Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Dan Moser's Florida Weekly Column: Atlanta provides example of what not to do

On a recent visit to Atlanta, whose metro-area population now comes in at almost 6 million, I was impressed with the number of runners and cyclists who brave the roads and sidewalks in what is clearly a car-centric environment. The hilly terrain and very busy, winding, narrow-lane roads that make up the majority of the city’s streets are other factors that make getting around by human power challenging.

One indication of just how hostile Atlanta’s roads are for cyclists was the prevalence of sidewalk riding I witnessed, a behavior very common in our area but generally not the case in large cities. While Southwest Florida has its share of sidewalk gaps and plenty of whole areas totally lacking any pedestrian accommodation, what I found in the high-income Buckhead section of Atlanta where I stayed was an area riddled with crumbling infrastructure and plenty of other problems for pedestrians. Those who cycle on these sub-standard sidepaths must find it even more difficult and dangerous than is the case in many other communities. Because there are many locations with high concentrations of pedestrians, due primarily to a popular transit system, as well as a large number of restaurants, offices and stores immediately adjacent to the sidewalk, pedestrians are put at risk by fast-moving, often inconsiderate, cyclists.

One bright spot I happened upon on more than one occasion is the trend of mixed-use projects popping up as inner city infill development. In those places there usually exists a complete street infrastructure that makes both cycling and walking a safe and pleasant experience. If this is the wave of the future, it bodes well for everyone who would like equitable transportation options in their city.

Perhaps because many of Atlanta’s cyclists feel like they’re second-class citizens and so must fend for themselves, I witnessed only a single example of one bike driver actually stopping and waiting for a traffic signal to change from red to green. I happened to be right next to him on the sidewalk at the intersection and was so impressed with his seemingly rare adherence to traffic law (and common sense) that I offered him words of encouragement and appreciation for doing so.

Let’s hope Southwest Florida doesn’t mature in the manner Atlanta did. We have lots in common in terms of sprawling development patterns with bedroom communities abounding. Work and shopping are very often separated from where we live by significant distances, thus making our cars the only real option for getting around. But if we implement many of the forward-thinking policies and plans that recently have been put in place by a number of our local governments, we should fare much better than Atlanta, and many other communities that continue to pay the price of choices made over the decades insofar as forgetting about everyone other than those of us traveling in our motor vehicles.

Advocacy update

Congratulations are in order for locally based traffic safety organization Stay Alive…Just Drive! for being recognized by the Lee County Board of County Commissioners for the work its doing throughout the country to reduce distracted driving and other dangerous driving behaviors. Additionally, SAJD will be awarded the first “Friend of Emergency Medical Services” by the state bureau of EMS, the organization that oversees all of the local EMS agencies, at its annual conference in Orlando next month. Cyclists and pedestrians, being the most vulnerable road users, benefit most from the efforts of this organization.

Finally, a follow-up to my last column that detailed the “F” Florida received on the Bike Friendly State report card for our law enforcement element. A version of CyclingSavvy is being developed that will be offered to law enforcement professionals at no cost. It’s one way to help them understand the many things cyclists must deal with on a regular basis. The course will show how CyclingSavvy teaches us to “drive” our bikes and mix with traffic as the best way to stay safe and confident. I’m hoping there will be interest among the law enforcement community.

Until next time, I’ll look for you on the roads and trails.

— Dan Moser is a league cycling and CyclingSavvy instructor and programs director for the Florida Bicycle Association who cycles, runs and walks regularly for transportation, recreation and fitness. He can be contacted at or 334-6417.

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