Metro Atlanta Suburb Creates 65 Miles of Multiuse Paths Literally Overnight

On the very evening (July 13, 2020) of the day when I survived a hit-and-run while Traveling at the Speed of Bike in the place I call home (which was the very first crash under the city’s new Vulnerable Road User Ordinance, which is the first VRU ordinance in any city in the southeastern USA — if interested, you can see that footage here), the Dunwoody City Council unanimously passed an ordinance that reclassifies every single sidewalk (65 miles worth) in the metro Atlanta suburb-city of Dunwoody, Georgia as a de facto multiuse path, enabling the legal access of it by bike riders and others of all ages using human-powered transportation. Here’s a link to the ordinance to read more.

I actually didn’t advocate for it (I asked for this on March 20 and was told no). I know there are many reasons why bike riders do not belong on sidewalks (and I personally recommend avoiding especially busy routes used by walkers, runners, and those traveling by foot to religious services such as at the synogogue on the street where I was almost killed — as well as stopping, moving out of the way, and waiting when someone on foot or wheelchair is heading toward you). However, this decision by my city is good. Here’s why:

  1. It is an admittance that sidewalk-riding is an act of self-preservation when appropriate accommodations do not exist that meet NACTO guidelines for speed and volume of motor vehicle traffic to provide safe-access-for-all;
  2. It also recognizes that there are people who are at higher risk of being stopped by the police while riding on the sidewalk (this has already happened in our city) and removes this avenue for any possible racial profiling;
  3. And it addresses the increased need for healthy and affordable recreational and transportation options during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, plus the fact that bike riders shop local more often and many of our local businesses are suffering greatly.

FYI, I’m developing a comprehensive list of local businesses that have bike parking (as that goes hand-in-hand with being able to get places). It’s very short as there is no required bike parking at businesses nor is bike parking part of the city’s standard street furniture, but my hope is that will change. Let’s keep our eye on this business, whose owner, pictured below, told me he is going to convert a car parking spot into a bike parking area, which would be the first in this city to do that.

As a result of the assault on me and a pretty intense post-crash 6-week period, I decided I will not assume the increased risk of mixing it up with motor vehicle traffic on main roads (which are unavoidable to actually go anywhere) any more in the “family friendly” city where I live (despite almost four solid years of almost 100% elimination of driver aggression and illegal passing thanks to BikeNoodle). It’s just not the hill I want to die on, as I have some big global goals.

I now save what’s called “vehicular riding” (aka road riding*) for places that are more welcoming (see my Ride Spot tours as a national People for Bikes Ambassador, for instance). I leave the endless 20-year discussions about what is possible (note: kids don’t wait; they grow up) as I invite others to join me in doing what is actually right outside our doors today. (If interested, or if tempted to make a comment such as “You should have taken the lane,” please see my book and my Bonus Resources for more about “vehicular riding.” There is a time and place for “taking the lane” and I do it often (and enjoy it). It is not an appropriate choice, however, on certain high-speed roads and in communities with particularly car-centric cultures — especially for women who may ride more slowly, and who studies show are harassed more dangerously and more often).

And so, for what it’s worth — I have been enjoying using the city’s new multiuse path network* to run my daily errands, and I encourage more people to do so. Big thanks to those in my city who made it happen, including Paige Metzger (featured in the recent “You Go, Girl!” series). UPDATE: I have documented that there is a 40% time tax to riding on the sidewalk legally due to the need to stop (often a block in advance due to narrow sidewalks) to allow a pedestrian to pass, to push beg buttons at intersections (even when the lane of travel has a green); and to slow or stop for frequent conflict zones such as driveways and to move blockages such as garbage cans. Our Comprehensive Plan did not suggest a two-tier system where only those willing to assume unreasonable risk receive efficient access. Sidewalk riding should be considered temporary until appropriate infrastructure that meets NACTO guidelines is created.

Here was yesterday’s errand to ship a care package to my younger daughter away at college. (Fun fact: now twenty years old, she attended city hall meetings when she was eight, when safe-access-for-all was promised. After age twelve, when she was no longer allowed to legally ride on the sidewalk, her bike riding here stopped.)

Here are a couple of glimpses of what the multiuse path looks like, right now, today (yes, plans for a wider path are in the works, but this is legally useable immediately):

I even rode the entire perimeter of the city (with a couple of dips into the neighboring cities because the borders don’t fall exactly on the roads). This Dunwoody Woodline (which I first proposed in 2017, on a slightly different route) only has a few goat-path spots that break up the otherwise-continuous sidewalks and already connects four of the five business areas. A few fixes (even if it’s just gravel on those goat paths while waiting years for the utilities to be moved) and some signage, and it wouldn’t be that hard to make this a real, branded route.

I have a separate ten-miler that serves as my new regular daily route for both exercise and errand-running. Bottom line? Riding a bike here no longer requires a daily Leap of Faith (although I leap for other reasons, too).

*Please note the city’s actual multiuse path that connects three parks and provides a route from residential neighborhoods to business districts (including the largest concentration of Fortune 500 companies in the southeastern USA) and world-renowned hospitals is closed from dusk to dawn, which is prime commute time to work and school during parts of the year, as well as a time when shift workers are traveling year-round. Additionally, there is a section that is now very creepy and enclosed due to new construction that did not take into account safety of trail users, and my female mayor agreed with me in writing in a group email that included city staff members when I questioned its safety. We were both dismissed, and that section continues to be dangerous by design. That is unacceptable.

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