People walking and biking enjoy rare car-free streets during Atlanta Streets Alive. Photo by Joel Mann
When most people think about Atlanta, Georgia, they don’t usually think, “what a lovely place to go for a bike ride.” The southern capital has long been a bastion of American car culture, defined more by a tangled web of interconnecting urban freeways, gridlocked artery roads, and sprawling suburbs than by anything closely resembling bike- or pedestrian-friendliness. But in 2013, mayor Kasim Reed surprised everyone with the announcement that he planned for Atlanta to become a top 10 cycling city, within three years to boot.
While the plan might have appeared overly ambitious for a city which at the time probably had more miles of drive-thrus than bike lanes, Reed appears to be doing much more than just talking the talk. In October of last year, the city hired Becky Katz – an Atlanta Bicycle Coalition member and project manager for the city’s leading greenspace advocacy group – to be the city’s first Chief Bicycle Officer. Currently, they’re considering an optional sales tax that would leverage an additional $325 million towards transportation over 5 years, with a majority going to bike and ped projects.
The positivity appears to be spreading throughout the entire metro Atlanta Region. The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) recently approved a $1 billion plan to increase biking and walking in metro Atlanta. Under the optimistic title of “Walk, Bike, Thrive!“, the plan lays out an ambitious future for metro Atlanta which includes more bike lanes, sidewalks, active transportation-based neighborhoods, and multi-use trails. While it’s important to note that $1 billion is still a small percentage of Atlanta’s total $85 billion transportation plan for the next 25 years, it is a hugely significant improvement from the $5 million the city spent on bike and pedestrian projects in 2014.
The “Walk, Bike Thrive!” plan states as its goal for the Atlanta Region to be “one of the most connected and safest regions in the US for walking and bicycling,” and to “use active transportation to improve the mobility, safety, and economic competitiveness for residents and communities.”
The plan will build on the success of initiatives Atlanta has been host to in recent years – the Atlanta Streets Alive ciclovia, the Beltline multi-use trail, and a multitude of social rides and community bike events – and use them as a benchmark for how they can improve in other areas.
While it would be overly optimistic to assume to auto-centric region could change overnight, the adoption of “Walk, Bike, Thrive!” is a significant step forward for the southern capital. In parts of Atlanta, a lack of not only bike lanes, but sidewalks and crosswalks as well, means it’s nearly impossible for residents to safely travel outside of a car. The plan will make it easier to travel by non-car means all across the Atlanta region, as well as encourage the development of active transportation-based communities and emphasize the economic value of quality bike and ped infrastructure.
While we won’t hold our breath for Atlanta to knock Portland out of the top spot by this time next year, we’re excited to see if this car-capital can successfully turn around decades of auto-centric investment in order to reach their top 10 goal. Doing so would send a clear message to any North American city that it’s never too late to change up your transportation system. Wishing you all the best, Atlanta.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article conflated the City of Atlanta with the metro Atlanta region, and gave credit to the city for initiating the Walk, Bike Thrive! plan. It has since been corrected to separate the two, and to acknowledge that the Atlanta Regional Commission was responsible for the plan.
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