Atlanta mayoral candidates deal with issues of race at bicycling forum


An Atlanta mayoral forum this week about the city’s bicycling infrastructure turned into a discussion on race and the lack of transit options and economic development in underserved parts of Georgia’s capital.

The candidates, speaking at the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition meeting, unanimously praised the benefits of bicycling as a transportation alternative — especially on the city’s traffic-clogged streets. But several cautioned enthusiasts not to think that the subject has universal appeal, especially in poorer communities, such as some parts of southwest Atlanta, which is largely African-American.

“In the most challenged communities, if you don’t have grocery stores, if you don’t have basic amenities, when you start talking about bike lanes, it’s almost an insult and a slap in the face,” said Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall. “We got to be honest about that.”

Said candidate Laban King, “To the black community, a bike lane is a symbol of gentrification that’s about to come.” he said.

Atlanta mayor’s race: A wide-open contest that will shape the region

The conversation comes as the city grapples with balancing the needs of growing numbers of well-to-do newcomers — attracted to economically rebounding neighborhoods in Midtown and Old Fourth Ward — with poorer residents in West End or southwest Atlanta where many have yet to experience the nation’s financial resurgence.

Atlanta City Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms said complicating the issue is the idea that everyone has access to a bike. For many in poor communities, owning a bicycle is a luxury.

“While I agree in concept with the expansion of bike lanes, there are so many layers before we can even get to that in many of our communities,” she said.

State Sen. Vincent Fort and Michael Sterling, former director of the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency, said part of the issue is lack of communication. Too often residents are told by City Hall what is in their best interest, instead of being asked what they think.

Atlanta mayor's race: Sen. Bernie Sanders to stump for Fort in Atlanta election
Atlanta mayor's race: Keisha Lance Bottoms ad takes on Mary Norwood "racial profiling" reply

That happened recently when the predominately black community along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive rejected a plan to build bike lanes near the intersection with Northside Drive, Ford said. In areas where the street has four lanes, the plan was to narrow them to two lanes with a bike lane on either side.

“You have to engage the public,” he said. “When you have a plan and you want the community to adopt it, you can’t just drop it off, you have to engage them.”

The panel of 12 contenders found other areas of agreement.

Former Atlanta City Council President Cathy Woolard and Atlanta City Councilwoman Mary Norwood said not to forget the role that MARTA could play. Both said the city needs more buses and an expansion of the frequency in which they run, especially in underserved communities.

MORE: Norwood, Mitchell pick up endorsements from Atlanta firefighter groups

MORE Shirley Franklin backs APS’ Courtney English in Atlanta council race

Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell, former city of Atlanta COO Peter Aman and former Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves talked of creating a willingness in Atlanta to experiment with different ways of making cycling work in the city. Cities such as Chicago and Berlin, which have successfully integrated bike lanes because of infrastructure investment, could serve as a blueprint for what could be done here.

“I want Atlanta to be the beta-test city,” Aman said. “I want Atlanta to try things that other cities frankly have not tried.”

MYAJC.COM: REAL JOURNALISM. REAL LOCAL IMPACT.

The AJC's Leon Stafford keeps you updated on the latest in the Atlanta mayoral race and everything else going on at City Hall. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:

Never miss a minute of what's happening in Atlanta politics. Subscribe to myAJC.com



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Wangari Maathai: Africa’s first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize
Wangari Maathai: Africa’s first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize

Born in Nyeri, Kenya in 1940, Wangari Maathai — born Wangari Muta — loved playing by the stream near her home, where she would go daily to fetch water. The sight of frog eggs floating in the stream captured her imagination, with her young mind believing she could grab the “beads” and make a beautiful necklace. Years later, the...
Fulton police seek help identifying homicide suspect
Fulton police seek help identifying homicide suspect

Fulton County Police are currently investigating a homicide committed Tuesday afternoon. A man was killed about 4:18 p.m. at the Country Squire apartments, police spokesman Patrena Smith said. “The suspect in this case was seen running from the scene He is described as about 6-foot-1 to 2 and between 170 and 180 pounds.  “He is considered...
‘Super-potent’ hash, marijuana seized in North Georgia bust
‘Super-potent’ hash, marijuana seized in North Georgia bust

A 35-year-old Jackson County man was arrested after authorities discovered a cache of drugs Monday. Nikki Nelson Allen of Commerce faces drug distribution charges in connection with about 5.5 pounds of marijuana, a large quantity of butane honey oil and $7,462 in cash, Appalachian Regional Drug Enforcement Office spokesman Mitchell Posey...
3 arrested after children found with flea bites in Clayton County home
3 arrested after children found with flea bites in Clayton County home

Three people, who were initially wanted on outstanding warrants, were arrested on child cruelty charges after four children were found with flea bites, Clayton County authorities said.  Nicole Tarney Hunter, 26, Chantrell Marlon Mitchell, 33, and Michael Gamal Mitchell, 58, remained in the Clayton County jail Tuesday night, according to records...
Cops: Man threatened to kill woman who accused him of touching her son
Cops: Man threatened to kill woman who accused him of touching her son

A Roswell man remains in the Fulton County jail weeks after police say he threatened a woman with her son at a gas station.  Allen Drew Robinson, 28, faces a misdemeanor terroristic threat charge after allegedly threatening to kill the woman, who accused him of touching her child, according to a Roswell police report.  The 7-year-old boy...
More Stories