55 miles per hour

I’ve been thinking about Johns Creek, Georgia lately as I just turned fifty five years old. Fifty five miles per hour (about eighty eight kilometers) is the speed limit on the main road that connects places to eat and shop and live there (and which, like most roads everywhere, it seems, is commonly exceeded by motor vehicle drivers by more than ten miles/sixteen kilometers per hour). I rode it often last year to get to a place for a bite to eat and to work on my book, Traveling at the Speed of Bike, while my younger daughter was at a class. You can see a snippet in this video.

There’s a story in the beginning of my book about how I was pulled over by a police officer when I was fifteen years old while I was riding my bike on the Meadowbrook Parkway on Long Island in New York, where the speed limit was fifty five miles per hour (and, by the way, a friend of mine got ticketed for driving sixty two miles per hour on it). It’s a funny story,  a “why on earth would you think you could ride a bike on a highway?” head-shaker, but then I have to ask — how is this road any different?

The unprotected bike lane is wide but has no protection* and does not meet NACTO guidelines for the speed and volume of motor vehicles there. A short segment of the road (that didn’t connect with where I actually needed to go) has a quite lovely multiuse path option as well (as seen in the video), yet motor vehicle drivers almost never stopped and looked before pulling out of the very active strip-mall parking lots along the path so that presented its own set of dangers. A friend of mine, in fact, was a victim of road violence here.

On the positive side, there is great potential here, and some really nice elements (like some art sculptures, benches, and lovely natural-looking landscaping on the path, plus there was a bike rack at my destination, which is rare in the suburbs), that lead me to think there is an ambitious master plan that may pull all these disparate details together one day (although, from what I’ve experienced, a connected network providing access-for-all always seems to be twenty years away, if at all). Considering that 70% of Boomers currently live in car-dependent suburbs (and 10,000 people across the USA turn 65 each and every day, and will for the next ten years when I, the tail end of that generation, hit that age as well), this gives me hope that a grand transformation of access-for-all in our nation is well under way.

As a woman, a mom, and now a senior, I am the ” indicator species” of  whether or not your city is safe for people of all ages to ride bikes (and other micro-mobility devices such as electric wheelchairs, scooters, and e-bikes). Elected city officials and members of city staffs: Please note that women make or influence 80% of all consumer spending decisions, and bike riders shop locally more, and more often, than those in motor vehicles (which returns a greater percentage of dollars to the local economy). It behooves cities to start responding to women’s documented expectations for safer access on bikes where they live. What’s more, more women are needed at the table so that less “lipstick on a pig” bike infrastructure (too-narrow bike lanes, unprotected bike lanes, inadequate lighting, and let’s not forget Pointy the Bike Lane) continue to litter our cities.

As an empty-nester (as of next week), I will now have complete control over where I choose to ride my bike. And even though Johns Creek, Georgia is often deemed the safest city in Georgia (based on police reports), which is an important consideration for women alone on bikes, it is not a place to which I expect to return any time soon because I am not safe on a bike there yet**. Simply put, other cities make it clear to me when the rubber hits the road that they want my business more.

* The bike lane is rather wide and adding protection such as bollards and conflict-zone markings would be so easy on this road, thereby making Johns Creek, Georgia the very first suburb-city in metro-Atlanta to have a barrier-protected bike lane!

** But please let me know if things change — I’ll be happy to cover the story.