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Dialogue with Jim Thompson Part I

Over the past few months, Athens-Banner Editorial Editor (and dedicated bike commuter) Jim Thompson has written frequently about alternative transportation.  Always eager to talk about transportation choices, we joined the debate in print and in our newsletter. We’ll collect and re-print our responses here.  Jim’s original articles, of course, can be found here.

Note: a version of this article first appeared in our 8/6/2014 Newsletter

Before we begin, thanks again to Jim Thompson of the Athens Banner Herald for continuing the conversation about transportation infrastructure in Athens.  Mobility and transportation choices are major issues that deserve vigorous public debate.   Recently, Jim asked if there are enough bike commuters in town to convince the Mayor and Commission to prioritize connectivity of the current bike network.   When examined closely, we can separate Jim’s question into two parts: 1) does Athens have the demand to support more bike lanes and 2) regardless of demand, should the Mayor and Commission place a greater emphasis on improving and expanding local bike infrastructure?  BikeAthens does not often address these questions because in our work as advocates we take the answers as given (emphatically yes to both).  However, many people probably share Jim’s concerns, so it is important to respond to his call to action. Due to the length of our response, we’ll publish our answer to Question 1 this week and Question 2 next week.

1) Integrating bike infrastructure into the transportation network already is Athens Clarke-County policy and a planning / engineering best-practice. Additionally, Athens has more than enough demand to support a connected bike network.

In his Monday editorial (8/4/14), Jim Thompson wondered if there are enough bike commuters in Athens to support more bike infrastructure.  In some ways, the question is moot.  Way back in 2001, the Athens-Clarke County Bike Master Plan acknowledged the community’s desire for a network of identified bike routes and began to schedule infrastructure improvements.  We see the fruits of this plan in the soon-to-be completed College Station bike lanes that will extend across the river.  In 2012, the ACC Complete Streets Policy, while far from perfect, also reaffirmed the County’s commitment to transportation choices (see the planned addition of 5 foot shoulders as part of the Whitehall Rd Hill reduction project).  Through these documents, the Mayor and Commission have long indicated that they recognize the need for more transportation choices, and these polices codify ACC’s support for a connected network of bike lanes.

Furthermore, current planning / engineering guidelines establish bike lanes as an integral part of a complete transportation network.  The 2012 update of the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials design guides—used as a primary resource in Clarke County—designate bike lanes as the backbone of a bike network.  In this way, both ACC policy and current design guides already support, in Jim’s words, a “serious effort at installing or improving a range of transportation infrastructure.”  Enhanced bike infrastructure is thoroughly melded with ACC goals and objectives, and bike plans and designs have become standards in ACC engineering guidelines.  Still, the demand exists to encourage the Mayor and Commission to speed up the implementation of the Bike Master Plan and connect the existing bike lanes.

First a quick note: the county does not count bikes during its regular traffic counts.  In recent years, new technologies have enabled cities to precisely (and cheaply) count the number of people riding on the roads, but Athens has not yet adopted these methods.  As a result, unfortunately, Athens-Clarke County cannot accurately track the growth of bike commuting.  Nonetheless, there are telling clues that indicate that current ridership levels more than justify increased bike infrastructure.  Collected survey data indicates Athens has more bike commuters than almost every similarly sized city in the Southeast.   According to the 2014 American Community Survey Report, of medium sized cities Athens has the 15th highest rate of bike commuting in the country.  More locally, ACC’s Prince Avenue Corridor Report noted tracts surrounding Prince Avenue bike to work at rates above those found in Minneapolis, one of the most bike friendly cities in America.  These rates are well above the national average. They are higher than cities that are renowned for their integrated bike infrastructure.

