Monday, June 7, 2010

Summer Survival: Shade

Summer is in full swing here in Hotlanta, and I wanted to share a few of my own tips for staying cool and un-bedraggled in the summer heat.

First is shade. You never really think about shade if you are driving around in an air-conditioned car. It's just a lighting condition. But out on the blacktop on two wheels, a shady spot can be, oh, 10 degrees cooler than an exposed area a few feet away. Make it deep shade and the difference is even greater.

For a cyclist, this knowledge gives you some summer survival strategies. You would think that Atlanta would have tons of shade everywhere, since the entire region is naturally heavily forested and trees sprout up like weeds. Really. Let me show you my garden. I have to keep pulling oak trees out of it!

So, it should be really shady, but it's not. The state Department of Transportation has outright banned trees along most of its roads, saying that they are a hazard for cars that lose control and run off the road. Any trees that are placed along state roads have to be behind the sidewalk (so the pedestrians will provide a buffer?). In general, trees have not been required along city streets, nor even a planting strip where you could put them, nor any city or regional plan to plant them. They are considered an unaffordable luxury for most public works departments, and some local utility companies have successfully had street trees banned in certain jurisdictions. In addition, existing trees tend to get cut down for development and other projects.
 Typical streetscape - exposed, some recent plantings, a few mature trees 

We have an active non-profit organization, Trees Atlanta, that works to promote tree cultivation and to plant trees in strategic places. However, their lack of familiarity with transportation issues, especially for bicyclists and pedestrians, has resulted in some poorly-executed projects - there are endless examples of their trees obstructing sidewalks, protruding into bike lanes, blocking traffic signs, and even removing portions of the sidewalk.

Nonetheless, there are still ways to find some shade for yourself. On a hot afternoon, you might plan your entire route around the shadiness of the available streets, or at least avoid long exposed stretches.

The deep shade of Oakdale Road, near Emory, is a treat on a hot day 
You can also take advantage of small patches of shade, especially when stopped at a traffic light. I only start to overheat when I stop moving and no longer have air flowing over me. In this photo, I have carefully placed myself in the shade of a thick lamp post. My arms and legs are sticking out, but most of my head and torso are shaded. There is also a sign casting a small shadow on the handlebars.



  1. Glad to hear the wisdom of a fellow cyclist and shade lover. As a staff member of Trees Atlanta I have to thank you for the shout out. What the everyday bike lane or sidewalk user may perceive as a tree planted with disregard for their ease of transportation is more likely a tree in need of some TLC. Pruning is an art-form that requires several training classes to get the hang of and years to master. Most of the trees creating problems along roadsides are still very young and with proper care and pruning can grow into beautiful shade producing edifices whose benefits to humans and the environment will vastly outweigh the squeeze they may put on the sidewalk.

    Trees Atlanta will be hosting a free pruning class meeting in the Carter center parking lot this Saturday at 9am. e-mail to attend. also a great forum to suggest your bike route for the next pruning project.

  2. As a transportation planner, I think that trees have many wonderful qualities (air pollution and heat island mitigation, traffic calming, encouraging pedestrian activity...), yet I see currently a lot of sidewalks narrowed down from 5 feet down to 3 feet in the City of Atlanta, in order to install a row of trees. This is not just creating a nuisance for pedestrians, this is actually illegal, as it puts the sidewalks out of compliance with ADA standards (5 feet required, or 4 feet + 5x5 feet passing zone every 200 feet). I think that some corridors in our city are simply not suitable for tree installation without a reconfiguration of the roadway. Maybe a road diet and taking out a lane of traffic to install a bike lane and wider landscaping strip would be appropriate in some of the locations. Yet what we see currently is a "sidewalk diet" in favor of tree installation, without appropriate prior planning and input from the city engineers and the public. Generally, some basic traffic engineering judgement and planning should be involved, and it appears to me that Trees Atlanta installation of trees sometimes takes a shortcut, where the needs of all street users (especially pedestrians in wheelchairs and with strollers) are not taken into account. I love trees, but we don't need any more sidewalk diets, thank you very much. Appropriate tree pruning would help in some areas, but can not solve all the problems with poor installation location choice. Where is the City of Atlanta in all of this, and how are they ensuring ADA compliance?

  3. I'm really glad to hear someone mention ADA compliance, since it seems that very few sidewalks in Atlanta meet the requirements. Aside from trees, my other favorite sidewalk obstruction is utility poles placed right in the middle making it difficult for someone walking to squeeze past and totally impossible for anyone in a wheelchair.