So I’m standing on the MARTA platform the other day with my bike, yet again, when it hits me (metaphorically speaking). Everyone knows not to stand in the metal strip next to the tracks when a moving vehicle is approaching as it is life-threatening (notice, especially, where the older folks are standing in the video above), and yet that’s the size of many unprotected bike lanes being built in our cities and suburbs, maybe even where you serve as a leader, on roads where motor vehicle drivers travel faster than 30 miles per hour (despite the recommendations of NACTO).
Especially with today’s oversized SUVs and trucks, these are killer speeds to those not surrounded in metal (especially women and children as we are smaller and we therefore get hit in our organs rather than just our bones). Things could be different. Thank you for taking eight minutes or so to read this post and to take whatever action you deem is the next best step forward for you and your city. You hold the power to save lives right now, today, and it’s never too late to do what is right. Don’t wait for your city’s first (or next) ghost bike to appear. (You must see this video. These are ghost bikes prepared and installed in our region since 2012. I pass several of them often when I’m Traveling at the Speed of Bike.)
In addition to saving lives, here are some other things to consider. According to The National Household Travel Survey (2017) from the U.S. Department of Transportation, more than 50 percent of all motor vehicle trips in metropolitan areas are four miles or less, and 35 percent are one mile or less – distances easily covered by bicycle. However, due to the lack of safe and easy-to-use bike networks that actually go where people want and need to go (hint: paths in flood plains and woods that are not accessible after storms or in the dark should not be considered part of your transportation plan), people are forced to use their cars and, thus, more and more drivers clog the roads not just at traditional rush hour but all day long (for instance, when you grew up, around half of all kids walked and biked to school; now, only about 13% do, according to SafeRoutestoSchool.org, with a large number arriving via car, thereby making school drop off/pickup times a vehicular nightmare in many communities). Local trips via car, therefore, are increasingly difficult, dangerous, and stressful.
You know those biking and walking networks those pesky advocates are always bugging you to complete (or fix)? They actually make life easier and safer for everyone — and fun, too. Have you ever sat in traffic and seen a bike rider with flowers in her basket, or a family walking by, and thought to yourself as you bang your head on the dashboard, “Those folks are having a lot more fun than I am right now”? You, too, could be greeting your neighbors hello (and improving your health) instead of watching your gas gauge drop low (and your BMI rise). Plus, you could be making your city a magnet for Millenials (who have the lowest rate of new drivers licenses since mass production of the automobile began) and retaining your “young senior” Empty Nesters (who are flocking to healthy-living-focused urban centers). Here’s how you as a mayor, a city councilor, or a member of a city’s staff can achieve this:
- Show pride. Make bike/walk improvements a point of pride rather than a point of divide in your city;
- Value knowledge. Pay local advocates for their expertise rather than shun them for their constant emails (they are doing the legwork — literally — that your high-paid consultants may not be doing);
- Dare to dream. What often happens when a city leader dares to dream is that an entire city rallies around him or her and helps the dream come true. You really won’t believe what’s truly possible.
When you create an honest-to-goodness bike-friendly community, you boost your city’s bottom line as well. Walkers and bike riders shop locally — and more often — than those in cars, so creating a community where they can get places safely without a car provides a boost to your business community. Please note that women, in particular, strongly prefer protected bike lanes, and considering they are probably about half your population yet make 80% of all consumer spending decisions (and are increasingly flexing their muscle at the voting booth), this is a demographic you don’t want to ignore. (Additional fun fact: women in their 20s and 50s are showing some of the strongest growth in bike ridership nationwide.)
What about barriers to change? Well, there are certainly some big ones. Many people simply don’t like change, and they will let you know this at city council meetings and in local newspaper letters-to-the-editor. Please remember that access to the biggest public spaces in your city (known as streets) is a question of public safety and equity, and that the paving of roads in the USA was originally to accommodate bike riders. Preventable deaths and injuries to those riding bikes and walking are at an all-time high, and fixing our streets to be safe for all should not be dependent on a popularity contest. It is our collective obligation, and is, in fact, most likely baked into your city’s mission statement about protecting the health and welfare of your community.
