Cailin Pitt: Build More Bike Infrastructure

I’m gonna let you in on a secret: Atlanta is a bicycling city. 

Maybe this strikes you as a little unbelievable, but hear me out. People have always biked here, but the number of cyclists has exploded in recent years. It’s the quality and amount of bike infrastructure we have that makes it seem like no one here bikes at all.

One example: we have a bike lane on 10th Street constantly missing flexposts—the dividers that protect cyclists from traffic. Another example: we have bike lanes on Spring Street and Peachtree Center Avenue constantly full of parked cars. Don’t even get me started on the paint-only bike lanes found on streets like West Peachtree and Ralph David Abernathy, lines which do little to protect bicyclists from drivers whizzing by at 40+ miles per hour.

Sure, we have some places dedicated to pedestrians and cyclists such as the BeltLine and the Freedom Parkway trail, which are phenomenal. But they’re too few and far between in the grand scheme of things.

These scattered efforts are a start. Busted though many of them are, they’re a step in the right direction. And that right direction is this: Atlanta should build more quality bike infrastructure.

ATL should do this because 1) residents want it, and 2) building it will encourage even more people to bike. Have you ever been out on a Monday evening and encountered hundreds of people biking together? That was M+M, a group bike ride that exploded in 2021. If you’ve ever enjoyed a drink at 97 Estoria on a Wednesday night, you’ve probably seen Midweek Roll. Woodruff Park on the last Friday evening of every month? That’s where Critical Mass meets. On any given day in Atlanta, there are tons of people biking for exercise, for fun, to get to work, and to run errands.

Some more questions, then: have you used the BeltLine on the weekend? It’s packed with more Southerners than a Drive-By Truckers show. Do you remember Atlanta Streets Alive? Bicyclists loved it because it offered people a rare opportunity to safely cycle on major roads lacking bike infrastructure. (Looking in your direction, DeKalb Avenue.) Streets Alive hasn’t happened in a few years and is sorely missed, but it’s coming back. The way people love the BeltLine and join these group rides and events by the thousands shows the desire for bike infrastructure. So, why isn’t it being built?

Here’s a not-so-fun fact: bike infrastructure is literally a matter of life and death. In 2021 alone, the Georgia Department of Transportation reported there were 543 car crashes in Atlanta involving pedestrians and bicyclists. Unfortunately this number is likely a bit lower than the actual number of crashes that occurred, because many aren’t reported. Lack of bike infrastructure leads to people getting hurt.

I know about unreported crashes from personal experience, as I was hit by a driver while biking on Edgewood Avenue in 2021. Tons of bicyclists use this essential artery because it connects downtown ATL to the BeltLine, but it’s dangerous to bike on because cars are always parked in the bike lanes. I didn’t bother reporting the crash because the driver was aggressive and didn’t even get out of their car to check on me. For my own safety, I wanted to get away as fast as possible.

This moment radicalized me. I was getting increasingly frustrated by our lack of safe bike infrastructure. I started reaching out to the Atlanta Department of Transportation and members of city council whenever I saw drivers parked in bike lanes or bike lanes missing flexposts. Most of these people would never respond to me, and those who did were noncommittal—it was clear bike infrastructure was not a priority to them. 

So one day in late 2022, I’d had enough. I knew I wasn’t the only person in Atlanta who was frustrated about this stuff, but I figured a lot of folks didn’t know where to direct their frustration. I designed a friendly flier pointing out that Atlanta deserves better bike and pedestrian infrastructure, put the faces and email addresses of Mayor Dickens and District 2 Council Member Amir Farokhi on it, and hung 200 of them around District 2. I did this specifically in District 2 because it has a ton of bicyclists and pedestrians, but the lack of infrastructure makes it seem like they don’t exist. Also, I live in this district.

Ultimately, the fliers were a hit. I tweeted a picture of them and received a ton of messages from people thanking me for putting them up. In fact, there was only one person in particular who wasn’t happy about them, and that was Farohki himself. He tweeted that the fliers were misleading and it wasn’t fair to say political leaders like himself weren’t prioritizing pedestrian and bike infrastructure. That tweet led to a ton of people telling him that he was wrong and calling him a baby. While insulting a politician’s lack of action doesn’t always lead to results, it does feel pretty great. At the very least, it will hopefully let Farohki know that people care about this stuff.

Building bike infrastructure also helps keep drivers and other non-bicyclists safe, too. In fact, studies have found that building it creates environments on streets which lead to people speeding less and behaving better. We all know how insane Atlanta’s streets are: this city turns into a damn F1 race after 9pm. Atlanta’s streets should be safe for everyone. Bike infrastructure can help.

Moreover, we need to prioritize additional transportation options. The Atlanta metro has some of the worst congestion in America. One of the root causes is that we force a lot of people to drive due to lack of bike infrastructure, sidewalks, and public transportation access.

Not only does building more bike infrastructure give us freedom, it also better positions us for the future. Atlanta is a great city, and more people will continue to move here. You think traffic is bad now? Just wait until 2050 when we’ve added 3 million new residents to the metro area. Redesigning streets and building bike infrastructure is proven to reduce congestion and travel times. Climate change is also a huge issue. It’s imperative that we put in the work now to make Atlanta’s future brighter.

I love secrets, so I’ll share another: building bike infrastructure is incredibly easy. It only requires paint and dividers. It’s not rocket science. A toddler could do it. I’m not the first person to propose Atlanta should build more of it, either. There are tons of unrealized plans promised over the years: Cycle Atlanta 1.0, Cycle Atlanta 2.0, the Action Plan for Safer Streets, the list goes on. 

We’ve heard every excuse imaginable for why these easy, commonsense plans never come to pass. The city has other priorities. There isn’t money to build it. A minority of people may get mad over losing street parking. A dog ate the mayor’s homework. A cowardly council member tweeted a bike selfie and that should be enough.

Please. Make no mistake. Every one of these excuses is lazy, false garbage.

Atlanta can start building bike infrastructure today. We have a plethora of wide streets like Piedmont and Juniper running through our city—we can take a lane from each and convert them into bike lanes. We have a Pothole Posse repairing—or at least identifying?—potholes. Why not a Bike Lane Brigade building cycling infrastructure? Atlanta’s department of transportation has a ton of plastic barriers that are typically used to block off streets but are currently sitting around collecting dust—let’s use them as bike lane dividers.

The only reason we don’t have better bike infrastructure in this town is because of intentional decisions being made by our political leaders. Bicyclists and pedestrians being injured? Peachtree Street turning into a parking lot every day during rush hour? Forcing our bike-friendly neighbors to drive because of lack of infrastructure? These are the daily nightmares we’ve normalized because we refuse to use some paint and barriers. It’s time to wake up and build our dream city. One that prioritizes the safety and happiness of human beings.

Cailin Pitt is an artist, software developer, and bubble tea addict in Atlanta, Georgia. He uses bicycling as his primary mode of transportation in Atlanta, spends way too much time on Twitter, and dislikes politicians who don’t build bike infrastructure.