I have been riding by bike in Atlanta on a regular basis for three years now and although I am a confident cyclist, there have been some close calls that could have led to accidents. The type of biking infrastructure that makes me the most nervous are unprotected bike lanes or lanes and shared lanes indicated by sharrows. There are several common situations where cars and bikes may come close to accidents. The first situation involves cars crossing the bike lane in order to enter a right turn lane. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition has a good diagram of this on their website.
Most of the time I will be far enough ahead of a car for them to see me and pull in behind me or far enough behind them to pull around to the left of them as shown in the diagram. However, I need to slam on my brakes when a car right next to me enters my lane without warning to turn right. A similar situation has happened more than once on Ferst Street: Busses need to pull into stops, and then I am beside them as they do this, there is nowhere for me to go.
Another problem with unprotected bike lanes is roadside parking. Riding close to cars parallel parked along the left of the bike lane may feel safer to a new biker trying to avoid fast moving traffic. However, I have come very close to slamming into the abruptly opened door of a parked car while on Ferst Street and I now prefer to hug the solid white line on the left of a bike lane whenever I pass parked cars.
I feel that cycle tracks are a vast improvement over unprotected bike lanes. Even the flimsy plastic pylons used on 10th Street send a clear message to drivers not to enter my lane. However, there are problems that arise from bringing bikers going in both directions onto one side of the road. It becomes very confusing for cyclists and motorists alike when cyclists are forced to stop riding with the flow of traffic and enter a cycle track. There was a left turn we made after passing through Centennial Olympic park where I turned and stayed in the same lane, but realized too late that a new bike lane had been built on the other side of the road. This type of confusion takes away from the value of a cycle track, particularly when the track is less than a mile long like the one on 10th Street. I think the cycle tracks in Atlanta would be more useful if they extended farther at a stretch and had clear entries and exits at intersections
The left turn on Fifth street was one of the best marked in Atlanta, but small two lane streets are usually relatively easy to navigate. The roads where I have the most trouble are large one–way streets like West Peach Tree Street. When making a left turn to get off of West Peach Tree I have two options: stop riding and wait at two pedestrian crossings, or cut across four lanes of traffic to make a left turn like a car. The first option is slow and the second is dangerous.
I enjoyed hearing Mark’s impressions of biking in the United States. His comment that biking looks like a race in America really opened my mind. I am accustomed to getting a workout while riding a bike, but most people commuting to work don’t want to show up sweaty and panting. His video on the history of the Netherlands cycling infrastructure gave me hope for the future of biking in American cities. I have a nagging suspicion that American culture and geology are just incompatible with biking. Seeing how the Dutch went down the same path we did in the 70s but returned to bike friendly practices makes me more confident that biking could become more prevalent in American cities. However, we have a long way to go. The sheer volume and complexity of bike traffic during rush hour in Utrecht was incomparable to anything present in the US right now. I am eager to explore the places shown in Mark’s videos firsthand.