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Sustainable Georgia: More Biking, Less Driving

In my feature on the middle Georgia T-SPLOSTs in this issue, I didn’t get around to discussing how the new funding will also im-prove cities’ tourism potential. One of the items on the Columbus T-SPLOST list was the extension of the Riverwalk Parkway, which is the centerpiece of the town’s 20-year makeover that has recently dovetailed with the city’s ability to have whitewater rafting on the Chattahoochee River.

Already a popular tourist attraction, the River-walk is now more bicycle friendly: a 15-mile multi-use path stretching from Bibb City north of Columbus to Fort Benning along the Chatta-hoochee River. The ability to accommodate cyc-lists downtown will augment the city’s reputation for recreational sports. Augusta will use T-SPLOST funds for 19 projects to build multi-use paths, enhancing its sports tourism reputation. 

Land use will drive smart growth in Geor-gia’s future. But on a grassroots level, there is evidence that a rising number of Georgians do want options, and one in particular is gaining traction: bicycles.

Columbus has already garnered recognition for its “Rails to Trails” project, using federal funds to convert empty rail lines to multi-use paths. The Columbus Fall Line Trace runs perpendicular to the Riverwalk, stretching from the 14th Street Pedestrian Bridge to the Psalmond Road Recreational Center, and will be accessible to nearby residents as well as two park-and-ride lots. Columbus is also building the Warm Springs Trail from Columbus State University to Cooper Creek Park using federal money, and the city hopes it will be a catalyst for redevelopment.

In Augusta, which also hosts the USA Cyc-ling National Championship, the city has purchased property for a potential bike route to the North Augusta Greenway, a seven-mile bike trail in South Carolina. The city is using T-SPLOST funds to connect adjacent neighborhoods to the Downtown Arts District and is considering re-ducing sections of Broad Street from four lanes to two, using the extra space for bike lanes, which has worked in other cities like Decatur.

Decatur recently joined Athens-Clarke County, Roswell and Tybee Island in gaining Bronze Bicycle Friendly Community designation from the League of American Bicyclists. In Savannah, bike lanes have been established on Price Street, Washington Avenue and in the Windsor Forest neighborhood. The city plans to double the number of bike stands near restaurants, churches and other gathering spots, with new racks planned at Forsyth Park, the Civic Center and Habersham Village.

In Atlanta, the BeltLine recently received $3 million from the Woodruff Foundation to develop trails, the most recent of some $41 million from the private sector toward this effort. In 2012 it opened the Eastside Trail and Historic Fourth Ward Park; the $3 million grant will connect the trail to the park with a “Gateway” and extend the trail through Reynoldstown into eastside residential neighborhoods. When finished, BeltLine will reconnect Atlanta with 22 miles of bike and pedestrian paths along a light rail line circling downtown. 

In spite of having had MARTA since the ’70s, Atlanta is a driving city, and it is harder to estab-lish bike paths here than in the other cities mentioned. However, the mild climate makes cycling somewhat irresistible. More than 1,000 commuters participated in the Bike to Work Challenge in October, according to the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, and some 20,000 participated in the Atlanta Streets Alive events last year.

With the old City Hall East transforming into Ponce City Market, a new live-work-play  development by Jamestown Properties across from the BeltLine’s Historic Fourth Ward Park, you begin to see the makings of a contiguous pedestrian zone freeing intown residents from the hassles of crosstown traffic day to day.

The 61.5-mile Silver Comet Trail is perhaps the cycling movement’s biggest success to date in Georgia, stretching from Vinings to Anniston, Ala. Along with beautiful scenery, it has enhanced tourism in places like Rockmart and Cedartown. The PATH Foundation plans to connect the Silver Comet eventually to the Stone Mountain Trail, which stretches from Atlanta 19 miles out to Stone Mountain.

As we seek to refine our transportation investment strategies in the years ahead, let’s not leave this burgeoning movement out of the mix. Bikes could help us change our mindset, which evidently needs to happen before we change our travel patterns.

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