On a Corner in Forsyth County, Georgia

On the corner of Atlanta Highway and Carolene Way in Forsyth County, Georgia, people of all ages and abilities are expected to cross a busy intersection to stay on the Big Creek Greenway. The path appears from the woods on one side of the road and disappears on the other via a boardwalk on the edge of a stunning golden wetland dotted with bluebird boxes. There’s a memorial to two men who were killed here when their garbage truck collided with a dump truck in the middle of the afternoon on a Monday three years ago, and it’s a grim reminder that life is precious and fleeting and it can end suddenly no matter what form of transportation you’re using. May Rodrick Thompson and Ta’shaun Thompson rest in peace.

Bike riders, of course, rarely need those reminders because we feel it in our bones every time we leave our homes. The number one thing our loved ones say to us when we get on our bikes is “be careful.” And this is just when we go to the supermarket. Or come home from one, as Obienuju Osuegbu tried to do on August 23, 2020.

But things are getting better, they say. Are they? Can you leave your home and get somewhere a mile away on a bike safely? This is a simple yes or no question. Here’s what happened to me a mile from my home recently.

During my first month as Metro Atlanta Bicycle Mayor, we’re gonna take a look at the region as a whole (although my travels won’t take me to Forsyth again — see schedule below*). I’m reviewing plans, asking questions, spotlighting successes, road-testing reality, and sharing resources. And I’m doing this for just eight hours a week (carefully time-sheeted) so that joining me in this pro bono effort as additional Bicycle Mayors remains an attractive option for others. (I’m just one little person. You are needed.)

First, a quick synopsis (and a little editorializing) from my reading of the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Walk Bike Thrive! Plan.

Metro Atlanta is defined by the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) — the regional planning and intergovernmental coordination agency for the metro Atlanta, Georgia, USA region — as the 10-county area of Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry and Rockdale counties, and includes the city of Atlanta. It has a population of more than 4.6 million people, according to 2020 population estimates released by ARC. Greatly sprawled, with people often living in one city or county and traveling to another for work, school, or other reasons, it has a well-earned reputation as car-centric and car-dependent, with significant infrastructure, geographic, and cultural challenges for those who want or need to use a bike for utilitarian, recreational, or therapeutic purposes. 

Each of metro Atlanta’s 10 counties saw population increases in the past year. This population growth, in combination with other factors, has made it increasingly important that there are viable environmental, economic, and social sustainability adaptations as we move forward in our changing world. Access-for-all via bikes is a goal in most, if not all, municipalities. According to ARC’s PLAN 2040 travel demand model:

50% of bike trips in the region are less than 2.4 miles, and more than 75% of bike trips are less than 4 miles. Considering these travel patterns, the largest opportunity to increase rates of active transportation in the region lies in making walking and bicycling attractive alternatives to driving for trips of 3 miles or less. 

ARC is supporting communities that want to achieve Bicycle Friendly Community status from the League of American Bicyclists. This designation rates communities on Five E’s: Education, Encouragement, Engineering, Evaluation/Planning, and Equity (note that Enforcement was recently replaced with Equity). They are supporting: Safety and Security; Access, Equity and Economy; Active Living; Ecology and Environmental Quality; Civic Life, Social Connections. 

Six cities within Metro Atlanta have achieved this certification**, although this does not necessarily reflect the lived experience of people actually riding bikes (or wanting to do so). It is important to understand both the big picture in the region as well as the rubber-hits-the-road reality and how it differs among segments of the population. During November, I’ll be sharing more info about those six cities as well as the businesses and universities that have achieved Bicycle Friendly designation. We’ll visit a few and see if the online report card matches the lived experience.

In December, we’ll focus specifically on the City of Atlanta, and then we’ll go month-by-month, county-by-county, alphabetically.

Thank you for joining me, both here on this blog for Metro Atlanta Bicycle Mayor updates on Thursdays based on the schedule below (although this post counts as the November 5 one — I know we will all be focused on the election results that day), and on my Twitter and Instagram feeds (which will continue to include info beyond Metro Atlanta as well). And please feel free to send me suggestions for under-reported success stories and unsung heroes in your Metro Atlanta city or county.

Final comment: I need to do this in a way that’s authentic to me as well as pandemic-safe and it may not be the way you would do it. I ask for your grace and support. As always, I’m trusting the journey, and I look forward to our paths crossing. Perhaps, together, with our different strengths and styles, we can even make a difference.

Big Creek Greenway in Forsyth County, GA

* My editorial schedule for the first year as Metro Atlanta Bicycle Mayor

** Alpharetta, Atlanta, Carrolton, Decatur, Peachtree City, Roswell