Hit-and-runs, bicycle safety, and ninjas

Charles at Large: A fifth-generation Atlantan explains the city

Q: I’ve been thinking about commuting by bicycle. Are our streets safe for cyclists?

When I was eight years old, I was hit by a car while riding to a
friend’s house in Midtown. It was a bright summer day, and I was
blithely pedaling uphill, beside the curb, wearing a helmet. There was
a noise behind me, a telephone pole in front of me, and then an impact.
I came to my senses next to my bent Schwinn, covered in blood. The car
was gone. I spent three days in intensive care with a fractured skull.
So the short answer: Life happens, and bikes don’t have air bags. The
longer answer is more nuanced.

In 2007, 254 bike crashes were reported in metro Atlanta, which
resulted in 107 injuries and two fatalities. Of these crashes, nearly
half took place in Fulton County. According to the Georgia Department
of Transportation, bicycles are involved in less than a quarter of one
percent of all Georgia traffic crashes, but they account for one
percent of all traffic-related fatalities. But biking—especially
helmeted—remains nearly twice as safe as driving, according to a 1998
study of comparative risk. Rebecca Serna, executive director of the
Atlanta Bicycle Campaign, rides 3.9 miles to work every day on a steel
touring bike. “As a bike commuter,” she says, “I can vouch for it being
both feasible and occasionally more exciting than I’d really like it to
be. Most of my close calls are predictable, though. It’s important to
know your route and the dangers it poses.”

Those dangers, more often than not, aren’t cars: Roughly 20 percent of
bike crashes involve automobiles, according to Serna, while half
involve curbs, potholes, and the like. These can be avoided through
basic safety training, such as ABC’s Confident City Cycling classes,
offered twice monthly between April and June. Atlanta currently has
just thirty miles of bike lanes and twenty miles of hard-surface
trails. Once the Connect Atlanta Plan—which includes a network of 220
miles of lanes and sharrows within the city—is realized, biking will be
even safer.

Q: I saw kids doing a cross between martial arts and freestyle-walking in Piedmont Park the other day. Are they ninjas?

Did they have throwing stars and Chuck Taylors? Or were they wearing
board shorts and calling each other “ninja dudes”? Without a few more
details, I can only give you my best guess. But because ninja culture
has cooled off a bit since Japan’s Edo Period, they were probably
practicing parkour (from the French parcours, which means “route”), also known as “free running.”

Invented by Frenchman David Belle in the early 1990s, parkour nimbly
straddles the divide between movement and meditation by making
efficient, aerobic, improvised use of the urban landscape—think scaling
staircases and jumping between roofs. Most major cities in the U.S. now
have parkour groups with modest followings of traceurs—they
trace Belle’s footsteps—who engage in moves such as the “cat leap” and
the “wall run.” The Internet is rife with stomach-clenching parkour
videos that you can watch if your ninja friends, who might belong to
Atlanta’s Team Parlous, suddenly disappear.

Got an Atlanta question? E-mail Charles Bethea at askcharles@atlantamag.emmis.com.