Moderated by Tom Sabulis
How do young professionals and college students move around the city? How do they use roads and transportation systems? What influences their choices? Today’s writers — a 27-year-old college English teacher and a 24-year-old Ph.d candidate at Georgia Tech — can begin to give us a clue. Both are avid bicyclists, but they infuse this old-school mobility with the latest technology and attitude. They represent a younger generation determined to inspire and help build the transportation systems they want — one by one, if necessary.
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I’d rather be biking; it’s safer
By Jessica Estep
Some Atlantans feel I put myself at great risk riding a bicycle in our city. At best, they consider me a valiant environmentalist, sacrificing my own well-being to keep another carbon-emitting vehicle off the road. At worst, they imagine me to be an asinine fool with a death wish, weaving through five lanes of 18-wheelers.
In reality, I’m neither of these people. Beyond the convenience and fun of it, riding my bicycle in Atlanta often feels safer to me than driving.
According to data from the Alliance for Biking and Walking, my calculated risk of death while biking in Atlanta is about 1.6 in 10,000 bicycling commuters. That puts our city seventh in safety among the top 52 large cities nationally. For comparison, Portland, Ore., often considered a mecca for American bicycling, ranks fourth.
Whittling my risk of an accident even lower, I choose to ride on more peaceful (lower-speed) roads, in bike lanes and according to the laws. While the ideal would, of course, be zero fatalities everywhere all the time, I’ll take a small chance so that I can pedal myself on an ice cream date.
Beyond the statistics, my bicycle just feels safer to me, particularly since I get anxious in a lot of traffic; and if Atlanta’s known for one thing, it’s traffic. When I’m winding through the streetcar construction downtown and I get overwhelmed, I immediately hop off my bicycle and onto the sidewalk, take a breath, and reconfigure a route on my GPS. Boy, I wish I could do that as easily in my car.
The bicycle also allows me to feel fully in control. Since it takes up about the same amount of space as my body, it feels like a mechanical extension of myself: responsive and reliable. As I move, it moves. If I need to speed up to merge onto Cherokee Avenue, I just pedal harder. My car feels enormous and separate from me. I can’t even see all of it. But my bicycle is nimble, and I trust it.
I also trust Atlanta drivers more when I’m bicycling. It’s a funny thing: drivers are a lot more courteous to me when I’m bicycling than when I’m a fellow driver. When drivers pass me, they typically give me a wide berth — maybe because I look fairly benign while pedaling to the grocery store in my sundress, or maybe because they know the three-feet law pertaining to cars and bikes. Anyway, I don’t get that kind of Southern hospitality when I’m driving alongside them.
I’m also more visible as a bicyclist than when I’m tucked away in the driver’s seat of my own car. As I pedal onto Peachtree Street, I can make eye contact with a driver approaching a nearby red light so we can both acknowledge that she sees me and she’s stopping. This makes me feel safe, too.
Transporting myself anywhere, by any means, will always carry a risk. I’ve fallen over my handlebars before, and I’ve also totaled a car. I imagine everyone has similar tales. But, between the two modes, I feel more secure riding my bicycle in Atlanta.
In years to come, I imagine this feeling will strengthen, particularly since our local leaders and our mayor have committed to increasing bicycle accessibility in the city by building more cycle tracks, separated bike paths, and other bicycle infrastructure. As local advocacy organizations like the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition grow, new people are trying bicycles as a fun way to travel. I’m happy about this, too; there’s safety in numbers, after all.
So if you drive past me while I’m bicycling up 10th Street, don’t feel nervous or scared for me — there’s no reason to. I’ll do my best not to worry about you, either.
Jessica Estep is an English instructor at Georgia Gwinnett College.
Real-time information key to transit’s future
By Simon Berrebi
Like any self-respecting student, I was running late for class by the time I left my apartment in the up-and-coming mixed-use development around Ponce City Market.
Hopping on my bike, I logged onto the CycleAtlanta app to record my trip and climbed the Beltline path from Kroger. I have a symbiotic relationship with my bike, so it was no surprise when my front tire popped in a sardonic deflation. My first instinct was to take MARTA, so I looked up arriving buses with the OneBusAway real-time smartphone app, but the next one was predicted to arrive in 20 minutes. I ended up ordering an Uber and arrived to class in style with customary lateness.
Like many people of my generation, I use my phone to travel through the city, and juggle between transportation modes. Real-time information is changing travel patterns as it allows users to make last minute plans and to change their route spontaneously. Ridesharing apps such as Uber and Lyft are taking over the taxi market by providing a cheaper and more reliable alternative. Interactive navigation tools like Waze inform drivers on traffic congestion, and provide a trip planner to avoid it. Since the recent opening of MARTA’s vehicle-positioning feeds, transit riders have access to real time information and get notified of service disruptions through the MARTA app and OneBusAway.
With the bike-share program, scheduled to start in 2015, riders will be able to find a bike with their smart-phones anywhere within a bikeshare zone, not just at stations.
The transportation network is an inherently unstable system where breakdowns and bottlenecks form randomly. Real-time information allows users to get around some of those disruptions. Transit agencies address uncertainty differently; they include buffer time in their schedules to ensure reliable operations. This buffer time, however, can be expensive because it slows down operations and reduces frequency. For example, during peak hours, the 102 MARTA bus that goes from North Avenue station to Edgewood Avenue spends as much time in layover as it does running the route.
In the future, transit agencies could use information to improve reliability and quality of service. On frequent bus routes (10 minutes headway or less), passengers tend to show up without consulting a schedule. The buffer time that helps agencies maintain a schedule could then be eliminated to improve frequency of service.
On low frequency routes, connecting buses could communicate with each other to avoid passengers missing their transfers and avoid having to wait for the next passing bus. At the Urban Transportation Information Lab at Georgia Tech, we work on tools to improve transportation services using real-time information. In a growing effort to connect Atlanta’s neighborhoods and to provide a viable alternative to driving, information will be the key.
Simon Berrebi is a graduate student at Georgia Tech with a focus on transportation.