“It’s all death traps and cul-de-sacs; there’s no way to get from point A to point B,” bicyclist Michael Clifford said about Brookhaven, while standing outside City Hall Wednesday. But city officials and local activists are actively working to change that in part by hosting a presentation by the League of American Bicyclists.
A group of local bicyclists took a 5.8-mile ride around Brookhaven at 9:30 a.m., returning to City Hall for a slideshow and Q&A with Steve Clark, who works for the League of American Bicyclists, which is the largest organization in the country for bicyclists.
Clark has been invited to more than 70 cities nationwide in 2014 to share tips and encourage city leaders on taking steps toward making a community more bike-friendly.
He showed that healthy cities tend to be bike-friendly, citing statistics in his PowerPoint, and said businesses enjoy lower healthcare costs because employees stay active.
Christian Cherniak, a Brookhaven resident who regularly rides a bicycle, invited Clark to speak at City Hall, he said, where council members Joe Gebbia and Bates Mattison attended. The councilmen not only listened to Clark’s presentation but also participated in the bike-ride around Brookhaven beforehand.
“I’m committed to this,” Gebbia said. “In our comprehensive plans we talked about focusing on alternate forms of transportation, and biking is a very important modality that we need to consider.”
Gebbia said he believes many in the Brookhaven community support the idea of becoming more bike-friendly and that the city is well positioned to add bike lanes because road resurfacing is ongoing.
Though Clifford said he felt strongly that biking in certain parts of Brookhaven is dangerous, he rode his bike to City Hall, albeit on the sidewalk. “And I saw three people behind me on the sidewalk,” he said.
Taking steps to make Brookhaven more bike-friendly involves more than just the roads themselves, Jethro Jones said.
“The key to being able to cycle to work is the facilities,” he said, adding that available showers, lockers for keeping office attire and proper bike rack availability all need to be added. All the bicyclists who returned to City Hall for Clark’s presentation joked nervously about not having a place to lock up their bikes properly.
Speaking about infrastructure and changes he’d like to see, Robert Klein said three of the most dangerous streets for riders are Peachtree and the connector streets of Dresden and Windsor.
Clark mentioned Dresden during the presentation, saying its center turn lane is bigger than it needs to be. “There is space to make a contiguous bike lane work,” he said.
Reflecting on Palo Alto, Calif., where Clark said 50 to 70 percent of school children bike safely to school, Clark said the issue of increasing bike lanes is not one of engineering, but rather of politics.
Dedicated staff, elected officials willing to “voice the vision” and people like Joe Seconder, the Dunwoody activist who founded Bike Walk Dunwoody, are the three components of building a bike-friendly community, Clark said.
Seconder said he wants a community where it’s “as safe for an 8-year-old as for an 80-year-old” to get out on a bike in local cities including Dunwoody and Brookhaven.
When political leaders take charge of defining the problem as how to turn Brookhaven into a bike-friendly city, the engineers will comply, Clark said. If the issue is posed to the engineers as how to get more cars through, the engineers will say no room exists on the road for bike lanes, Clark said. But posing the question to engineers as how to make bike lanes work, he said, will yield different results.
“The traffic engineer is there to solve a problem,” he said. “What we do too often in our communities is leave policy issues to the engineer.”