Can Atlanta, a city built for cars, make room for bikes?

As more cyclists arrive, the city is trying to accomodate them

I’ve been riding to and from work several days per week since May. Everything they tell you about the benefits of cycle commuting is true: I’ve lost eleven pounds, my back and neck are no longer stiff at the end of the workday, my posture has improved, my resting heart rate has dropped, and I’m saving gas money. Oh, and chicks dig it. And by chicks, I mean my four- and one-year-old daughters, who cheer when they see me on a bike.

Photo Illustration by Kyle Burdg
Photo Illustration by Kyle Burdg

Although cycling adds about fifteen minutes each way to my six-mile commute, they’re some of the most pleasurable minutes of my day. I observe quirky and interesting buildings that I probably drove by hundreds of times without noticing. While I sometimes breathe car exhaust, I also smell trees in bloom and pizzas baking at Ammazza. I hear songbirds and watch hawks circling lazily over Coan Park (hunting rodents, I imagine, but can’t confirm).

If the number of cyclists here seems to be increasing, that’s because it is. Between 2000 and 2009, Atlanta (the city, not the metro area) registered the country’s highest increase in bike commuting. That statistical surge predates the opening of the Atlanta BeltLine’s Eastside Trail, which makes it possible for cyclists and pedestrians to get from the Old Fourth Ward/Inman Park to the edge of Morningside and Piedmont Heights while crossing only one car-trafficked intersection (Monroe Drive and Tenth Street).

The cycling boom seems likely to continue. More than 16,000 intown apartment units were proposed or already under construction in the first quarter of 2014, nearly double the number in 2013. The people shunning large homes in the suburbs for smaller spaces in town are often the ones trading in cars for walking, transit, and biking.

As more cyclists arrive, the city is trying to accommodate them. Speaking to the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition’s commuter breakfast in August, Jonathan Lewis of the city’s planning and transportation department said additional bike lanes are included in Atlanta’s comprehensive infrastructure bond issue that will face a referendum next year. While the total has not been finalized, the coalition is petitioning for $37 million in cycle-related improvements, which it claims could add an additional 100 miles of bike-friendly roadways.

One road that might get a bike lane is DeKalb Avenue. With its fast-moving, heavy traffic; abundant potholes; and reversible (aka “suicide”) lanes, this east-west artery is uniquely pedestrian- and bike-hostile, but connects some of Atlanta’s otherwise pedal-friendliest neighborhoods. Such lanes are often preferred by both drivers—who like not having to veer into oncoming traffic to pass a bicycle—and cyclists, who appreciate the lane lines as literal black-and-white reminders that drivers are required by law to share roads.

The lanes aren’t universally loved, though. Our ingrained cars-first attitude is laid bare when even cycling fans use the term road diet to refer to restriping existing roads to squeeze in space for bikes. “There are so many pebbles, loose dirt, and people opening their car doors,” says Hommood Alrowais, a Georgia Tech graduate student who cycles to campus from Adair Park.

Jennifer Kuzara, who bike commutes between her Downtown office and her home in Edgewood, says she tries to be an ambassador for cycling by stopping at signs and lights during her commute. She’s annoyed by cyclists she calls “dude bros”: people whose aggressive riding, disregard for the rules of the road, and confrontational attitude can turn drivers against all bike commuters. “I’m not interested in confrontation,” she says. “I just enjoy being out there.”

For Kuzara, though, biking is about more than fun; it’s about a public good. “What I hope drivers understand, even if they don’t ride bikes, is that people riding is good for them,” she says. “Every person on a bike is one less person in a car.”

Four ways to ride together


This article originally appeared in our October 2014 issue under the headline “Share the Road.”