettyimages.com/detail/video/shot-of-subway-train-platform-at-seoul-station-stock-video-footage/497051612
Phelps, B. (2018, January 11). How Valencia Turned A Crisis (And a River) Into a Transformative Park. Retrieved January 24, 2019, from https://www.metropolismag.com/cities/landscape/how-valencia-turned-crisis-river-into-park/
Biking through Atlanta has always been a daunting feat to me. In fact, I’ve rarely biked past Midtown. My main hesitations were that I didn’t know where there would be bike paths along my route and I didn’t feel comfortable sharing big streets with the cars. However, the bike tour last Friday surpassed my expectations of what cycling in Atlanta could be. The first surprise to me was the bike paths that were so close to where I live and never fully registered were there. The bike path on 10th street was especially one that I wish I knew about and now that I do, would feel a lot more comfortable biking to the Beltline. I appreciated having two bike lanes together because that allowed for more space most of the time and the bollards (small poles separating the bike lanes from the car lanes) also helped me feel a bit more secure. As I had already biked on the Beltline, it wasn’t a new experience for me, however, I’ve never made it all the way up to Krog St. Market. The portion after the Krog St. Market, on Edgewood, was a bit more stressful than the Beltline and even 10th. Though we had our own bike lane, it wasn’t protected and there were a lot of cars around. After leaving downtown, biking on Luckie Street was more comfortable again; there was even a raised barrier at one point. The barrier definitely helped in giving a strong physical sense of separation from the cars. This lane connecting all the way down to the Marietta separated path would be a good place for a new city biker to start as it was both physically separated from cars and specifically for bikes, unlike the Beltline which is multiuse.
Luckie St. Bike Path
Dutch Cycling Infrastructure
What was not seen on the Atlanta bike tour that is featured in BicycleDutch videos such as Junction Design in the Netherlands are the protected intersections for cyclists. The bike path goes along the outside of the junction so that the bikes don’t interfere with the car traffic (1). This design can be used for a four-way intersection or a roundabout. Keeping the bike path separate even at the intersection helps keep bikers safe from turning cars and helps give bikes the right of way. Another very noticeable difference from bike paths in Atlanta is that all the bike paths in the BicycleDutch videos were red. This is an obvious signal for cars and pedestrians that bicycles belong there.
Bicycling is incredibly integrated into the daily lives of the Dutch. According to the video Cycling in the US from a Dutch Perspective, 25% of total trips made in the Netherlands are made by bike. It is perceived as a way to get from one destination to another, rather than just for leisure (2). Additionally, the Dutch approach to cycling infrastructure is that separation is the key to safety, whereas in the U.S., sharing the road is the common methodology (3).
I thought the video How the Dutch Got Their Cycling Paths gave an interesting account for how the Dutch developed such a strong cycling culture (4). Some reasons for this cycling culture are ones I would expect like the lack of space in old, Dutch cities, as bikes take up much less space than cars and don’t create pollution. However, the social movement around bike safety in the 1970s was also a key factor in prioritizing bicycling infrastructure. Additionally, the Dutch wanted to be more independent from energy after the oil crisis, which also helped contribute to the emphasis on cycling.
On the other hand, in the U.S. we have big sprawling urban areas that can/grew to accommodate cars. Additionally, there was never a big societal push for bike safety or to transition away from energy-dependent transportation. Though biking culture here is still mostly recreational, the mindset of biking to your day-to-day destinations is growing, and so is the available infrastructure to do so.
To get a taste of the bike infrastructure in a big American city, our class set out on a bicycle tour of Atlanta. We first headed North, riding through some neighborhoods to get to Piedmont Park. It was a rocky start with a lot of stop and go movement from all the traffic signals along 5th Street. But once we got to Myrtle Street, the quiet neighborhood atmosphere was very bike friendly. Then down 10th Street, we rode along the first cycle track created in Atlanta in 2013. This nicely connected onto the Beltline, which took us to our destination at Krog Street Market. Since it was a chilly Friday afternoon, there were very few people out, making it even easier for our large class to stay together. This was my favorite part not only because of the flat, smooth ride but also because of the beautiful artistic atmosphere along the Beltline. It felt like an escape from the traffic and commotion of the city. More infrastructure like the Beltline is needed in Atlanta, because everyone would enjoy their ride and feel safe. After reaching Krog Street, we biked through streets of downtown Atlanta to Centennial Olympic Park. The last stretch of our journey was to ride along Luckie Street, back to Georgia Tech. I was really surprised to see several streets with protected bike lanes, especially along Luckie Street as seen in the picture below. Those segments made the journey feel pleasant and safe. However, in the absence of this infrastructure it wasn’t as nice, especially between the Beltline and Centennial Olympic Park, where the bike lanes along major roads felt unsafe at times. Overall, I think there’s been great progress in Atlanta’s bike system. This trip showed me that there is a focus on increasing its safe bike network, like the developments of protected cycle tracks along 10th Street and Luckie Street. But it would be even better if more bicyclists were out on the streets. Cars would be more aware of them, as well as the fact that less vehicles would be out on the roads. For this to happen, even more bicycle networks, especially protected bike infrastructure, need to be put in place to connect all areas and neighborhoods within the metropolitan area.
