Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Just Smile and Nod

I've occasionally ribbed on motorists for being too confrontational - trying to go faster everyone else, often taking major risks in their quest for the front of the line. But lately, my beliefs have been challenged. And I may be just as bad when I'm on my bike.

I'm in the habit of yelling when a car seems poised to cut me off or potentially hit me. I am also the master of the intimidating stare. This week, however, the response from drivers has been friendly waves, smiles, and polite comments like "Don't worry, I'll wait for you." Wha??

I feel kind of disoriented. Is there something in the water? Did everyone watch footage of Streets Alive, and the sight filled their heads with love and rainbows about bicycling?

At the same time, bicycling has been all over the news. Creative Loafing devoted this week's Add it Up column to cycling. asked about the "state of cycling in Atlanta."

So what's up? Am I reading too much into some random events, or has Atlanta turned a corner on bicycle traffic?


  1. I ride around town almost every day. 2 years ago, I got the occasional rude honk, "I don't know what you're doing on the road" stare, or aggressive passing move to assert vehicular dominance/annoyance with me.

    In the past 10 months or so, I've gotten zero honks and only friendly or disinterested (that's a positive) looks. I still encounter the occasional aggressive passer, but perhaps that's just how those motorists engage other slow MOTORISTS too.

    The main complaint I get from people I talk to about cyclists on the road is unpredictability. A lot of motorists, perhaps rightly so, still feel that cyclists are not behaving predictably - as in, cutting between stopped cars at intersections, running red lights without even really looking both ways, switching lanes suddenly (perhaps without signaling?), etc. But I think things are improving, especially since more mainstream cyclists (not just fearless enthusiasts) are hitting the streets.

    All in all, I feel a much better vibe on the street as well, but for longer than just the past week.

  2. It's ironic that the Examiner article makes Atlanta sound very promising for biking while in the latest post on his journal (, David Byrne couldn't seem to say one nice thing about the city. I didn't hear him speak at the New Urbanism conference but I hope it was more positive than his journal post. I'd be curious to hear what others think since I thought the post was rather offensive.

    I'd be the first to agree that Atlanta has it's issues, especially in regards to sprawl and not being very conducive to biking, but at least there are people who care and that are working towards making cycling easier for example. Obviously it takes time and won't happen overnight, but it's irritating when people such as David Byrne visit the city, point out all the bad aspects and make comments such as "I would suggest that Atlanta residents move to nearby Athens or Savannah if they want a more pleasant life." Please - if I wanted to live in Athens or Savannah I would, however it's like comparing apples to oranges and no, simply because biking MIGHT be slightly easier, it wouldn't necessarily be a more pleasant life!

    Anyway, sorry for venting - his post just really bothered me :)

  3. Yeah, we got bashed by James Howard Kunstler as well. I may have to leave him a comment. I'm really disappointed about David Byrne's statements, and unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a way to comment on his website. Maybe he will read this instead.

    I mean, for someone who allegedly loves exploring cities on foot, transit, and bicycle, it sounds like he didn't even give Atlanta a chance! I mean, really, taking a taxi to the Hilton? It's two blocks from the MARTA station. I realize a celebrity needs some level of security, but really?

    Did he check out the Fairlie-Poplar district around the Tabernacle, where his talk was held? Did he even bring or rent a bicycle? Did he ask people where to go? As I posted earlier, there were plenty of folks checking bikes into the bell station - just ask them... Sure, Atlanta has some depressing places, dying malls, clogged highways, but that's not MY Atlanta. My Atlanta does have thriving neighborhoods, friendly people, intriguing storefronts, and diverse, genuine communities.

    Mr. Byrne, Mr. Kunstler, and anyone else who is prepared to hold Atlanta forth as a bad example: come for a bike ride with me. Leave your assumptions at home and let me show you the reasons to love this city. Let me show you the things that keep us here and the things we are working to change.


  4. I hadn't seen the Kuntsler article - that's just ridiculous. At least as far as Atlanta, though, his comments were confined to a few at the beginning and end, sandwiched in between his diatribe about the New Urbanist movement selling out, etc. My favorite was "One might think: Los Angeles, but that city at least came up with the amenity of valet parking, mostly lacking in Atlanta, where the suffocating heat slows the journey of blood from heart to brain." What???? It seems to me as if valet parking is EVERYWHERE in Atlanta. Isn't it a bit hypocritical of someone who supposedly is anti-sprawl and a proponent of walkable communities to claim that valet parking is an "amenity"?!

    Oh, yes, I also noticed that it was conveniently impossible to post comments on Byrne's journal - but his views are apparently the only ones that count, so why would he want to actually read comments?!

  5. That's what I really don't understand about Kunstler and Byrne. These guys are supposed to be two of our most radical and visionary thinkers. I expected them to have some totally new perspective of Atlanta that I had never thought of - to reimagine it ways I couldn't. (And I have a pretty good imagination!) But they just threw out the same stale prejudices that we've heard for the past 10 years or more, and based their judgments on the admittedly lousy two blocks around the hotel. Doesn't seem that visionary to me. Are you listening, guys?

  6. Court, I agree. Those of us who have been riding bicycles in Atlanta for a while may have developed some bad habits - me for being confrontational, others for being "flexible" with traffic laws... Maybe it's time for an all-around reassessment of how to interact with our fellow road users.

  7. I don't know if we have to go so far as "reassessment", but I think we do need to at least educate NEW riders that even bicycles are supposed to follow the rules of the road, and that you'll get more respect that way. Then, if you get better at cycling, and learn how to evade those rules in a more natural/predictable fashion, go for it.

    I still like to think back to the first week that I rode my bike on the streets of Midtown. I took my cue only from other cyclists I saw on the street. So what happened? I thought, as a cyclist, it was PROPER PROTOCOL to zip to the right or even the middle of a line of cars stopped at an intersection. Not only that, but I felt I'd look like an idiot if I didn't. The resulting dangerous situations of the line sometimes moving before I got to the front, and other awkward moments almost made me quit the road. Then I realized you WEREN'T supposed to do all those things, and everything made sense and seemed much easier/safer.

  8. So true! I was really confused when I first started riding a bicycle. I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do and had some hairy experiences as a result. I feel like some of the goodwill I get on the roads is from motorists' surprise/respect that I am taking my turn like everyone else.