Atlanta Update

97F638EC-7585-4B33-95C2-DF6B1EE44B3E.jpegIt’s hot, it’s humid, but the riding is really good.

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Metro Atlanta Update

I live on the far Northwest side of Atlanta and cycle the entire metro area. Cycling overall is definitely growing but the available roads that are conducive to riding are shrinking.

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Often when new road construction happens the designs are narrow and with no shoulders. Smaller roads turn into trunk roads and go from acceptable low-traffic two lanes to high-traffic four lanes in a few years. Bike lanes and grade separated paths exist and more are developed every year but for the latter corruption and pay-to-play is the rule so relatively few miles are developed for the millions spent. Road diets wherein a lane is removed and replaced with a bike lane or multi-use lane happen here and there but often the overall mileage is short and non-connecting. Overall connectivity is inconsistent and often a plausible connection between urban areas is foiled by nonsensical termination of bike lanes or paths.

Quiet, low-speed, two-lane side streets become high speed arterials as several hundred unit luxury apartments appear almost overnight. No change to the roadway at all, just major change to the user base. Increased density and infill leads to more traffic and the aggression that comes with competition for roadway space. Waze and similar traffic-avoidance apps push more cars onto surface streets not designed to handle the load and speeds non-residents prefer to drive. Pedestrians and cyclists suffer the abuse of commuters who wish only to spend as little time as possible in their neighborhoods. Much of the suburban development is based upon the flawed cul-de-sac design style that started in the 80s and continues to this day. Residential neighborhoods comprising 400+ single family homes will have one entrance and exit to a winding, narrow, two-lane road.

People commute far away as extremely high housing demand allows only the wealthiest to live close to the major employment centers. Petty racism and classicism further fuel this flight to once undeveloped areas along the near northern arc outside the Perimeter. As the housing stock turns over it’s not uncommon to encounter a family that has moved progressively further and further from the city center in 8-12 year increments.

The wealthy neighborhoods on the far northwest side of the city are a major source of respite for the urban cyclist. Wide lanes with large lots and their subsequent low population per square mile, with little connectivity to interstate entrances keeps traffic low. Roadway funding keeps the streets smooth and in reasonably good repair. Other cyclists provide familiarization but often prime motorists for conflict. It’s a fairly worthwhile trade-off, the conflict is often fleeting and nonsensical and usually only during very short evening periods on particularly heavy traffic days.

Perversely, the best places to ride are where the residents are too poor or too disenfranchised to own a car or multiple cars. The west side, southwest side, and south side see little traffic and often low speeds as well. However, these areas are plagued by poor roadway conditions with the surface often cracked, fulled with potholes or semi-permanent steel panels covering partially completed construction. Feral dogs are not uncommon nor are encounters with criminals or road closures due to law enforcement activity. In extremely poor areas cyclists stand out and it is important to respect the appropriate days and times that riding is a good idea in these areas.

Looking at Strava fly-by and observing riders while out driving or riding, much of the cycling is done on the same handful of roads connecting the same handful of loop routes. It’s hard to branch out and explore outside of the comfort zones. There are roads that are safe and comfortable to cycle one way with a moderate 1-2 foot shoulder that have no shoulder on the other side. Roads that appear to be quiet two-lane residential streets, when it reality they are high speed connections to employment centers or commuter alternates. Drivers will often hurl invective and abuse at riders not because they’re being impeded but because consequence is almost non-existent, to them. Especially during peak traffic times, law enforcement is sparse. The shifts at morning and evening commuting times are often spread thin flying from call to call but often with a lazy majority sitting in a parking lot somewhere watching videos on their phone.

However, enforcement for traffic violations committed by cyclists is fairly reasonable. Outside of flagrant safety violations with lots of witnesses the only interaction with law enforcement is often chastising through an open window or over a loudspeaker.  As with many areas drivers will often deputize themselves but their complaints are worthless and often come from a lack of understanding cycling on open roadways and the laws and customs thereof.

Increased activism has allowed more representation of cyclists and their needs. However, as the recent Peachtree Road adjustment project has shown there is often significant public backlash against any perceived increase in driving time due to accommodations for other road users.