Dutch Cycling Infrastructure
It’s impressive to see how the Netherlands created such a safe and efficient bicycle network, while accommodating high densities of cyclists. With the world’s largest number of cyclists, it is also one of the safest places to ride because of their successful infrastructure. Dutch street designers believe that there is always room for cyclists. They incorporate cycle tracks along the side of the roads to separate motorized vehicles from bicyclists. And they find safe routes for cyclists at junctions without hindering the flow of cars. For instance, along roundabouts bicycles have priority over cars, so vehicles are given space outside of the inner circle to stop for cyclists if needed. This allows cars to be cautious for cyclists and pedestrians without stopping the flow of traffic in the roundabout (Wagenburr, 2014). However, safe junction designs are not seen in America. Even though several major cities have incorporated some measures of safe bike lanes, all protection for cyclists is lost at the junction of intersections, where it is needed the most. Cyclists have to merge with cars to turn. They have to be aggressive at times and must often sprint to keep pace with the vehicles. That is why cycling is not often used as a means of transportation, like it is in the Netherlands. In America it is often perceived as a leisure activity, where people will ride around in safer parks and neighborhoods in their free (Wagenbuur, 2013). Whereas in the Netherlands, bicycles are seen as a necessary form of transportation to get to local destinations. They will use it to get to work, to run errands, and even to take their children to school.
The safe bicycle infrastructure in the Netherlands evolved from their cultural needs at the time. While both the U.S. and the Netherlands saw a drastic rise in cars following World War II, cities in the Netherlands could not cope with the traffic. A very high number of bicycle and pedestrian causalities exponentially increased with the presence of more cars on the road, which caused public outrage throughout the country. On top of that the oil crisis of 1973 led to gas shortages and high prices for oil. Both of these problems greatly impacted the country. And the Prime Minister at the time realized the need for change. From there several policies were put in place to encourage alternative transportation. And local communities began to develop complete and safe cycle routes (Wagenbuur, 2011). However, in the United States, our country is heavily reliant on cars because of there is so much sprawl. Cities are expanding, and suburbs are even farther away, making it unrealistic to encourage commuters over 40 miles away to bike to work.
Wagenbuur, M. [BicycleDutch]. (2014, February 23). Junction Design in the Netherlands [Video file]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpQMgbDJPok
Wagenbuur, M. [BicycleDutch]. (2013, June 19). Cycling in the US from a Dutch Perspective [Video file]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2THe_10dYs&feature=youtu.be
Wagenbuur, M. [BicycleDutch]. (2011, October 9). How the Dutch got their Cycle Paths [Video file]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XuBdf9jYj7o
To prepare for the Netherlands trip, our class biked 7.2 miles around Atlanta on Friday, February 8, 2019. We took a tour of Atlanta’s bicycle infrastructure and saw a variety of path types and multiple routes connecting Midtown, Piedmont Park, Inman Park, Edgewood, Downtown, and Georgia Tech Campus.
During our ride, we rode first throughbike lanes around Tech Campus and 5th Street. Bike lanes are a dedicated lane without protection or divider between cars and bikes. Vehicles turning left, people parking and opening their door, and buses pulling in to drop off passengers were all concerns and points of conflict while using the bike lane. Later during the tour, we also rode on a bike lane on Edgewood Ave. Unlike the bike lane in Midtown, there was more traffic so it was a more stressful section. Whenever a car or truck buzzed by, I became hyper-aware of my surroundings even though I was in a dedicated space.
Riding throughresidential neighborhood streets was very pleasant because of the slow vehicles, wide streets, and canopy of trees. Bikes didn’t have dedicated lane but I felt very comfortable because we were pretty much the only ones on the road. There were a few rough patches in the pavement but there was plenty of room to maneuver around each pothole.
My favorite portion of the route was riding on the Beltline. The Beltline is a multi-use path that will eventually connect all of Atlanta with 33-miles of trails. There were lots of pedestrians, roller skaters, and other bikers on the path but it was not a stressful environment because most people on the path were traveling around the same speed. Murals and art along the Beltline make the trail a fun experience and adventure!
We traveled on a two-way cycle trackon10th Street by Piedmont Park, John Portman , Luckie Street (Figure 1), and the PATH trail (Figure 2). A cycle track is a protected lane which means there is a buffer in between vehicles and bikes. Although tall grasses were visually appealing dividers, they were overgrown and impeded bike visibility.
Throughout the ride, either right off the beltline or downtown, I felt uncomfortable at most intersections. When I was stopped at a light, I felt the hum of cars behind me and could feel their power. It was difficult communicating with cars on which direction I wanted to travel because I was used to turning on a blinker. A lot of the infrastructure ended at the intersection.
Figure 1: PATH Trail by Tech Campus
Figure 2: Luckie Street Cycle Track between Downtown and Campus
Dutch Cycling Infrastructure
Unlike roads in the US that focus on the movement of vehicles, Dutch roads give the priority to vulnerable bicyclists and pedestrians. Intersections are raised to the level of the bicyclist and vehicles are forced to slow down. Cycling infrastructure and vehicle infrastructure work together to emphasize the importance of bikes; car lanes are narrow and slow to protect cyclists. Cycling is a way of life for all people, young and old, in the Netherlands. A fancy bike, latex clothing, and helmet is not norm in the Netherland; a bike, not a set of car keys, is freedom to the dutch.
The Dutch built their cycle paths in response to the oil crisis, economic crisis, car-related deaths, and large traffic volumes in a limited space. The US faced many of these same issues during the 70s. Instead of banning cars from city centers, US cities cut themselves in half with freeways. The US chose the car, instead of the bike, to connect itswide-open spaces. Today, cycling infrastructure in the US is developed piecemeal, one bike lane at a time, with disappearing lanes and scary intersections.
Another key takeaway from the Atlanta bike tour was an improved sense of spatial awareness. Although I have biked between midtown and campus for my commute, most of my recreational travel has been in a car (and the occasional scooter). Before the bike tour, my mind compartmentalized neighborhoods and I didn’t realize that many were close and well connected. Some of my favorite spots on Edgewood Avenue (Chrome Yellow Coffee and Our Lady of Lourdes) are an easy bike ride from my house!
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!