While the current numbers of bike commuters justifies more bike connectivity projects, the more important number is what we call the latent demand.  In other words, how many people would like to ride more often but think the current infrastructure does not make cycling an easy and convenient choice?  Fortunately, we can measure latent demand.  Speaking very generally, we can divide bike commuters into 4 groups: Fearless (will ride on any road), Confident and Enthused (will ride most roads, but may avoid the busiest unless forced), Interested but Concerned (will ride but only in bike lanes, preferably those with a buffer), and “No Way, No How” (will most likely never commute by bike).  In multiple surveys, repeated all over the country—including Georgia—60% of people fall within in the Interested but Concerned group!  BikeAthens outreach at Farmer’s Markets and other public events tells us this is true in Athens. So many people want to ride but do not feel comfortable riding on Milledge, Prince, or North Ave.  Indeed, look at the following map.  It is based on BikeAthens map of the county, but highlights only the existing bike lanes and multi-use paths:

Map of ACC bike infrastructure

Our bike map, modified to show only bike infrastructure

If you are concerned about riding outside of a bike lane, it becomes difficult to plan a route across Athens. Only 3 short sections of bike lane reach downtown (which is full of hazardous diagonal parking); only Dudley Park is accessible by a multi-use path and the Greenway is only connected to other bike infrastructure at the intersection of Williams / Oconee (and it’s only easily accessible in one direction). None of Athens wonderful restaurants along Prince Ave, Milledge, or in Five-Points are served by bike lanes, and none of the stores on Broad or Atlanta Highway are accessible by bike lane or multi-use path.  Despite the lack of connectivity, bicycle culture and bicycle commuting is thriving in Athens.  Athens-Clarke County policy has recognized and embraced increased bicycle infrastructure. Engineering guidelines call for a network of bike lanes.  Athenians ride more than just about and city in the Southeast. The need is there. The demand is there.  It is time to put bike lanes there (and there and there).

If 60%–or even 50% or 40%–of people are Interested and Concerned about commuting, expanding the reach of bike lanes will result in an immediate increase in biking.  The more destinations easily and conveniently connected to bike infrastructure gives people the choice of how to navigate Athens.  Next week, in Part 2, we will discuss the numerous and sizeable economic and health benefits of increased cycling, and how increased transportation choices will help Athens-Clarke County meet its budgetary Goals and Objectives.

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Dialogue with Jim Thompson–ABH Editorial

Over the past few months, Athens-Banner Editorial Editor (and dedicated bike commuter) Jim Thompson has written frequently about alternative transportation.  Always eager to talk about transportation choices, we joined the debate in print and in our newsletter. We’ll collect and re-print our responses here.  Jim’s original articles, of course, can be found here.

Note: A version of this article first appeared in the Athens-Banner Herald on 7/10/2014

First, thanks to Jim Thompson for handing us his megaphone for the day.  We appreciate the opportunity to further the important conversation about road safety.  In his recent editorials on sharing the road, Jim asked why transportation advocates—BikeAthens is Athens only transportation advocacy non-profit—were not speaking out about cyclist traffic infractions. So why the silence? Does BikeAthens tacitly support reckless riding and “scofflaw” cycling? No, of course not. In fact, since BikeAthens founding 20 years ago, we have made education a pillar of our mission to make walking, cycling, and public transit an everyday solution to transportation needs in Athens.  After receiving a grant from the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, we have expanded our educational programs to teach more people how to safely, confidently, and responsibly ride on Athens wonderful streets.  BikeAthens does not usually talk about “scofflaws” because we are busy directly engaging the public through classes, rides, and other outreach events. Our proactive education programs are more effective at changing rider behavior, promoting our mission, and improving safety for people on bikes.

The core of our educational message comes right from Georgia’s statutes: bikes are vehicles and all vehicles must obey all applicable traffic laws. It is not only the law; it is also common sense. Anyone operating a vehicle, be it a bike, a truck, a scooter, or sports car must follow the law. As our colleagues at Georgia Bikes say: “Same roads. Same rights. Same rules.”

It should go without saying: BikeAthens is dismayed when we hear of a cyclist riding irresponsibly.  The actions of a foolish rider can tarnish all cyclists’ reputations and hinder BikeAthens mission.  Fortunately, these incidents are rare—indeed they are memorable for their rarity.  And certainly “scofflaw” behavior is not confined to those on two wheels. By contrary example, how long would the list run if we noted every texting driver, every person who exceeds the speed limit, every truck that fails to give three feet when passing, every SUV that runs a stop sign, or every car that hits and kills a cyclist or pedestrian.  In our experience, putting a spotlight on outlier behavior does not create an atmosphere conducive to thoughtful dialogue; nor does it change behaviors.  It only creates a divisive, false dichotomy between cyclist and motorist by casting aspersions on all riders.

