As cranes lift bridges into place along the Noonday Creek Trail between Cobb Parkway and Bells Ferry Road, a muscle-powered future for Cobb County is pedaling closer.
“There are fantastic plans for Cobb,” said Dan Thornton, owner of Free-Flite Bicycles and a member of Bike Cobb.
Though critical connections in a regional system of bike paths are missing - including parts of the Beltline and a three-mile break in the Silver Comet Trail - metro Atlanta cyclists eventually will be able to ride traffic-free paths from downtown Atlanta to Woodstock, he said.
One of the newest links in that chain is the Noonday Creek section, paid for by a collection of public and private sources, including the Atlanta Regional Commission, the National Park Service and the Town Center Community Improvement District.
The 7-mile stretch of paved trail offers cyclists and pedestrians a protected corridor secluded from traffic. When it’s completed next year, they will be able to go from from the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park to the Town Center shopping area.
Cobb now has 48 miles of multi-use trails and 25 miles of dedicated bike lanes. They are part of a comprehensive plan to provide alternative routes in a car-dependent area. Like the Floyd Road Trail and the partially constructed Dallas Highway trail between Marietta and The Avenues at West Cobb, the Noonday Creek Trail is aimed first at recreational cyclists, but will also provide a channel for shoppers and commuters.
It will also boost cycling in an area that has lagged behind other parts of the metro area.
Intown neighborhoods have the heaviest bike traffic, with pockets of activity in such areas as Alpharetta, Roswell, Vinings and Peachtree City, according to data collected by an ingenious smart phone application created by a pair of Georgia Tech professors.
Some 799 cyclists have downloaded the Cycle Atlanta application (available free at cycleatlanta.org/) which allows the GPS capability of their phones to register their bike trips on a central server.
City and regional planners want to know where Atlantans ride their bicycles, so they know where to put bike lanes, traffic calmers, wide shoulders and separated trails. But they also want to know what streets the cyclists are avoiding, yet should be using, in order to make those streets more bike friendly.
So far about 8,000 trips have been recorded. One surprise from the early data was how often cyclists are using Peachtree Street, according to Tech’s Kari Edison Watkins.
But Ed McBrayer, executive director of the PATH Foundation, which has built 180 miles of pedestrian and bicycle paths in the metro area, said the convergence of cyclists on Peachtree makes sense.
“It’s one of the few ways to get across I-85,” he said. “If you want to go into Buckhead on a bike, you are going to go across the Peachtree Street bridge.”
The “Complete Streets” policy adopted last year by the Georgia Department of Transportation makes an official commitment to considering use by pedestrians and cyclists in new construction. Cobb’s transportation department adopted the same policy three years earlier.
The city of Atlanta has pledged to double its bike lanes by 2016, and though the infrastructure metro-wide is being added at a deliberate pace, the plans on the books should transform the area, say bike advocates.
“It will take a while to create things that people can see,” said Brent Buice, executive director of Georgia Bikes. “It’s a slow-moving behemoth.”
For Cobb, completion of the Noonday Creek Trail is a year away. For the metro area as a whole, a little longer. Said McBrayer, “in the next 10 years Atlanta will be a premier city for cycling.”
An app for that
In the past planners relied on surveys to measure bicycle traffic. A smart phone application being used by two Georgia Tech professors lets the bikes do the talking.
Modified from a similar app used in a San Francisco study, Cycle Atlanta has gathered 11 million information points to help planners determine where cyclists are riding.
Kari Edison Watkins, assistant professor in civil and environmental engineering at Tech, and Christopher Le Dantec, assistant professor of digital media, deployed the app last October, and have updated it several times, to allow riders to record features of their trips both dangerous and useful, such as potholes and bike racks.
They also asked users to classify themselves according to their biking skills — from “strong and fearless” to “interested but concerned,” to help identify routes that would appeal to the casual as well as the dedicated rider.
An interactive map with red lines indicating the 8,000 trips logged thus far can be viewed at cycleatlanta.org/rides/.