Atlanta, By Bike (and Why Metro Atlanta Leaders Are Invited)

This bike lane was named one of the top 10 in the USA in 2013 by PeopleForBikes, yet had fallen into astoundingly dangerous disrepair and neglect over the past few years as the flexible plastic bollards were continually knocked down and removed. Honestly, it’s been a sh*t show.

I rode it this week, however, just to see the buzz I’d heard about these new protective orange barriers being added to it. It was glorious.

I don’t know if Doug Nagy had anything to do with it, but maybe. He’s the head of the new Department of Transportation in the City of Atlanta, and I got to “meet” him at the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition’s quarterly review Zoom meeting recently. He’s a bike commuter, by the way, and it seems like suddenly a whole lot of rubber-hits-the-road things, including this, are happening now. Barriers to communication about what’s really needed seem to be over. If interested, here is Doug’s LinkedIn profile summary:

I’m passionate about building better cities. Prior to joining the City of Atlanta, I led transportation, business strategy and public health teams across Asia & Latin America with McKinsey & Company. I launched McKinsey’s office in Medellin, Colombia and previously served as the youngest Main Street manager in America, leading the first Main Street program in my Ohio hometown. I’m also very passionate about racial inclusion and co-founded a civil rights startup in Latin America called TalentoTotal. Our program helps rising Afrodescendent and Indigenous professionals from Latin America to accelerate their careers by earning an MBA or LLM in the United States or Europe. 

If you are curious, the City of Atlanta is the leading bike-friendly place in the State of Georgia. I absolutely love Traveling at the Speed of Bike there. It is no comparison to anywhere else I ride in Metro Atlanta for providing me with:

  • Route options that actually enable me to go places (including to support local businesses, which keeps money circulating in the local economy):
  • End-of-trip parking accommodations (far from perfect but, Atlanta folks, if you haven’t seen a strip mall in suburbia yet, you don’t know how good you have it);
  • The Art of Bike Riding;
  • Today’s Nice Stranger;
  • Shady streets (highest tree canopy percentage in any USA city);
  • A supportive culture that makes me feel welcome.

However, the infrastructure is not distributed equitably (and attempts to do so accelerate gentrification — see Something’s Bothering Me About Belty, from 2015), and other gaps and inconsistencies serve as barriers to participation. Yes, there is much work to do, as you can see in the PeopleForBikes and League of American Bicyclists scorecards for the City of Atlanta. (Find your city here and here.)

The difference, however, between riding bikes in the “family friendly” (?) ‘burbs and the City of Atlanta is so extreme that I started asking Metro Atlanta leaders to join me on free rides in Atlanta in 2015 (see Dear Elected Official of OTP Metro Atlanta Cities: An Invitation from a Non-Cyclist Mom).

In 2019, I sent over 50 emails to city and sustainability leaders plus local luminaries inviting them on the Sustainability Tour I created with Bicycle Tours of Atlanta. That is a stunning route (which I still ride often) that showcases the best of Atlanta’s infrastructure, plus so much more. Below is the description about it (see many other tour options on the Bicycle Tours of Atlanta website):

The “Sustainability in Action” Bike Tour takes you up close and personal on a rubber-hits-the-road showcase of best practices and innovations relating to environmental, economic, and social sustainability in a city embracing the defining challenges of our times.

On this 3.5-hour, 11-mile immersion, you’ll see why Atlanta is increasingly applauded for green building, trees and greenspace, business vitality, water conservation, land use, innovation, and more.

We’ll take in Downtown, Midtown, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Piedmont Park, the Old Fourth Ward Park, the Atlanta Beltline, and other carefully-curated as well as spur-of-the-moment highlights on some of the most acclaimed bike infrastructure in the USA.

This joy-based tour could give you ideas to kickstart or improve your own corporate or community-based sustainability initiatives as well.

photos courtesy of Robyn Elliott of Bicycle Tours of Atlanta
Meet King Williams, with links to other stories about the Sustainability Tour

I’m asking again now by providing you with all these free self-guided tours as a PeopleForBikes Ambassador. (Note that in addition to numerous tours around Atlanta, there are tours throughout Metro Atlanta, maybe even in your city. More will be added, according to this monthly schedule county-by-county. They are all designed for “Connie on a cruiser,” not “Lance in lycra.”)

There have also been so many other Dear Mayor emails and blog posts that I can’t count them (such as this one at the beginning of the pandemic, and this one two weeks ago).

Here’s the thing, folks. We can spend the next ten years talking about what’s possible (well, you can — I’m still scheduled to leave for the Peace Corps). You can keep doing ancillary things to boost your potential for awards rather than actually making your cities safe for people to ride bikes, or you can go experience it for yourself right now where it already exists. I commonly ride 10-20 miles at a time just in the course of doing research in the City of Atlanta (without that stupid BikeNoodle, not to be confused with the Width of a Prius noodle), yet I cannot get home from my local park in the suburbs without taking my life in my hands.

I am honestly proud of what the City of Atlanta is doing. With our Southern hospitality, mild climate, and Civil Rights heritage, I honestly believe we hold the power in our hands to be the most bike-friendly region in the USA (although there’s this elephant in the room). I strongly encourage Metro Atlanta city leaders and staff to please just go there and experience it yourself. Please let me know if I can offer you any additional input or assistance as Metro Atlanta Bicycle Mayor.

I am independent of all groupthink and external pressures. I will continue to share my lived and learned experience honestly.