Bicycle projects in metro Atlanta full of stops and starts
By Maria Saporta
Key areas of metro Atlanta are cycling forward – providing better facilities for people who want to ride bicycles for transportation and recreation.
But progress tends to occur in fits and starts – rarely reaching the ever-growing demand that exists for new bicycle paths and facilities.
The City of Atlanta has tended to be a pioneer when it comes to bicycle facilities – issuing requests for proposals for a city bike share program in May 2013 – nearly two years ago.
Today, the city has entered into contract negotiations with a chosen vendor team – CycleHop and Social Bicycles.
“There are no public dollars,” said Rebecca Serna, executive director of the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition. “It will be financed with sponsorships and private dollars.”
The reality is that in Georgia there is limited public money available for bicycle paths and other alternative modes of transportation. The major source of revenue for the state’s transportation budget is the motor fuel tax – but it has been ruled that those dollars can only be spent on roads and bridges.
That means the state has little money to invest on transit, bicycle and multi-purpose trails and sidewalks.
So it takes an extraordinary effort to get relatively modest bicycle projects from the planning stage to the implementation stage.
Back in February 2013, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed pledged to invest more than $2.5 million in “high quality Complete Streets-style bike projects” in city as part of an initiative to make Atlanta a more bicycle-friendly city.
Now two years later, several of those projects have yet to be implemented. Part of the issue has been that the city’s assistant director of planning and transportation – Josh Mello – had left Atlanta, and he was only recently replaced by Jonathan Lewis. While that position covers all modes of transportation, the city has been emphasizing alternative modes of transportation in its Connect Atlanta plan.
At the annual meeting of the Midtown Alliance on Feb. 10 at the Fox Theatre, pedestrian advocate Jeff Speck told the audience that investments in transit, sidewalks and bicycle facilities can transform cities.
Speck, author of the book called: “Walkable City: How Downtown can save America one step at a time,” said it comes down to planning.
“The closer things are to each other, the more you can have a walkable city,” said Speck, who added that he was impressed with how Midtown has evolved in recent years with all the new residential towers. “Transit is a super important part of this.”
But if Atlanta and Georgia wants to really change its traffic equation, “you (have to) stop building more roads.”
He went on to say that “cycling is the biggest revolution underway in certain cities.” And those are the cities that are most appealing to the young, educated, creative class.
So if Georgia wanted to lay the foundation to compete for the most highly-sought-after-employees, it would have a transportation funding plan that would be a change in the status quo.
That does not seem to be happening. The state legislature is contemplating a $1 billion funding plan that would primarily pay for roads and bridges and provide little new revenue for alternative modes of transportation.
At one time, the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce had said it would argue for a $1.5 billion in new transportation funding with a sizable share going to transit. Now they seem to be okay with the watered down funding bill.
Meanwhile, the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition keeps plugging away. At its annual meeting, it added two new board members – Brian McGowan, chief operating officer of the Metro Atlanta Chamber; and Michael Green, a real estate investment professional with the Atlanta-based private equity firm Pansophy Capital Partners.
It also honored people and organizations that have been true bicycle advocates for the past year by giving them Blinkie Awards.
The Citizen Advocate of the Year award went to Brent Brewer – People for a Livable Lee Street.
The Cadence Volunteer Award went to Mark Schmitt, who sets the pace by participating as a volunteer in every event he possibly can.
The Elected Official of the Year went to Andre Dickens, the Atlanta City Council Member-at-Large, who was elected in November, 2013 and already is having an impact through his thoughtful governing style.
The City Leader of the Year Award went to Amy Phuong, commissioner of the City of Atlanta’s Department of Parks and Recreation. She has played a key role in the success of Atlanta Streets Alive.
The New Bike Project of the Year Award went to PATH400 Greenway Trail – including Denise Starling, Jim Durrett and Ed McBrayer – a path that will eventually connect north Atlanta with the Atlanta BeltLine.
The Bike Program/Plan Award went to Georgia State University’s Sustainability Office and Bike Committee.
The ABC Partner of the Year Award went to the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership and its executive director Chuck Meadows.
The Agency of the Year Award went to Michael Smith, the public works director for the City of Dunwoody, who is helping make Dunwoody a bike-friendly place to live.