ALTERNATIVE TRANSPORTATION: Freedom on two wheels
Energy boost: Bicyclists are doing their bit, so please share the road and keep everyone safe.
By Rebecca Serna
For the Journal-Constitution
Published on: 05/14/08
"Get on the sidewalk!"
On my daily commute, I am more likely to hear this, accompanied by a burst of honking, than anything else. That's because I commute to work on the clean, green and lean machine known as a bicycle. And during national Bike to Work Day on Friday, I'll be among thousands of Americans making the same choice for a happier, healthier, more vibrant society.
Since I ditched my car for a bike, I've lost 15 pounds, saved $8,500 over the course of a year (I gave up my car and now share one with my husband), felt my energy level rise immeasurably and gained something even more precious: my freedom.
I am now free of those 60 hours it is estimated that each Atlantan wastes in congestion beyond the "normal" commute every year.
My four-mile commute takes 20 minutes each way, but those 40 minutes of daily exercise mean I don't need a gym membership. But the thing that keeps me on the bike, day in and day out, is this —- it's fun. I look forward to my commute.
An AJC reader recently wrote, "Traffic is bad enough without people taking a recreational ride down a major road while productive members of society are trying to get to actual destinations."
Irate drivers aside (I would be irritable, too, if I had to drive to work in Atlanta traffic), when I arrive at work, I am refreshed and alert, ready to do a long day's work.
While it's alarming to have a 3-ton vehicle honk at me from behind or make a sudden turn just in front of me, causing me to slam on the brakes, the annoyances and risks are outweighed by the joy I feel arriving anywhere on a bicycle. And as I continue to bicycle, I don't have to worry as much about the risk of obesity-related diseases.
The benefits of cycling are well-known, but many people do not realize that it is both illegal in Georgia and, more importantly, unsafe for adults to bike on the sidewalk. Sidewalk-riding bicyclists are less visible from the street, making them more vulnerable to turning cars, and can endanger slower-moving pedestrians. It's called the sidewalk for a reason.
While we may intuitively fear what we cannot see —- cars approaching from behind —- cyclists are actually most at risk from cars turning suddenly in front of us. The bottom line is that —- in a prominent cycling activist's words —- bicycles are safest when they act like and are treated like any other vehicle.
At the same time, bicycle lanes can offer an added sense of security. Not surprisingly, places with more bike lanes have higher rates of cycling. Atlanta lags far behind cities like Charlotte, which plans to grow its current 50 miles of bike lanes to 182 by 2030.
We can help people figure out how to ride a bike in metro Atlanta, but drivers have an important role to play in making biking safer. By simply giving three feet of space when passing, exercising patience when passing and being always attentive, not to cellphones, but to the road and all its users, drivers can share the road safely with cyclists.
Cyclists must take responsibility for their own safety as well. Not only is running a red light likely to land you in a hospital bed or worse, it can endanger other, law-abiding cyclists. I believe bicyclists and motorists who place themselves above the law by running red lights harm the public trust. And if it irritates me as a fellow biker, how must those in cars feel when a bicycle whooshes past a line of stopped cars at a red light?
The good news is that bicyclists have the ability to make other cyclists safer by simply riding their bikes. It's common sense —- as drivers see more bicycles, it triggers a mental note to keep an eye out for cyclists.
But back to the letter writer's point. Studies have shown that drivers tend to feel roads are built for them, not bicyclists, and that us bikers are merely mooching. Investigating this claim, I came across an eye-opening study by Todd Littman, transportation researcher at the Victoria [British Columbia] Transport Policy Institute. Littman's research finds that cyclists actually pay more for local roads than drivers, compared with their use. This is because local roads, the roads that people can walk and bike on, are largely built and maintained by general taxes and property taxes.
In fact, bicycle commutes save the public 13 cents a mile in congestion and pollution costs over auto commutes, according to the National Cooperative Highway Research Program. With residents of the 13-county metro Atlanta driving 131.7 million miles a day, that's a lot of public dollars that could be spent shoring up our collapsing transportation infrastructure.
So please remember the next time you see a person pedaling a bicycle —- we're not clogging up traffic, we are traffic. And we're not only putting dollars back in our own pockets, but in yours as well.
> Rebecca Serna, executive director of the Atlanta Bicycle Campaign, ditched her car in favor of a bike for her commute.
JIM BORGMAN / Cincinnati Enquirer