Sharing. We are supposed to learn it by kindergarten. But sharing is not just an interpersonal skill. It is a social skill, the foundation of civic life. We agree to create communities to provide goods and services that individuals cannot generate alone. We decide to share civic resources for the betterment of all.
On Sunday afternoon, May 19, Atlantans filled Peachtree Street from Five Points to the Woodruff Arts Center to “share the road.” We “took back the street” from gasoline-powered vehicles for four hours of dancing, bicycling, skating and just plain strolling. We reveled in Atlanta’s signature street and its amenities, including its businesses.
But how do we share our streets on a regular basis? Too often, these arteries are designed for and used primarily by motor vehicles, to the exclusion of safe options for alternative modes of transportation.
A few startling new statistics add to a changing picture: The number of miles driven — both overall and per capita — began to drop after 2007, according to a new report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. The Transportation Research Institute at the University of Michigan found fewer young people are getting driver’s licenses than past generations. Baby boomers are retiring and driving less. Gasoline taxes are bringing in less revenue to finance transportation investment.
For many reasons, then, we need to develop a robust, visionary, comprehensive transportation plan that looks beyond the bicycle as the only alternative and combines investments in compact residential development, transit and walking. The attitude shift has begun in Atlanta, through the leadership of Mayor Kasim Reed and the City Council, who have embraced the cyclists. The goal is for Atlanta to become a top 10 cycling city by 2016.
The Atlanta Beltline, a shared resource for walkers, runners and cyclists of all kinds, epitomizes the new attitude. Eventually, its 33 miles will weave through over 45 neighborhoods. Mayor Reed has pledged a $2.5 million investment in biking infrastructure, allowing Atlanta to double its miles of bike lanes. The goal is for Atlanta to become a top 10 cycling city by 2016.
In addition, the city has invested in a new smart phone app that will log bicycling commutes, weekend rides and errands of all its users. The data will facilitate infrastructure maintenance and improvements to enhance safety.
Safety is our No. 1 measure of success, for pedestrians as well as cyclists. The city knows that at least one-fourth of its sidewalks needs to be repaired or replaced. The Sidewalk Task Force has received recommendations for key changes to reduce pedestrian injuries. The proposed 2014 budget may need a line item for sidewalk maintenance. Research shows that nearly half of the pedestrian accidents in the Atlanta region occur within 300 feet of transit stops. We must make the complete transit-based journey safer.
Short-term, small-scale and deliberate actions can lead to long-term, positive change for our city. We can come together to share our streets in a way that respects the ages and abilities of all, using whatever wheels or feet they have to get them from here to there and back again.
Aaron Watson is an at-large Atlanta city councilman.