When my wife and I moved to Atlanta from Portland, Oregon just over four years ago, we simply took it for granted that we’d be able to continue the lifestyle we’d been leading. In Portland, we shared a single car that was used mostly for weekend getaways, while daily errands like grocery shopping, visits to friends, trips to restaurants, and my wife’s work and school commutes were accomplished by foot or on our bicycles, with the occasional light rail or bus trip thrown in as well. The car could sometime sit for weeks without being used.
We made the cross country trip to Atlanta in 2008 so that I could pursue a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the excellent program offered by Georgia Tech and Emory. Up to that point, I’d been making a living as a professional road cyclist, traveling across the US and around the world to compete. That experience gave me the chance to see some great bicycle infrastructure such as parallel bike roads in central Beijing and protected lanes with dedicated signals across Europe. But I also got to see just how far behind most American cities, including Atlanta, were in providing safe and convenient road space for cyclists.
So it shouldn't have been surprising to learn that our nearly car-free lifestyle would be more challenging here. But we were determined. And, frankly, buying a second car wasn't financially feasible anyway. We found a house in Cabbagetown, where we fell in love with the old homes on narrow streets, along with the easy access to MARTA. My wife found a bus route that was a short bike ride away and took her straight to her new job as a teacher in Dekalb County. I set about trying to find the best possible bike route to Georgia Tech, with MARTA as a backup when thunderstorms threatened. It took some effort, but in time, the car started to see less and less use.
But what’s been most encouraging over the last four years is how many people have been joining us. There’s been a noticeable increase in the number of fellow bicycle commuters that I see on the roads daily, with events like the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition’s Streets Alive and the inaugural Bike to Work Challenge showing even more people how easy it can be to ride a bike in Atlanta. And it seems like city officials are also starting to get the message. A new signal and green bike lane appeared in early October to help connect two previously discontinuous bike lanes where 5th street crosses West Peachtree at Tech Square. Mayor Reed just announced plans for some additional and much needed new bike infrastructure in Midtown. And despite only being open for a week, the Beltline is already overflowing with commuters in the morning and evening.
However, this city still has work to do. The Beltline ends suddenly at Monroe without connections to any existing bike lanes, and there are too many areas where cyclists have no choice but to mix with sometimes unfriendly motor vehicle traffic. But the best way to demonstrate the need for more bike infrastructure is to get out there and use what we have. With a little bit of planning, a person can get just about anywhere in Atlanta by bike, and do so safely. Resources such as the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition’s bike suitability maps and the bike option in Google Maps are great ways to plan routes. Learning to live without complete reliance on a car is extremely liberating. It’s exciting to watch more people in this city free themselves from that dependency. See you on our current and future bike routes.
Doug is a PhD candidate at the Georgia Institute of Technology and is a former professional road cyclist.
I hate to drive. It all started three years ago when living in the Middle East where the roads are lawless. Motorcycles, pick-up trucks from the 80’s, Asten Martens all going wildly different speeds with no reverence for double yellow lines, red lights, or traffic laws. Just being a passenger was terrifying.
Thus when moving to Atlanta, I was nervous. Culling the Atlanta subreddit and local newspapers, rumor had it Atlantans loved their cars as much as their sweet tea. The idea of driving, even with traffic enforcement, stressed me out.
After careful planning, I moved to a neighborhood where I could take MARTA to work. I walked 15 minutes to MARTA station and rode 20-30 minutes depending on train times. It worked, it was time consuming, but it worked.
When I heard about Bike to Work Challenge, I thought it would be good to try. So I signed up thinking that it wouldn't be easier or faster than the MARTA, but it would be a change of pace.
Early morning on October 1st, I headed out on my Georgia Tech Starter Bike (total value of $35) on the route I carefully chosen to avoid hills and major streets. I left extra early to account for any wrong turns and my slow speed. I ended up being too early for work. It took me only 20 minutes on bike rather than the 45 minute MARTA commute.
Now with three weeks of biking under my belt, my speed hasn't increased, but my huffing and puffing has decreased. On the bike, I save time and get exercise. Biking has transformed my commute to work.
Becky Katz works for Park Pride, a non-profit organization that works with communities all over Atlanta to improve their parks.
My task in the Bike to Work Challenge is to infect others with the love of bike commuting since I already do it—and have been doing it for years!
After college, I moved from Athens, Ga. to Washington D.C. to intern for my senator and I had heard that you absolutely didn't want to bring a car. The drain on your bank account, (mind you interns don’t even get paid), would bankrupt you in no time: gas, insurance, paying for parking, parking tickets...just pure hassle. I had biked in college and I didn't own a car anyway, so I embraced the advice and bought a monthly subway pass. Soon after, friends in my ultimate Frisbee circle talked me into bike commuting as an alternative to the subway. I was sold.
I had actually taken cycling as a course in college, so I was a trained rider, but I was also mentored by veteran D.C. bike messengers who showed me how to ride, safely and assertively.
Soon after my internship, I landed my first job with McKinsey & Co. and I knew bike commuting was meant to be. My company subsidized our commutes with monthly transit fare cards and even put in showers at the office. Back then, I suited up daily, so I preferred riding gear, a shower, and a change to start the day. Now I’m much more streamlined and ride dressed for work each day.
After a short stint of biking to work when I took a job in San Francisco, my second career landed me back in Athens, Ga. I knew that as an undergrad, Athens had been bike friendly—even back in the late 80's—so I returned and bought a house within a two-mile radius of downtown where I worked and continued commuting by bike every day with an occasional ride on transit when there was inclement weather. Although it was a bike friendly city when I was in school, I was pleased to find out that Athens continued to make progress by adding bike lanes, greenways and even bike racks on buses!
It might look as if commuting is all about economics for me—and sure it was when I was a lowly intern with no salary—but it became a way of life, a great way to set the tone for my day and arrive at work without road rage. I also enjoy doing my part to reduce emissions.
Today I find myself working in the transportation industry in Griffin, Ga. and I’m still biking to work. As I enter the fifth decade of my life, I’m stoked to keep moving and happy to have logged thousands of miles all over the planet, both to work and on vacation. It’s really become a way of life for me and a great one. I urge you to give it a try!
For those interested in getting started, I’d be happy to show you my gear, route, and wardrobe. In fact you can check out pictures on my Facebook page to see what I wear and even get a few tips (I like to share). Oh and for those who love pictures I have posted a photo essay of the graffiti/murals on my cycling route to work when I lived in Athens.
Tracie Sanchez, MPA, is a mobility manager for the Three Rivers Regional Commission in Griffin, Ga.