“A Little Birdie Told Me”

I just ordered this Birdie alarm device because a dangerous-by-design feature has recently been added along the multiuse path in the parks in my city that creates specific new vulnerabilities especially for women and girls (it creates a long, enclosed corridor fenced in on both sides, with no escape route or “eyes on the path”).

The mayor agrees with me about my safety concern, but the parks director told us that I should “bring someone with me” when I use this path and that he will make sure the security cameras are working there, and this seems to be the end of the discussion.

Security cameras are a small deterrent but are mostly useful to determine criminal identification and charges after an assault. FYI, I’ve been asking for emergency call boxes along the path for years, which are also an after-the-fact resource, and had continually been told they were coming when the path is finished. Safety elements should be a first, not last, detail. (Oh, and by the way, the path is finished.) I use this path for transportation to connect with shopping, banks, city hall, etc. (Do you typically bring someone with you when you run errands?) Please note this is also a supposed Safe Route to School.

I do not believe anyone should require an escort to access our self-proclaimed “family friendly” city safely, and that when something is dangerous-by-design (especially when new features are being added), it should be called out and fixed. (A fix here might be removing the metal fence on the other side from the new wooden fence so that the corridor is not enclosed and escape routes into the apartment complex are available.) To reduce dangerous-by-design features from getting to this point, there needs to be a wider mix of “people at the table.”

I bring up these access-for-all issues over and over again about various things in our city (including how bike lanes that don’t meet NACTO guidelines, which are most of them in the city, another one of which is about to be built on Tilly Mill Road, do not meet the needs of our city’s citizens* and do not provide the safe-access-for-all that the Comprehensive Plan and other master documents of our city claim as goals). I am mostly met with silence or with explanations that don’t make rubber-hits-the-road sense. See the part about Pointy the Bike Lane in my book, if interested. I’m still scratching my head over the detailed justifications I got to that one. You may enjoy this post: Bit by Bit. It covers a lot of ground.

I will be focusing my efforts on a ten-county region if I am named the Metro Atlanta Bicycle Mayor, and most of my time will be spent shining a light on others, sharing positive stories, facilitating useful connections, and providing helpful resources. This will most likely be my last time providing corrective input based on lived experience and researched best practices close to home for free. I just want folks to know, for what it’s worth, that this particular issue has already been brought to city hall’s attention, and no changes are planned. If anyone asks how you know all this, just tell them, “A little birdie told me.”

(Note: Two things I do like that the city has done, that I will be mentioning as an option to other municipalities, is passing the Vulnerable Road User Ordinance — the person who hit me recently with her SUV and kept going is the first person charged under this new ordinance; and making sidewalk-riding legal for people of all ages, thereby enabling self-preservation by bike riders in otherwise dangerous-by-design conditions and reducing the possibility of racial profiling. The city has, in essence, created 65 miles of multiuse path literally overnight. It is a temporary fix and it has its share of problems, but I believe it was the right decision, especially since this did not happen.)

* A recent city document that refers to the city’s bike lane network shows no understanding that the appropriateness of these lanes is not merely a distinction between “experienced” and “novice” riders (which is, in itself, a condescending division because it centers only one type of bike riding as the norm).

Many people (especially women, which = 51% of this city’s citizens) choose not to assume the risk to ride in too-narrow, unprotected bike lanes that don’t meet NACTO guidelines for speed and volume of motor vehicle traffic no matter what their skill level is. Studies show women are passed more closely and harassed more often while riding bikes (and otherwise existing in public space) and risk of serious injury and death is higher from increasingly-larger vehicles impacting our typically-smaller size with more severe organ damage. (This issue is obviously even worse for children, and women often have children with them.)

Additionally, many of these lanes don’t fit cargo bikes and adult trikes (more commonly used by women who do something called “trip-chaining” more, which means make more frequent stops as part of their daily chores and caring for children, etc.); adaptive bikes for those with a wide range of disabilities; and other type of bikes and emerging human-powered-transportation forms that are increasingly common in more inclusive places.

And by the way, when you make your city safer for women to ride bikes, you make it safer for everyone. Please note less than 1% of the men in my city are riding bikes, so this advocacy work benefits you, too, guys. By the way, I am super proud of the friendships i’ve had with many bike riders and municipal leaders who are guys, and in fact, the majority of support for these issues is coming from them. So, thank you. We’re all in this together.

Fun fact — This was the very last thing on my phone before I survived a hit-and-run eight weeks ago: