Haegan Altizer says Atlanta can make more progress in its biking infrastructure

Bikers hopeful as two-wheeled trend picks up in Georgia

Haegan Altizer says Atlanta can make more progress in its biking infrastructure
Haegan Altizer (left) says Atlanta can make more progress in its biking infrastructure

Haegan Altizer is all about bicycling. He’s a state biking champion and works in sales at the Bicycle South store in Decatur.

Altizer, 17, sees good and bad in the bike-friendliness of metro Atlanta.

“Atlanta is not too bad, but it could be better for commuters,’’ Altizer tells GHN. “I’m from Decatur, and Decatur is good. There are a lot of bike lanes that have gotten built, but Atlanta’s progress does not even compare with Seattle or New York.”

Georgia bicycling enthusiasts generally see a mixed bag in terms of bike trails, infrastructure and safety measures, though many note improvements in several areas.

“The Atlanta biking population has exploded’’ in the past few years, says Rebecca Serna, executive director of the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition. Bicycle commuting to work has jumped by 400 percent in the area from 2000 to 2009, she says.

The League of American Bicyclists, a national cycling advocacy group, ranked Georgia 24th in the nation for bicycle friendliness in 2013. Georgia trailed two other Southeastern states, Virginia and Tennessee in the rankings.

The state, though, has four cities designated as bicycle-friendly: Decatur, Roswell, Athens and Tybee Island. Biking is increasing in Columbus and Augusta, Serna adds, though rural areas lag behind.

Bike trails are being built, expanded or green-lighted in the metro Atlanta counties of Cobb and Henry, as well as Carroll County and in Dalton in northwest Georgia, among other places.

Though some connections of bike paths are missing, metro Atlanta cyclists eventually will be able to ride traffic-free paths from downtown Atlanta to Woodstock, avoiding the area’s gridlocked roads, the AJC recently reported.

Bike sharing programs are being pushed in Atlanta and Decatur. They’re essentially self-service rental programs in which cities provide bikes for a fee. Atlanta’s program would start with 500 bikes at 50 stations. Bids are due this month, Maria Saporta recently reported.

Healthy, but also convenient

Nationwide, bicycling increased in the 1970s due to interruptions in foreign fuel supplies and the resulting rise in energy prices, but progress was stagnant during the 1980s and most of the 1990s, Serna says. Since then, “people started moving back into cities,’’ she says. Bicycling “is part of creating livable communities.’’

People start biking for many reasons, Serna says. She includes environmental concerns, convenience and saving money, as well as improving fitness. She also suggests those who are looking for hybrid bikes to buy here: https://www.aventon.com/collections/electric-hybrid-bikes-aventon

The impact on health can be substantial. A Yale University study, which appeared in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine in December, found that people who use active forms of transportation, such as bicycling or walking, tend to have a lower body mass index and better cardiovascular health than those who don’t.

State officials are increasingly acknowledging the accelerating trend toward active transportation.

In September, the Georgia Department of Transportation adopted the “Complete Streets’’ policy, ensuring that plans for nearly all state and federally funded transportation projects will include safe and convenient accommodations for biking and walking.

And Georgia Public Health officials point to the 2011 adoption of HB 101, a law that requires motorists to maintain a three-foot buffer when following or passing a person on a bicycle.

Still, safety is a big concern for would-be bikers. There were 18 deaths of bicyclists on Georgia roads in 2012 — including a 9-year-old and a 12-year-old. That’s up from 14 the year before. Highway safety officials and bicycle safety advocates attribute the increased fatalities to the growing number of cyclists on the road, not to a decline in safety.

In a 2011 survey, four out of five Georgians say they would bicycle more frequently if their community were more bike-friendly.

Atlanta’s Piedmont Park and the city of Decatur are good for bicyclists, but some parts of the Atlanta area are not. “Places like Clairmont Road are ruthless,’’ says Mary Gray, 21, a marketing intern at IBM. “I have a friend whose elbow was clipped by a car on Clifton {Road], and another friend who got hit on Clifton.” Both roads are in DeKalb County, where biking is popular but traffic congestion is a problem.

“Lighting in Atlanta is poor, making night biking dangerous,’’ Gray adds.

The city of Atlanta, meanwhile, has pledged to double its bike lanes by 2016, and is investing more than $2 million in biking infrastructure. WABE recently reported. This includes adding lanes that will connect the Atlanta University Center to downtown and connect the BeltLine with Centennial Olympic Park.

And the potholes and speeding drivers aren’t going to deter bicyclists from wheeling around town.

Matt Dry, 20, an Emory University student, notes that biking “is cheap, and I don’t have to pay gas expenses.’’

And Gray adds: “I bicycle mostly to save time when I go places, but I also enjoy it. It’s not really because I’m trying to be eco-friendly, but that’s definitely a plus.”

GHN intern Sofia Kouninis, an Emory University student, contributed to this article.