When October 1st rolls around, most people dust off their flannel shirts and flock to the nearest source of pumpkin spice coffee drinks. But to cyclists in Atlanta, October 1st marks the beginning of Biketober – a friendly (sometimes fierce) annual competition sponsored by Georgia Commute Options where coworkers and friends team up, track, and tally their bike rides for the entire month. This year Kronberg Wall decided to join the challenge, and after braving heat and hills, rain and wind, and one cold snap, I thought I’d share why we couldn’t be happier about leaving our cars behind.
Bike commuting is good for the environment.
No surprise here – bike commuting drastically reduces the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere compared to commuting by car. According to the Biketober stat calculator, we saved 455 pounds of CO2 over the course of the month. To put that into perspective, a mature tree can absorb 480 pounds of CO2 annually, or about 4 pounds each month – so we can proudly say we did the work of 114 trees by choosing two-wheels.
While we may be a small office of 9, the environmental benefit of switching to bikes adds up. In an article published by Curbed, it was noted that Atlantans racked up enough miles to circle the Perimeter 4,600 times and saved approximately 70,000 pounds of CO2 pollution – that is equivalent to 17,500 trees, for those keeping score. With only 2,807 participants in a region of 4,628,400 people, Atlanta has plenty of room to improve. A modest improvement from a 0.06% participation rate to a 1.0% participation rate would have a profound impact on improved air quality, water quality, and carbon reduction for our region.
Bike commuting is good for everyone’s pocketbook.
The average Atlanta household spends a whopping $13,076 annually on transportation, equivalent to 23% of their income. Add that to our current housing affordability crisis, lower-income residents in particular are spending large portions of their income to simply house their families and drive to daily destinations. By comparison, most estimates put the annual cost of bicycle commuting around $350. More bike infrastructure means more people can reasonably replace car trips with bike trips, which means more income freed up for housing, healthcare, food, and emergency savings.
Not only is bike commuting good for household budgets, it has also proven to benefit City coffers and business bank accounts. Studies cited in PeopleForBike’s “Protected Bike Lanes Mean Business” report found that the addition of protected bike infrastructure increased property value by 11% in neighborhoods adjacent to Indiana’s Monon Trail and boosted business sales for 66% of retailers on Valencia Street in San Francisco. The report also found that customers arriving by bike tend to spend 24% more per month at local businesses than those traveling by car. To top it all off, studies by Lund University and Victoria Transport Policy Institute have shown that car trips are 6x more costly for tax payers and drivers than bike trips – so not only are investments in bike infrastructure cheaper than investments in car infrastructure, but it also pays back much higher dividends to individuals, business owners, and cities.
Bike commuting is good for traffic and safety.
Atlantans new favorite saying is “We Full”, and we agree. We are full of cars, and with growth projections showing population tripling in the next 20 years, we must find new ways to move people around the City. Congestion is a geometry problem; we can only fit so many cars, bikes, buses, or pedestrians on a given street. The reality is that cars take up the most amount of space per person, meaning car-oriented streets are the least efficient way to transport people in our limited space. On the other hand, multi-modal streets accommodate more users, more efficiently and more safely – seems like a no-brainer.
This is particularly true for trips less than 6 miles – an ideal distance to trade a car trip for a bike trip. As an office, we rode a total of 800 miles over 325 trips. That’s an average of 2.5 miles per trip, and this is not out of the ordinary. According to U.S. Department of Energy, 59.4% of all one-way car trips were less than 6 miles in 2017. Think about that impact: if we prioritize space on our streets to encourage short trips by foot or by bike, we can replace up to 60% of car trips in our most congested areas.
Bike commuting is good for equity.
“A third of Americans – those too young, too old, too poor, too infirm, or simply not interested – do not drive at all. In an auto-dependent city, that leaves one in every three people at the mercy of scarce public transit or depending on someone else to chauffeur them around.” Happy City, 241
This is an all-too-often-overlooked truth about Atlanta’s transportation network. We have chosen to prioritize car convenience over safety and dignity for all users, a strategy that has resulted in dim outcomes including: contributing to our years-long reign as the metro region with the highest income inequality in the United States, resulting in fewer women commuting by bike than men due to a lack of safe infrastructure, and hindering the ability low-income children to become middle- or high-income adults because of limited mobility options. Inequality is a complicated issue, and we recognize that bike infrastructure is just a piece of the puzzle. We also believe that investing in infrastructure that places equal value and dignity on the walker, bike rider, and transit rider can start to dismantle systematic disadvantages built into the fabric of our City.
Bike commuting is good for health and happiness.
A mountain of literature shows that biking regularly has health benefits ranging from lower overall healthcare costs to lower risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. But truthfully, the reason most of us choose to bike? It makes us happy. When was the last time you did something that brought you joy, provided some exercise, saved you money, and supported many of your social goals – all while providing a necessary daily function, like commuting?
Is it sometimes uncomfortable, rainy, or cold? Sure. Do we sometimes have a close call with a car that leaves us a little shaken? Inevitably. Do we sometimes show up to meetings a little sweaty? Yes. But the freedom, convenience, and happiness afforded by bike commuting far outweighs the negatives – so we advocate for more bike infrastructure to make this experience more accessible to more Atlantans.
We aren’t saying that better bike infrastructure will solve all ills, but we are saying that investing in infrastructure that prioritizes people over cars will result in happier, healthier, more equitable, more accessible, more vibrant, and more financially solvent places. Conversations around bike lanes are too often framed around impact to car congestion – an obsession that has resulted in dangerous streets and lifeless public spaces. Let’s shift the conversation to focus on the overwhelming benefits of inclusive, people-centric places – to focus on providing safe, dignified streets for all users.
While talking to a friend the other day about bike commuting, they commented, “You’re just trying to make Atlanta something its not.” I agree to disagree, biking is integral to what I know Atlanta to be.
To me, Atlanta is the exchange of “Good Morning” with the friendly traffic cop on Lucky Street at Coke’s campus.
Atlanta is my daily reminder of the history-laden walls of buildings on Auburn Avenue on my morning commute.
Atlanta is waving to an old friend as we cross paths on the Beltline.
Atlanta is friendly banter with an out-of-town sports rival as I ride through Centennial Park.
Atlanta is interrupting (somewhat apologetically) multiple Instagram photoshoots on my way through Krog Street tunnel.
Atlanta is all the small interactions with people, history, and places in the course of our everyday lives. Our streets are our shared venue for public life that binds our communities together – let’s start treating them that way.