Next, there are costs involved, of course. Sometimes private property needs to be acquired (and the property owner compensated) through eminent domain, and that gets personal. More often than not, however, design can work around existing homes and the proximity of homes to a bikeway increases its value. When asked at a meeting which homeowners would be affected by a proposed multiuse path (connecting a community center, several places of worship, three schools, and a park), one city councilor in the metro-Atlanta city-suburb of Dunwoody, Georgia, replied, “The lucky ones.”
Third, there are excuses just to make excuses — I even heard one city staff member say it won’t add protected bike lanes because the street sweeper it is thinking of purchasing won’t fit in them! (That one’s easily addressed with this great post from People for Bikes about street sweepers specifically for this purpose. Some cities use minor offenders for community service to sweep the lanes.) But mostly, I find the biggest barrier to change is simply lack of awareness of what it’s like currently to ride a bike to run an errand in your city. For instance, may I introduce Pointy (below)? This is a perfect example of something that would simply not exist if folks at city hall or the consultants they hire actually got out there on bikes and rode.
No time, desire, or ability to ride? No problem. You can do this from the comfort of your car: When you drive around your city, see if there are any women riding bikes in it. If you don’t see any of this “indicator species” for a bike-friendly community, your city is not safe for bike riding. If you see grown men riding bikes on your sidewalks, your streets are not safe for bike riding. If you see no or few bikes at your local schools’ bike racks (or if the schools don’t even have bike racks), your city is not safe for bike riding. It’s just that simple. If you would like to see what it was like for me to ride my bike from Alpharetta,GA to Dunwoody, GA (a 20-minute car ride, which took four hours on bike), see here. It’s boiled down to a one-minute video. See more videos while Traveling at the Speed of Bike around metro Atlanta and the City of Atlanta.
Are you already an advocate (or just curious to know more) and want to see what’s possible in the larger triple-bottom-line realm of sustainability? Take the “Sustainability-in-Action” Bike Tour from Amazing Atlanta Tours if you live or work in metropolitan Atlanta or if your business or personal travels will take you here. As a Happiness Officer with this woman-owned company (its bicycle tours are the #1 outdoor activity on Trip Advisor with more than 600 five-star reviews), I just developed this specialty tour with you, corporations, and visiting groups from around the world in mind.
On this 3-hour, 10-mile immersion, you’ll see why Atlanta, a member of the global 100 Resilient Cities coalition, is increasingly earning accolades for green building, trees and greenspace, business vitality, water conservation, land use, innovation, and more. You may even get the chance to be part of a new kind of “traffic jam” for Atlanta — with those on human-powered transportation on one of the most transformative trail projects in the USA! With plenty of hands-on opportunity to experience a city embracing the defining challenges of our times, expect to have more fun than you thought possible regarding such an important and timely topic. You’ll leave with a hands-on understanding of possibilities that may inspire you to make where you live or work more resilient as well. Email company owner Robyn Elliott for dates, price, and other details. Bikes and helmets are included. (If you are not yet comfortable back on bike, consider taking one of my classes.)
Going one mile to the supermarket, school, or corporate campus; two miles to the park or post office; or four miles to the mall or city hall should not involve taking your life in your hands. Not for seasoned cyclists. Not for kids. Not for families. Not for seniors. Not for those with disabilities (78% of whom have the ability to use some sort of bike, according to a recent study in London, plus most bikeways legally allow wheelchair users). Not for employees on electric scooters simply trying to connect from the train to their offices. And not for 55-year-old moms like me. We are better than this. Let’s roll**.
If you are reading this and are not a city leader (yet***), please consider contacting your mayor and every member of your city council right now to let them know immediate change is needed.
Trust the journey,
* If you’d rather take in the view from your recliner, no problem. I take you right behind the handlebars in my book, Traveling at the Speed of Bike, available in both print and instantly-downloadable digital versions. Also, see Views from the Handlebars, and other free bonus resources.
** Unless, of course, there’s still this elephant in the room
*** If you are not seeing safety of all citizens being prioritized where you live, please consider running for mayor or city council. You are needed.