Scofflaw incidents involving any vehicle are frustrating for driver, pedestrian, and cyclist alike.  But rather than reacting piece meal to anecdotal reports, BikeAthens looks at the bigger picture.  In developing the curriculum for our cycling programs, we combed through crash data analysis provided by the UGA Traffic Safety Research and Evaluation Group (TSREG) for both Georgia and Athens.  Patterns emerged at the state level.  The data tells us that for improving cyclist safety conspicuity is the key.   As a result, we teach both kids and adults to Ride Right, Ride Bright!  We distribute and install free bike lights at public events. Our t-shirts feature a rider with lights and a reminder to flow with traffic lights. We hope our efforts to help cyclists Get Noticed will reduce crashes.  This is concrete, data-driven advice that we share on a daily basis.

When TSREG examined the data for Athens, one intersection, Lumpkin and the Tate Center, had more crashes than any other in the state. In the last five years, all but one crash at that location was caused by a motorist suddenly turning right or left in front of a bike.  The other was caused by a motorist opening his door into a bike commuter. As a result, we have tailored our on-campus messaging to call attention to proper lane positioning—ride toward the center of the lane to keep commuters in view of often inattentive drivers.  By focusing our programs to the factors that most frequently cause crashes, rather than holding up examples of what not to do, we more effectively promote safer roads

As I mentioned earlier, we do not read the police blotter and comment on rider behavior because we already spend a majority of our time teaching responsible road use.  Through our Municipal Court Ticket Diversion program we reach 30-50 people a month.  Even better, the class is targeted at folks who have committed on-bike traffic infractions. We aim to eliminate repeat citations.  At our monthly group rides, the first Friday of every month, we model proper riding behavior.  We lead Safe Route to School rides and work with kids to instill good riding habits at a young age.  We have frequent commuter assistance days at the Athens Farmer’s Market to talk to both cyclists and non-cyclists about the best methods for navigating the Classic City.  Even our “Get Noticed” t-shirts encourage riding with traffic and using lights to stay visible.  Indeed, we emphasize safe riding at all times. Rather than calling attention to the infrequent case of motorists or cyclist scofflaw behavior, BikeAthens will continue working in the community, to provide in-depth, constructive, and effective cycling education to as many people as possible.

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Athens Newest Bike Lane: Thinking Inside the Box

Athens First Green Lane / Bike Box

The bike box allows cyclists to wait in a more visible position–in front of the bus!

UGA just installed some cool new bike infrastructure on campus!  As Sanford Drive approaches the Baldwin St, it narrows to become a bus-only one-way street.  In 2011-2012, BikeAthens worked with community partners and UGA Police to install a counter-flow bike lane on the downhill section (more info here).  This summer, UGA upgraded Sanford again!  The uphill section now features Athens first green lane and bike box! The downhill section includes Athens first buffered bike lane and protected lane.  It may be only a block, but you have start somewhere!

Here is what the green lane and bike box look like for cyclists:

Sanford Green Lane

The Green lane makes the bike lane very visible to motorists

Sanford Bike Box

The bike box allows cyclists to wait at the light, in front of the bus

Here is the cycle track (note: as you can see it is still under construction):

Sanford cycle track

The flexposts provide physical separation between bikes and on-coming buses

The green lane and bike box combine to make cyclists more visible at intersections.   The Buses must stop before the bike box; cyclists can wait inside the green painted area.  Since bikes can accelerate through an intersection more quickly than a bus, the bikes wait in front of the bus (rather than lining up in the buses blind sport further down the hill).  The bikes visibly and easily clear the intersection before the bus.

Down the hill, we see the “mixing-zone.”  Here the green “skip lines” clearly highlight the bike lane, but the line indicate—to both driver and cyclists—that cars may cross the bike lane to enter and exit parking.

Skip lines indicate where cars may cross the bike lane

These “skip lines” keep the bike lane visible, while signaling to both drivers and cyclists that cars may cross the bike lane

On the downhill section, the contra-flow bike lane begins with a buffered lane, and then it transitions to a fully protected lane:

Sanford Cycle Track

The painted buffer transitions to a physical buffer as the bus lane narrows.

