By Maria Saporta
For once, good news.
When it came to riding bicycles to work, City of Atlanta enjoyed the highest rate of increase in the nation between 2000 and 2009, according to a report released by the Alliance for Biking & Walking.
The report showed that bicycle commuting in the City of Atlanta increased by 386 percent in that decade.
But one of the reasons Atlanta’s numbers were so strong was because its base was so low.
Less than 1 percent of Atlanta residents ride their bicycles to work, according to American Community Survey data. It’s no coincidence that only 1 percent of federal transportation tax dollars spent in Atlanta were invested in bicycle and pedestrian projects.
“A much greater investment is needed in biking and walking to increase active transportation,” said Jeffrey Miller, president and CEO of the Alliance for Biking and Walking. “The Benchmarking Report shows that biking and walking are smart and cost-effective solutions that will pay for themselves many times over in healthcare savings and impact on local economies.”
According to the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, Atlanta’s preliminary investments in bicycling and walking have already resulted in a more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly city.
Edgewood Avenue underwent a “road diet” in 2004 that included bike lanes. Today the street is the city’s most popular bike route, according to biannual bicycle traffic counts.
A variety of local businesses are thriving; the commercial strip has transformed into a Friday night destination; and the street is safer for all users. In 2013. the Atlanta Streetcar project will add a modern streetcar system to the mix, bringing bike lanes into the heart of downtown Atlanta in the process.
With the Atlanta BeltLine underway, Atlanta is poised to make a breakthrough into the top tier of cities nationally for cycling, according to Rebecca Serna, executive director of the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition.
“This summer voters have the chance to approve a penny transportation sales tax that would build half the BeltLine trails,” Serna said. “As a bonus, the referendum would allow local governments the discretion to build purely local projects with 15 percent of the funds collected. We’ll be pushing for the bicycle network envisioned by the Connect Atlanta Plan to be fully planned and built out with those funds.”
Meanwhile, the city spends just $4.53 per person on biking and walking, tied for 24th place with Louisville, El Paso, and Milwaukee.
“Atlanta will continue miss opportunities to make big investments in bicycle projects until it comes up with a local matching source to bring in valuable federal transportation dollars,” Serna said.
Atlanta’s City Council may soon consider a “Complete Streets” ordinance to reinforce the city’s practice of planning for all transportation choices, but the city lacks a detailed bike plan with shovel-ready projects.
“Biking is on the rise in Atlanta, but the city won’t achieve its full potential until we invest in a network of safe and welcoming spaces for people to ride bicycles – for fun, fitness, and transportation,” said Atiba Mbiwan, president of the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition board.
The study also notes that those cities with the highest levels of bicycling and walking lower levels of obesity, hypertension, and diabetes. Currently, 64 percent of Atlanta residents are overweight or obese.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funded the Bicycling and Walking in the U.S.: 2012 Benchmarking Report. To download the report, visit: www.PeoplePoweredMovement.org/benchmarking.