By Maria Saporta
The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition knows how to throw a party.
On Friday night, the bicycle advocacy group held its annual “Blinkie Awards” program at the Ponce City Market event space on North Avenue where it honored people, organizations and businesses from all over the community for being bicycle-friendly.
The highlight of the night came when Rebecca Serna, ABC’s executive director, gave the first award to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed for his efforts to improve cycling on Atlanta’s streets. Just a few days ago, the city approved $2.47 million for “high-quality Complete Streets-style bike projects” in 2013.
In accepting his award, Reed said that was just the beginning. He pledged that the city would be spending tens of millions of dollars in transportation improvements — largely for pedestrians and bicycles.
Then the mayor announced that before coming to the event, the decision had been made for the city to donate $30,000 to the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition’s annual Atlanta Streets Alive event — where streets are shut down to cars so that people can take over with their own human-powered feet or wheels.
But then Reed said that while he was on his way to the event, he decided to increase that contribution to $50,000.
The crowd of a couple of hundred bicycle enthusiasts cheered.
A dozen other awards were handed out, and the mayor stayed for the entire event.
Full disclosure, I was honored to receive the “Blinkie Award for Media Coverage” against some tough competition from journalist colleagues.
I did share a personal anecdote dating back to 1978 when I was the first bicycle planner for the City of Atlanta.
At the time, I was getting my Masters degree in urban studies at Georgia State University and had been assigned to be a graduate assistant in the city’s planning department.
In an attempt to bring back some ideas of what I had experienced while living in Boston and used bicycles and transit as my primary modes of transportation, I offered to prepare some bicycle plans for Atlanta.
You would have thought I was talking about making room for Martians on our streets. Our No. 1 challenge then was to just get the city to swap out sewer grates so they wouldn’t serve as death traps for cyclists. Despite much resistance from the Department from Public Works (saying I wanted to cause floods in the city), they agreed to swap out grates on streets that we had designated as bikeways.
Since MARTA was under construction, we developed bicycle feeder routes to each of the MARTA stations, giving us the ability to designate a number of streets as bikeways and getting the grates changed on those streets.
We also worked with MARTA to get bicycle parking at many of the stations because bikes weren’t allowed on the trains at the time.
Back in 1978, it was unusual to see a bicycle on the street — and cars had little to no respect for two-wheelers.
Cycling and bicycles have come a long way in the past 35 years. At the ABC event, there seemed to be at least 100 bicycles parked in front of Ponce City Market because so many people had ridden to the event. Having the PATH Foundation and the Atlanta BeltLine have only encouraged more people to discover the joys of riding on two wheels.
Today, bicycles are everywhere. People are using them for recreation and transportation.
They have found that riding bicycles is not only a wonderful way to stay healthy. It’s a wonderful way to help make our city healthy. What a sight to behold.