Sunday, January 11, 2015

Observations on cycling in Atlanta compared to NYC

1. Atlanta is less dense and more spread out, meaning overall the utility of cycling is reduced (there are many important places that seem essentially unbikable). Outside of a few specific neighborhoods a car is basically required.

2. Bicycling in NYC is a competitive substitute for public transit because distances are very small. While moving trains and buses are faster, the fixed costs of walking to a station/stop and waiting are simply crushed by cycling, whose rapid movement begins immediately from any location. Add to this the fact that cycling is more point-to-point (no connections). Cycling in NYC also beats out travel by car, which must cope with terrible congestion and parking problems.

3. The distances in Atlanta are much greater, so the fixed costs of transit use are more compensated by the speed advantage once the train/bus gets rolling. This effect is somewhat offset by the added time required to get to a station/stop.

4. Cars aside, public transit options in Atlanta are so limited that cycling here (vs. NYC) may in fact be comparatively more valuable. This is mostly due to the tremendous coverage advantage cycling has over the public transit network.

5. There is much less cycling infrastructure in Atlanta (bike lanes etc.), but biking here actually feels safer than NYC. This is due to a number of factors.

6. Roads are less congested, so cars have much more physical space to safely overtake a cyclist by providing adequate passing room. Possibly related, the lack of congestion means motorists are more relaxed at stoplights and seem to accelerate much less aggressively compared to NYC (drivers in New York are stopped in traffic so often that they seize any open-road opportunity to zoom unsafely).

7. There genuinely seems to be a cultural difference that makes motorists more respectful and deferential towards cyclists. Possibly the lack of cyclists on the roads mean motorists aren't well-accustomed to car-cyclist interactions and take a risk-averse approach. This would cut against the conventional wisdom that more cyclists means safer cycling. Bottom line: NYC taxis are incredibly dangerous and fear-inducing, and biking in a city without them counts for a lot.

8. The quality and upkeep of roads and pavement seems to be much better than in NYC, whose infrastructure is crumbling and over-capacity. Fewer potholes and hazards means a less erratic biking line, meaning a safer trip.

9. Better weather.

10. Atlanta has many fewer pedestrians competing for space on bike paths and street crossings. This mostly eliminates a big source of fear and confusion, and leads to a more calm and pleasurable biking experience.

11. The transportation benefits of Atlanta's Beltline greenway network are overhyped. Although it links several decently walkable neighborhoods (and is expanding), its advantage over the typically-empty Atlanta roads and streets is only moderate.

12. That said, the economic, cultural, and urbanist benefits of the Beltline simply blow any other bike path out of the water, including the Greenway in Minneapolis. Atlanta is so starved of walkable, pedestrian areas with mixed commercial and residential development that the Beltline--ostensibly a transit project--is most valuable as an economic engine. The Beltline has more commercial and residential entrances facing the path directly than any other bike path I've yet seen. In context, however, this great value is largely an artifact of Atlanta's absolute lack of walkable dense neighborhoods.

13. Contrary to popular opinion, it is in fact possible to bicycle from the central downtown area of Atlanta to Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport using a small number of low-traffic frontage roads along the MARTA train path. It takes approximately one hour.

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