Up front, I want to say that I’m an avid supporter of all things cycling. That said, I’m not sure we are a “Bicycle Friendly” city. We have the signs, we have the designations, the complete streets policy as well as tons of road bikers. What we don’t have are safe streets and comfortable rides that allow kids, novices and the elderly to easily ride around our city. If you don’t own spandex, you probably don’t bike much in Roswell and if you don’t live on a cul-de-sac or in a gated subdivision, your kids probably aren’t riding their bikes unsupervised much unless you are driving them to one of our destination parks.
Around the holidays the city even has Safe Play areas for children who received outdoor toys for presents. The city blocks off a few parking lots at three of the city parks for children to safely play with their new toys. This isn’t inherently a bad thing but just the fact that it is even necessary raises the question of whether we are truly a bicycle friendly community. There will always be children who live near busy roads or in areas that are just plain inhospitable to safe cycling but there should be plenty of places to go in our city aside from a park parking lot. If we had properly designed our city with connected streets and separated bicycle and walking paths, we would be much better off.
The Bicycle Friendly community designation is administered by the League of American Bicyclists as part of its Bicycle Friendly America campaign and Roswell was the first city in Georgia to achieve the designation way back in 2006. The campaign is laudable and well intentioned. It has done and will do many great things to advance cycling. There are five areas of measurement, known as the 5 E’s; Engineering, Education, Encouragement, Enforcement, Evaluation (& Planning). The 2014 application has 90 questions across these five categories and I’m sure Roswell meets the criteria for the Bronze level certification that we have.
We have a fantastic advocacy group in Bike Roswell and there are many great events like the Criterium & Cycling Festival and the Mayor’s Ride. The Roswell Loop is a long-term project that, when finished, will significantly upgrade pedestrian and cycling infrastructure in the city. We will likely host a Gran Fondo road race in October which will bring between one and two thousand riders. We have weekly rides during the warmer months and all classes of riders are welcome. We have excellent parks such as the network of parks along the river that provide a great casual riding environment and Big Creek Park has mountain biking trails and the greenway. Future plans call for a pedestrian and bike bridge that will span the Chattahoochee and a mixed-use trail that will make its way from the river to the square. These are all great but don’t do much to get the general public out on their bike for everyday activities.
If you take issue with what I’m saying, ask yourself:
- How many plain clothed women have you seen cycling in Roswell?
- How many people do you personally know that commute by bike?
- How many of your regular destinations in Roswell have bicycle parking?
- Would you feel comfortable if you children rode their bike anywhere within a half mile radius of your home without your supervision?
Likely answers: None, One, No Idea, Heck NO!
What does that say about our bicycle friendliness? It may be semantics but I believe we are a (mostly) Pro Bike community and have miles to go before we are truly Bicycle Friendly. We need more and better bike friendly infrastructure. Sharrows and signs are for show. Bike lanes are good when done right but we truly need bike and ped paths. We need to connect this city through our subdivisions, gated communities, retail centers and office parks by building mixed-use paths that will form a web of connectivity safe for all types of riders. The city can create simple incentives to accomplish this in both new and existing developments.
Building a more interconnected city through an extensive multi-use trail network will fuel the local economy. Bicyclists tend to shop locally. They also tend to spend more when they shop, potentially due to gas savings. Property along trails often sells at a premium. For an example of how an area can be transformed by a simple path, look no further than the Old Fourth Ward in Atlanta. The Beltline Eastside trail has been an amazing catalyst for change. Businesses located along the trail are quickly opening up entrances that front the trail to capitalize on the foot and bike traffic and new residents are flocking to an area that even five years ago was a very rough part of town.
Bicycling is good for health, wealth, community and business. The next time you hear about a development, ask yourself how that will impact the ability to bike in Roswell and keep pushing our leaders to become truly Bicycle Friendly. Checklists and designations aren’t enough. When women and children on bikes are as common as men in spandex, we will truly be Bicycle Friendly. Until then, let’s continue to be Pro Bike.