Opinion - Atlanta's cycling community needs some help

On the evening of June 25, Midtowners couldn't have missed more than 100 hipsters, graybeards and gearheads pedaling down Peachtree Street.

The monthly event — the leaderless, somewhat controversial Critical Mass that's become an urban staple around the world — offers a snapshot of how far Atlanta's cycling culture has come in a city defined by the automobile. In addition to Critical Mass, there are other signs that cycling in Atlanta is on the rise. Look around. A growing number of Atlantans now rely on bikes as their primary means of transportation.

The city's infrastructure, however, has a long way to go. And if Atlanta wants to nurture this community, which helps relieve pollution and congestion while improving the lives of those who participate, city officials need to make Atlanta more accommodating to cyclists.

In addition to no-brainers like filling potholes, sweeping debris from street shoulders, and getting rid of the clunky, slippery metal plates tossed over every road hazard, the city can step up its efforts by following other cities' leads.

Where do we start? Adopt a "complete streets" policy, as Decatur has done, and encourage the state to treat bike lanes and pedestrian-friendly streetscapes as a vital part of transportation projects. Take a cue from New York and convert automobile lanes on underperforming roads to bike lanes. Learn from Long Beach, Calif., and partner with public artists to install creative bike racks. Follow Nashville, Tenn.'s example and create a city cycling advisory committee that can suggest ways to make Atlanta's streets safer for two wheelers. Offer tax incentives to businesses that locate near bike lanes and employers who install showers for bike commuters in older buildings. And when revenues improve, consider hiring a cycling czar.

City officials should also ensure that police understand and adequately enforce cycling laws. (During the reporting of this week's cover story, one avid bike commuter recounted how a cop once told him the law required cyclists to wear a helmet and ride on the sidewalk — both of which are false.) Police should also aggressively ticket motorists who park in dedicated bike lanes. For cyclists, it's the equivalent of someone leaving his or her car in the middle of North Avenue.

One of the most important fixes, however, might be out of City Hall's hands. Motorists, some of whom drive as if the road is theirs alone, should exercise more patience. Courtesy and caution toward cyclists ultimately could help keep cars off the road and smog out of the air by encouraging more people to start pedaling.

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