Atlanta, the city too busy to brake

Recent deaths highlight dangers bikers face, but there's no easy fix

On Aug. 26, two cyclists, Anthony Serrano and Brian Mock, were riding north on Peachtree Industrial Boulevard. Around 5 a.m., they passed McGinnis Ferry Road, and biked another half-mile. As they steered into the turn lane to make a right on Eva Kennedy Road, a Honda Prelude driven by a 19-year-old man came up from behind and hit them both.

Mock landed on asphalt and was treated for minor injuries on the scene.

When Serrano, 35, was hit, he smashed into the Prelude's windshield and died from the collision. A husband and father of two daughters ages 3 and 1, Serrano was training for an Ironman triathlon in Madison, Wis.

Five days later, cyclist Mario Valle-Martinez was killed in Norcross while attempting to cross Indian Trail Road when he was struck by a Mitsubishi Eclipse.

Gwinnett police are investigating the Serrano accident; in the second accident, they've ruled Valle-Martinez was at fault.

The two fatalities prompted an outcry from bicycle enthusiasts, who've long claimed that Atlanta's roadways are dangerous because of their car-centric design and the "get the hell outta my way" mentality of Atlanta drivers.

"Although most drivers seem willing to acknowledge the bicycle's place on the road, we who bike daily on Atlanta area roads are constantly confronted with inconsiderate, speeding, and aggressive drivers," says Dennis Hoffarth, executive director of the Atlanta Bicycle Campaign, which organized a 100-mile Labor Day ride to raise awareness of biking safety.

Hoffarth has a reason to be mad. Last year, Bicycling magazine named Atlanta one of the three worst cities for cyclists, citing the lack of bicycle lanes and shortage of bike racks.

Much worse are the biking fatalities in the area. Twelve cyclists were killed, three under the age of 14, and 711 cyclists were injured in Georgia in 2002, the latest year for which such numbers are available.

As it turns out, Atlanta roads are dangerous for anyone on two wheels. James Quinones, general manager of Floataway Cafe, was killed Aug. 13 when the driver of a Dodge Avenger heading south on Lenox Road crossed the center line on a curve, colliding with Quinones, who was driving a Vespa scooter.

According to the Georgia Department of Motor Vehicle Safety, 85 people driving scooters or motorcycles were killed in 2002.

The driver of the Avenger was charged with vehicular homicide, hit and run, having no proof of insurance and reckless driving.

"The problem," says David Crites, director of Georgia Bikes, "is too many people competing for the same space, and too many more vehicle drivers are in a rush and distracted." (Crites' argument also explains why 166 pedestrians in Georgia were killed in 2002.)

Advocacy groups like Georgia Bikes and PEDS (Pedestrians Educating Drivers on Safety) try to pressure public safety officials and traffic planners to think about other modes of transportation besides the car, something they say is necessary to improve Atlanta's dismal air quality.

The Atlanta Bicycle Campaign says that it'll take 130 years to make metro Atlanta bike-friendly if the Atlanta Regional Commission doesn't modify its regional transportation plan. The group wants a better-connected network of bike lanes, trails and bike-friendly road shoulders.

Crites wants driver's license tests to include a section on bicycling laws, and he's now putting together a manual for police officers that dispels some of the common misperceptions about biking on public roads (for example, it is legal for two cyclists to ride abreast, and bikers do not have to stay as far right as possible on the road all the time).

The current situation "discourages cycling all around because people don't feel safe, which leads to a tendency for there to be fewer bicyclists," Crites says. "And if there are fewer bicyclists, then there's a tendency for drivers to not look out for them as much as they could."

For more info on the ARC's traffic plan for bicyclists, and to register for biking safety courses, go to www.atlantabike.org. To find out more about Georgia Bikes' law enforcement guide, click www.georgiabikes.org. And, for everything pedestrian, go to www.peds.org.