By Maria Saporta
There was some preaching going on at the Tabernacle this week.
But the preaching had nothing to do with God.
Instead, the sermons all had a theme — our cities would be healthier if we relied more on two wheels and two feet than driving around on four wheels.
David Byrne, the front man for Talking Heads, likes to the see the world from a bicycle. When the band is touring, Byrne makes a point of riding his bicycle around the cities he’s visiting.
The end result? A book called: “Bicycle Diaries.”
“I’m probably preaching to the choir in the Tabernacle,” Byrne told people attending a session of the 18th Congress for New Urbanism, which has been meeting in Atlanta this week.
Byrne showed slides and video of the places he has visited. His favorite cities were those where cyclists and pedestrians dominated the streets instead of cars. But in the United States, cars tend to take precedence over bicycles and pedestrians.
“In many ways, cities are against their own citizens,” Byrne said.
Next up was Charles Brewer, founder of the internet services provider MindSpring.
Brewer is an avid cyclist who has become a developer of communities designed around the theories of new urbanism. He developed Glenwood Park in Southeast Atlanta.
Now he has shifted his focus to Costa Rica where he is developing a community — Las Catalinas — largely without cars.
Brewer spent his time on stage preaching about the evil of cars.
“If it weren’t for cars, way more people would be out on their bicycles,” Brewer said. “Cars are the problem.”
Brewer then directed his criticism to the new urbanists visiting Atlanta for the CNU18 national conference.
“I personally feel like the new urbanists bend over backwards to accommodate cars,” Brewer said, adding that one of his favorite places in the world is Eze in France, which is built into a hill on two-and-a-half acres — too compact a community for cars.
“Why aren’t we new urbanists building new Ezes?” Brewer asked. “Why aren’t we more willing to put cars out. Keeping cars out means peace and quiet.”
Plus, Brewer said that with so many overweight Americans, cycling also has wonderful health benefits — providing non-polluting transportation as well as exercise.
If it were up to him, Brewer would remove cars from our communities and add more bikes.
The next speaker was Scotty Greene, who had headed the Buckhead Community Improvement District. Greene coordinated the of Peachtree Road between Piedmont Avenue and the Buckhead MARTA station and making it more pedestrian friendly.
Greene said the project took 17 years to build from when it was first envisioned, and it cost $61 million to transform just two miles. The complicated project required a complex web of funding because of limited dollars for the urban redesign of streets.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful, Greene told folks at CNU18, if nearly all of available transportation dollars was allocated for transit, sidewalks and bike paths.
Greene kept dreaming. Imagine if when folks went to ask for highway funding, they would be told: “We don’t do any highways anymore.” And then they would be told about a small slice of CMAQ dollars that could be used for roads.
In short, Greene was describing the exact opposite of how transportation dollars are distributed today.
So this week, the Tabernacle became a place where people gathered and prayed for a different kind of city — a city built for people rather than cars.