Due to the high pedestrian activity in the area, there is a bike only stop sign at the end of the protected section of Sanford.  Keep alert to pedestrians! And at least this is on a downhill so starting up won’t be too difficult.  Also note the median island to provide a solid buffer between bus and bike:

Cycle Track Median

At the intersection there is a bike-only stop sign and median to seperate bikes from the buses

We are so excited to see this type of infrastructure in Athens!  We can’t wait to see where green-lanes, bike boxes, and physical buffers are installed next!

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July 29: Bike Tourism BBQ at Sandy Creek Nature Center

Bikeabout BBQ informational poster

Bikeabout BBQ July 29th at Sandy Creek Nature Center

BIKABOUT, a new bike tourism company, is starting their American launch-tour here in Athens.  Tomorrow, July 29, they are hosting a BBQ at the Sandy Creek Nature Center to discuss bike tourism (in specific) and bikes (in general).  The BBQ starts at 5:30PM, but a group will ride from Heirloom at 5:00. The BBQ is free, with a $5 suggested donation to us, BikeAthens (thanks, bikabout!).  What a cool, fun way to socialize with other cyclists and talk about the economic impact of bikes!

More information here:


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The Boulevard Neighborhood Association, Historic Cobbham Foundation, the Pulaski Heights Neighborhood, Parkside Partners and the locally owned businesses on Prince Avenue, invite you to

See and Be Seen

on Prince Avenue

Saturday, May 17  10:30am – 1:30pm


Neighbors and businesses have joined together to create a special day in celebration of living and working on or near the in-town section of Prince Avenue (Pulaski to Milledge #GoTown). This informal event will include a variety of activities intended to encourage pedestrian and bicycle traffic to highlight how Prince Avenue affects our lives on a daily basis. See and Be Seen will culminate with a walking school bus from Hendershots to Ciné for a matinee screening of The Lego Movie.


Activities include:

• Family Cycling / Riding with bags meet and greet at 10:30 am (Emanuel Church, Pope St parking lot). We’ll be talking, sharing tips, asking and answering questions about riding with families and riding with bags.  Check out local XtraCycle cargo bikes! Free bike lights for the first 25 participants.

Provided by Bike Athens.


• Historical markers of existing and lost architecture of Prince Avenue.

Provided by the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation.


• Tours of the T.R.R. Cobb House with readings in the gardens provided by Avid Bookshop staff. Half hour tours beginning at 11:00 am, Noon and 1:00 pm.


• Photo booth at Boulevard Animal Hospital.


• Athens Academy SEEDS environmental club: Bottle Raft Performance art sculpture. To call attention and promote awareness of the extensive use of plastic bottles and bags used on this planet.

Piedmont College triangle at Prince/Cobb/Harris Street.


• Also in the Piedmont College triangle: Chess and Community will have chess boards, neighborhood families will provide other board games as well.


And of course, the businesses on Prince Avenue doing what they do every day:

Avid Bookshop             Boulevard Animal Hospital                         Daily Groceries Co-op Flagpole Magazine            The Grit             Model Citizen Salon                Taqueria del Sol

The businesses of the Bottleworks:

Cullen & Co.                        Express nails                         Hendershot’s                        Lululemon
Revival Yarns                        Seabear Oyster Bar             Siri Thai             Viva Argentina                        Tazikis

Please join us for a festive morning/afternoon. #GoTown



Group Ride May 2nd!

Friday! Friday! Friday!  Join us for the first group ride of National Bike Month!!! As usual, we’ll be leaving from City Hall at 6:00PM on a leisurely 6.6 mile tour of town. The route will takes us past campus and over some of our favorite neighborhood streets. It may get hot, so bring a water bottle. See ya there!!

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BRP Anniversary Slide Show

Last weekend, our Bike Recycling Program celebrated the 10th Anniversary of its first repair session (10 bikes repaired)!  To honor the occasion, we sifted through the archives to catalog BRP’s history.  While the slide show we created is not a comprehensive record of the past 10 years; it does wonderfully illustrate a decade of camaraderie and service!  Thanks to all the Board Members and volunteers who have worked to make BRP such a successful program–over 1,000 bikes distributed!  Here’s to 10 more years! Click here download the slide show: BRP 10 Years