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Dear Decaturish – Commerce Drive cycle track is an excellent plan

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Dear Decaturish – Commerce Drive cycle track is an excellent plan


A map showing the proposed Commerce Drive cycle track. Source: City of Decatur

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Dear Decaturish,

We are writing in support of the Commerce Drive cycle track plan, a far-sighted plan that will not only make downtown Decatur safer, more pleasant, and more livable, but will even improve traffic congestion by encouraging more citizens to leave their cars in their driveways.

Studies have shown that most people – 60 percent or more – would like to use bicycles more frequently for transport. Many are aware that traveling by bike not only decreases greenhouse gas emissions but also improves health outcomes and feelings of well-being. People are also aware of studies showing that children who get to school by bike or on foot concentrate better and are happier than those who are driven in cars.

But those same people are justifiably concerned about current cycling infrastructure. Biking in a lane shared with cars and trucks feels too dangerous. So they climb in their cars, causing traffic congestion and pollution.

In response to this problem, forward-thinking municipalities are building safe and connected networks of bicycle lanes. These lanes are based on a simple principle: to separate motor vehicles and bikes. Studies show that when protected lanes are installed, more people indeed leave their cars at home, decreasing pollution and congestion. The City of Decatur’s Commerce Street cycle track plan is an outstanding example of such a bicycle lane, and it is likely to have the same positive effects as other such projects.

The plan is also in line with citizen priorities. The city’s 2016 Comprehensive Plan Survey showed that 56 percent of respondents thought that Decatur does not provide adequate bicycle and pedestrian connectivity between its residential neighborhoods and its commercial districts.  Similarly, 54 percent of respondents indicated that they would like to see more bicycle lanes separated from automobiles by buffers. Finally, a resounding 77 percent supported improving pedestrian and bicycle service even if it resulted in increased automobile congestion and slower vehicular movement.

Yet good bike lanes do not increase automobile congestion. It’s natural for motorists to fear that reducing the number of automobile lanes on Commerce Drive will cause traffic to snarl. In fact, however, studies have shown that road diets can have the opposite effect, allowing traffic to move more smoothly and even improving motor vehicle travel times. The Commerce Drive plans include thoughtful turn lanes and are based on solid traffic studies. Safety and flow can coincide.

More importantly, each person on a bike represents one less car on the road. If even a small percentage of motorists leave their car at home, the effects on traffic can be striking. You might have noticed this on Walk and Roll to School Days, when there are fewer cars around, and more laughing kids.

So as more citizens take to their bikes, traffic congestion tends to decrease. It’s hard to imagine that this is a possibility, because we have lived for so long in an environment built for and around the automobile. But municipalities that have created safe and connected bicycle networks experience significant results, as the percentage of bicyclists increases.

The Commerce Drive cycle track is an excellent plan, and a necessary one. As more apartments and townhouses are built in Decatur’s already dense core, the population will continue to increase, especially in the areas adjacent to Commerce Drive. City officials and planners know that if the city does not provide safe alternative modes of transportation, most of these new residents will have only the option to drive, and traffic will become even worse. But by investing in well designed, separated bike lanes that connect with transit, vehicle travel times will stay reasonable. In fact, they may actually improve, as some studies have shown. It may seem counterintuitive, but effective bike lanes are actually good for motorists. They decrease traffic.

And these bike lanes will be good. Excellent, in fact. The City of Decatur is to be applauded for its foresight and wisdom in adopting the Commerce Drive cycle track plan.

Signed by:

Tonio Andrade

Executive Board Member, Decatur Bicycle Coalition

Joe Hurley

Executive Board Member, Decatur Bicycle Coalition

Rebecca Serna

Executive Director, Atlanta Bicycle Coalition

Ben Foster

Policy & Campaigns Manager, Atlanta Bicycle Coalition

Steve Ferrin

Executive Board Member, Decatur Bicycle Coalition

Ben Lopman

Executive Board Member, Decatur Bicycle Coalition

Ben Park

Executive Board Member, Decatur Bicycle Coalition

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