Atlanta’s Cycling Infrastructure
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