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"When You Voted for Bikes, You Spoke for Me" (Now, Will I Ever be Able to Ride My Bike to Buy a Bagel?)

Posted Jun 18 2014 9:59pm

This is the house where I grew up (that fence wasn't there; just sayin'). On that sidewalk right in front of this house, my friend John McKinley and I taught each other how to ride two-wheelers when we were five years old. 

My friends and I moved on to sting rays and 10-speeds and 21-speeds. We could tell who was where by whose bikes were laying on the lawns. We fixed flats and greased chains and rewrapped handlebars. We rode three on a bike sometimes, if you can imagine. We rode to school and the public pool and the ballfield and the mall. We rode to driver's ed classes and our after-school jobs and each other's houses and the beach. We rode because we could, because it was faster than walking, and because we never gave it a second thought. It was just what we did. People used to move to the suburbs so their kids could ride their bikes like my friends and I did. Then things changed in my country. You can read about that elsewhere. It's too painful to me to talk about.

This road may get bike lanes very soon!
Now, my big goal is to one day be able to ride my bike to buy a bagel. Seriously. It's as simple as that--and as complicated. Because right now, in the metro-Atlanta city where I live, I can't do that safely. There are about four miles between me and that bagel, and frankly, the first quarter mile from my neighborhood is life-threatening enough sometimes to make me turn around.

But, pathological optimist that I am, I have hope. My city pays a lot of lip-action to its commitment to becoming truly bike-friendly. There are master plans coming out the whazoo. But every single time a measly little mile or two is set to be paved and striped, there's a fight at city hall or a nasty note in the local newspaper or a split vote by city council that makes it clear how precarious a dream it is to someday (sooner, rather than later) have a place where regular folks of all ages can ride their bikes.

Connie on her brand new bike on a brand new trail
If I've learned anything on this sustainability journey since my "aha moment" the day after 9/11 (and the last eight years on this blog), I've learned this--I'm not alone. There are always other people who feel like me. And sure enough, there is both a very active "cycling community" here in my city, and also a whole bunch of folks who just like to ride their bikes. There are even people like my friend Connie, who hadn't had a bike since she was a child and just bought one so she could ride with her grandchildren (and maybe even one day ride to the local greenmarket). 

I've even met people who have no interest at all in bikes but would love to not worry about bike riders when they drive, so they like the idea of "a place for them" in bike lanes. Dog walkers, stroller pushers, and those in wheelchairs know that when a place gets safer for bike riders, it gets safer for everyone. Local businesses are starting to tune in to the studies that show that bike riders shop more often and spend more locally. People notice their health improvements after they start riding bikes--for instance, my bum knee disappeared, and I got muscles! Plus, trends show people of all ages want to live in walkable, bike-friendly communities so whether or not folks support bikes, they probably do want to be able to sell their houses one day or recruit new employees for their businesses.

In conjunction with my good friend Joe Seconder's citizen advocacy group, BikeWalk Dunwoody, I launched the "When you voted for bikes, you spoke for me" Thank You campaign directed toward the mayor and city council of my city. My fellow citizens have given generously of their time and spirit to participate, and many more ads are already in the works. I'm amplifying them on social media, and they have already been picked up by the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, Georgia Bikes, and other organizations and individuals. Here is the series to date:

We want City Hall to know that what they are doing matters. That the decisions they are making are touching many people for many reasons, and that they can't stop until there is a completely connected network on which people can depend. These are all real people who either already ride or want to ride, or who support our city becoming bike friendly for other reasons. These are people for whom my city's leaders spoke when they voted for bikes.

But let's remember I'm still a long way from my bagel. Currently, the main roads in my city are almost impossible to ride safely, and the side roads are so extraordinarily hilly that fuggedaboutit if you're not in top cardio shape (or if you don't have a bike like Attica , who rides herself). Traffic lights don't change for bike riders ( see video ). Bike lanes end abruptly (I've nicknamed one of them "Pointy"), dumping riders into dangerous situations. Drivers don't obey the 3-foot law or even stop for pedestrians (or those walking their bikes, as I do when I hit a section of road that is simply too dangerous to ride) in a crosswalk, as required by law (see video here and here ). Debris, potholes, little volcanoes of asphalt and other hazards line the roads. And then forget trying to find bike racks if you're lucky enough to get where you're trying to go*. So let's not greenwash this. It's not good out there.

The phone book where I grew up came with a map each year, which my dad would unfold and tape onto the garage wall. He would then spend the summer riding every street. As a Father's Day gift to him this year, I set a goal of riding every street in my city before school starts again and I'm called back to the City of Atlanta (where, I might add, I "rode to joy" this past school year)

But already I'm wondering if this goal is too ambitious for right now, or if I should "cheat" and drive to different parts of the city to knock off those blocks, because I'm having enough trouble just getting to and from the community garden!

However, I like goals. Goals are dreams with a deadline. How about this? I'll keep my goal of riding every block, if my city keeps its goal of becoming truly bike-friendly. Deal?

Speaking of Deal (as in Governor Deal of the State of Georgia), how about a bike-friendly state?

* Bravo to Sprouts Market for installing a bike rack before your new store even opens June 25!
eclectic food-for-thought for a changing world
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