Editorial: Commerce Drive cycle track should not be a surpriseW. Ponce De Leon Avenue. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt
This story has been updated.
In the last few days a controversy has bubbled up surrounding a plan to narrow Commerce Drive and add a dedicated bicycle track.
But this plan is nothing new. Adding bike lanes to Commerce Drive was discussed 10 years ago in the city of Decatur’s Community Transportation Plan. In 2015, the cycling community rallied to have the city put a buffer between the traffic and the proposed bike lanes on Commerce. The commission listened. There was no outcry from the public then.
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In December, the City Commission approved a $12 million PATH connectivity plan, which included the cycle track. During public comments only one property owner spoke in opposition to the plan, but not specifically in opposition to the cycle track, minutes show.
Last month, the City Commission approved an agreement to build the cycle track. No one used the opportunity for public comment to speak out against it, according to the meeting minutes.
For the record, Decaturish wrote about both meetings before they happened. At the end of every meeting preview story, I note the time the meeting starts, the address where it will be held and always conclude with, “All meetings are open to the public.” That means you. And if you can’t physically make it, the city provides a live video stream of every meeting via its website.
I’m not sure what changed, but now there are people in the community – and people driving through it – who want the commission to reverse course on the cycle track. A petition started circulating. Atlanta Journal Constitution columnist Bill Torpy wrote “the bike activists … hold sway in the People’s Republic of Decatur.” Torpy’s column implies that the commission is beholden to the interests of the cycling community over the interests of others.
That’s not correct. The commission is beholden to the interests of people who are vocal and organized. Don’t believe me?
Let’s rewind: back in 2013, the City Commission began developing a new tree ordinance. In January of 2014, commissioners tabled the proposed ordinance after numerous people spoke out against it during public comments. The commission eventually adopted the ordinance after making changes in response to public comments.
I’ve been covering local governments for more than 10 years and know one thing to be true across the board: elected officials do not like getting yelled at and will generally back away from anything that proves too controversial. The bad elected officials will try to sneak things through the door when no one is looking.
While the Decatur City Commission keeps its secrets, and I have criticized the city for it, I’ve never seen commissioners collude to keep the big policy questions out of the public spotlight. If anything the opposite is true. The city holds an absolutely exhausting number of public input meetings on almost every important topic. If you want to be heard, there are plenty of opportunities. The city advertises these opportunities, Decaturish writes about them and so does Decatur Metro.
I’m not writing this to comment on the merits of the cycle track itself. I’ve got no dog in that particular fight. Traffic sucks, yes. And I can tell you from personal experience that the cycling community is passionate, sometimes to the point of being unreasonable. To this day, I still catch crap for writing a story calling someone a “disgruntled cyclist.” For the record, I own a bike and don’t mind sharing the roads with cyclists. But there’s a reason many people signed the petition against the cycle track anonymously.
Let’s give the cycling community credit. They’ve got their act together. When issues that matter to them surface, they are all over it. The cyclists played this beautifully. They got everything they wanted. The cycling community provided an object lesson in how to pull the levers of power in Decatur.
It’s really not that complicated. All you have to do is show up.