The tour of Atlanta’s bike infrastructure last Friday was my first biking experience in a truly urban environment. Prior to this, all my biking had been done on recreational trails, parks, or in smaller cities. Despite all the horrors we hear everyday about the state of Atlanta’s sustainable transportation, the experience was much more comfortable than I was expecting. While certainly far from ideal, the infrastructure provided a generally safe environment in which to cycle, although I’m sure the fact that there were a dozen of us helped tremendously. The cycle track on 10th street, while ill-maintained, was an easy, comfortable ride. The Beltline was, as expected, extremely accommodating and enjoyable. Even riding on traditional bike lanes along Edgewood was fine, aside from the sewer grates. Bike infrastructure here is definitely an afterthought, tacked on to the sides of roads in a generally superficial ode to multimodality. However, because there was little to no traffic on the road, swerving to avoid the grates was easy, and the ride generally painless. I imagine on a busier day the experience would be more harrowing. Having to walk our bikes to John Portman was a pain, but manageable. There was a car parked in the cycle track on John Portman Boulevard, which didn’t come as a surprise, but was nonetheless frustrating. Just further evidence for the secondary nature of bicycling as a mode. The PATH track from the park back to campus was fantastic, well-protected and signalized, but connecting to it from the Park was ill thought-out and needlessly uncontrolled. While I am pleased with the experience as a whole, it is clear that the infrastructures is not nearly as widespread as it needs to be, nor given the priority it should. I think it is a victim of the vicious cycle of underused infrastructure: nobody uses it because there isn’t enough, and no more is built because no one uses it. It will certainly improve, but I hope that it is accepted and utilized by the people it’s meant to serve. The densification of midtown and downtown should definitely help, but it will still be some time until it becomes ingrained in the culture of the city.
Meanwhile, in the Netherlands: bicycling is such an integral part of the day-to-day that parking in a bike lane would be a much more grievous crime. The lifestyle and the design of the infrastructure all comes together seamlessly to provide an accessible, safe, efficient method of transportation for everyone. The intersections are built for cars and bicycles at the very least in equal parts, but usually favoring the movement of cyclists. It is astounding what profound impacts infrastructure can have on our lives, and the videos from the Netherlands are testament to that fact. Good design is the key – no half-measures, no ‘token’ multimodality – but a sincere, concerted effort to establish a transportation network that emphasizes something other than automobiles. I’m not sure if cities in the US will ever reach that point, but we can certainly take cues from the Dutch.