If you’re an everyday errand-running bike rider like me, you don’t want to rely on the Luck of the Irish (on St. Patty’s Day or any day) to feel safe out there on the streets. In fact, concern about safety may be keeping you from riding your bike as often as you would like or going where you want to go on it.
I share your concerns, and I’m happy to report I’m blown away by all the places I can get safely in the City of Atlanta on the $79 bike I bought at Target 15 years ago. You may have seen me with my little blue bike bell and streamers (left over from Atlanta Streets Alive last fall). The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition has been kind enough to allow me to write a blog post here once a month to give voice to the choices I’ve found are successful in case other casual bike riders need some tips or encouragement to ride more.
In keeping with our St. Patty’s theme here, let’s talk green -- as in, green lanes and green bike boxes. There are a number of these in the City of Atlanta, and they are usually a pleasure to ride. In fact, adding green lanes and bike boxes to your current comfortable routes will most likely lead you to more of a third “green” -- the green that changes hands as bike riders shop locally more, and more often, than those who drive. In other words, running errands will get a wee (to channel my inner leprechaun) bit easier for you when you include some “green” on your trip. Let’s talk about each:
Green lanes: It’s pretty obvious that if you add bright green paint to a lane, it stands out more, making it more noticeable to drivers and therefore safer for bike riders. That’s number one. It also says to drivers a little louder that this is not a place for you, so no using the green lane as a turn lane. Some lanes are only green for a short portion. This usually designates a point where cars and bikes can clash (known in the official standards guide to such things as a “conflict point”) and provides a clear home for bikes. (By the way, this green lane thing is becoming the new standard, and there are now 270 protected green bike lanes in the USA. Atlanta has both protected and unprotected versions.)
Green bike boxes: These happy little spaces for bike riders occur at select traffic lights and give bike riders a space ahead of drivers so that when the light changes they can get a little bit of a head start and not get crushed in the craziness, especially if they are making a left. They also send a clear message that you are welcome here, and that’s a nice reminder to all about our shared public spaces called streets. That means you get to take a breath rather than worrying about taking your life in your hands.
Green for local businesses: Who would have thought that a can of green paint would not only make sense for people of all ages just trying to get around, but would also make dollars and cents for our beloved local businesses? It’s true. Studies show that bike riders shop locally more, and more often, than those who drive. My frequent stops for a bite to eat while out riding attest to this. (I’m looking at you, Sweet Auburn Bakery!) My most recent local business expenditure was at the Blinkie-Award-winner for Best Bike Shop in Atlanta -- Atlanta BeltLine Bicycle! Tim and Benjamin never laugh at me when I walk in there with my old, cheap bike -- and they never let me waste money, either. They just recently found a used wheel so I can keep that bike on the road for yet another day. What’s more, a couple of years ago they got another bike of mine back in shape after twenty years in the attic for less than I could have ever imagined. That not only keeps me circling Atlanta, but it keeps my money circulating in our local economy.
I’ll try to give you a detailed ride suggestion or two in each monthly blog post that is intended for those of us who call four-six miles on a bike a good workout. When you read my suggestions, please consider your unique circumstances and trust your gut as to what you deem to be safe or not. If you’re not comfortable riding in the streets at all for the short periods of time in the suggested routes (since completely safe networks simply don’t exist yet), you can walk your bike on the sidewalk. But you may, like me, be pleasantly surprised by how easy these routes are, so consider giving them a chance. Who knows? You may even find yourself inspired to get more involved with the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition to make our streets safer for all.
Eastside Trail extension #1: Beyond Monroe Drive
Take the Eastside trail to the Monroe Drive end, cross carefully, and take the cycle track up the hill. This is completely protected from vehicular traffic and feels extremely safe. At the top of the hill, you will see a green lane. From here, you can easily do a loop around the lake in Piedmont Park or continue up the cycle track to its end at Piedmont Road, and then turn around and come down the cycle track (pictured at the the top of this post) and cross back to the BeltLine.
Eastside Trail extension #2: Beyond Irwin Street (2 options)
Take the Beltline’s Eastside Trail to its current paved end at Irwin Street.
Make a right and take the lane in the street for a half block to the stop sign. Make a left onto Auburn. Ride your bike on the side of the street (it feels safe to me) up the hill on Auburn, cross Randolph and then ride pleasantly through the Old Fourth Ward on the side of the street past Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthplace.
Cross Boulevard at the light, pass the MLK Center for Nonviolent Social Change (if you’re lucky, the I Have a Dream speech will be blaring), and make a left at the light at Jackson (vehicular traffic is usually light so this isn’t that hard). You will then get access to a bike lane.
At the next corner, you have two options.
Option 1: Make a left on Edgewood and ride in the bike lane. At the next corner, you experience a lovely green lane and green bike box right outside the popular bar, Church.
Now, keep going until you cross a bridge over an unpaved part of the BeltLine. About three quarters of the way over, you’ll see an entrance on the right to a very cool ramp that is perfectly constructed (turns and all) for bike riders. This will take you down to the BeltLine, and as long as it’s not muddy out, you can have a nice little one-block ride back to Irwin Street.
Option 2: Back at the corner of Jackson and Edgewood, make a right instead of a left. Take the bike lane five minutes or so to downtown. You will experience a green lane section before going under the highway and a real beauty of a green lane/bike box combo in front of the Sweet Auburn Curb Market. (Note: the bike rack is on the other side of the building, if you want to stop here -- the bakery is right inside that door, and I recommend the chocolate chip cookies.)
To continue*, make a right on Bell Street and walk your bike one short block up to Auburn Avenue (as it’s one way in the opposite direction). Make a right and you will get a bike lane right away (albeit cobblestone, so keeps your hands firmly on your handlebars). You lose the lane for a block after going under the highway, but vehicular traffic is usually light so I feel safe taking the lane. The bike lane picks up again after Hilliard and it’s lovely.
Then, keep going straight past the MLK Center and birthplace again, come down the hill, and make the right onto Irwin. I usually have no problem taking the lane here as it’s just half a block back to the entrance to the BeltLine on the left, but if you are uncomfortable with that or if traffic is heavy, just walk on the sidewalk, which is its own pleasure as it gives you a chance to check out the excellent fish mural by Brandon Sadler.
I hope you explore the green scene on Atlanta’s streets not just on St. Patty’s Day but every day. To wrap up our St. Patty’s Day theme, let’s end with a line from the famous prayer known as An Irish Blessing that seems particularly appropriate for bike riders: may the wind be always at your back.
* Construction on new apartments on Edgewood just past the Sweet Auburn Curb Market is currently creating inaccessible conditions for both pedestrians and bike riders. Otherwise I would have suggested you visit the newest protected green lane a couple of blocks farther, on Peachtree Center Avenue. In lieu of that, here’s a one-minute video that shows what it’s like to ride in it.
Guest post by Pattie Baker: Pattie Baker harnesses the power of storytelling to change the world through fact, fiction, and photography. See her blog at pattiebaker.wordpress.com