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Commuter Story: Commuting in Atlanta

by Commute by Bike

Ed – This story from Chris of Atlanta, GA.
     Share your story by emailing diggers@commutebybike.com.

My commuting by bike story starts like many others. My car broke down. What I believed to be the need for a simple tune-up repair evolved over the course of two weeks into a warranty fight with the dealership. I started commuting by bike to get back and forth to work until my car was fixed and have discovered all kinds of great benefits from riding. (my car is still in the shop, and I could care less) I have 02 Jamis Hybrid mountain bike that has served me well in the casual ride department and is working great so far as a commuter (although it is a little heavy). I ride my bike three miles to the MARTA rail station, ride MARTA to the closest stop and bike the rest of the way (another two miles). I get more exercise in the rail station by carrying my bike up and down long stairs to and from the platforms. While my actual ride time is not great, Atlanta is fairly hilly and most of my riding is up or down a hill. When I get to work I am awake, my metabolism is humming, and I feel great.

The real challenge for me has been getting to work and still dressing in suit/tie every day. As a lawyer, I don’t have the luxury of sitting around in shorts all day. I have to dress professionally most days and that requires some forethought and planning. Here is how I am doing it. Once a week, my wife brings a load of dry-cleaned shirts to work. I keep three pairs of pants, one sport coat and two pairs of shoes/belts at work. On the bike, I take a towel, underwear and whatever else is required for the day. When I get to work, I go to the office gym (a shower is essential), work out just one body part with the weights, and then shower. At the end of the day, I put back on the same clothes I biked in on, pack up the worn dress shirt and I am on the bike headed home.

Here is a partial list of benefits I have experienced since I started cbb:

  1. Exercise – for the first time in a long time I am getting meaningful daily exercise which is productive as well!
  2. Money Savings – I spend $52 a month on MARTA pass, when my car is fixed, I will sell it and save over $400 per month.
  3. No After Work Drinks – I used to stop on the way home and have a couple before getting home, it was expensive and bad for me, now I ride home and even if I wanted to get a drink I am too sweaty to go anywhere but home. I am exercising and saving money!
  4. Stress-Relief – I have experienced that wonderful calm you get when you are freshly exercised. This is important in my field where stress kills!
  5. Positive Esteem – It feels great to know that I am not wasting money on gas, polluting the environment with smog, noise, etc.

These are just a few of the things I have noticed in the weeks I have been commuting by bike. There are lots of unknowns, but I suspect I can make this a real change in my lifestyle that will have all kinds of wonderful benefits.

Atlanta is a car heavy city and my commute takes me into the heart of Midtown – the financial center. I often ride on the sidewalks because there is no room on the road and I am not ready to ride fully in traffic just yet. I am taking it slow, I have a wish to get to work safely – not a death wish. I have been shocked to see how few people actually commute by bike in this town. MARTA is great for bikes you can put them on the train or bus for no additional charges. If more people knew how much bang for the buck they would get out of commuting by bike they would do it.

 
Burley nomad 229

27 Responses to “Commuter Story: Commuting in Atlanta”

  1. Jason says:

    I too have recently become an Atlanta bike commuter. I commute from Roswell to downtown Atlanta. My commute is a 3 mile ride to a MARTA bus stop. Bus takes me to the MARTA train. I then get off at the closest stop from work and ride another 1/2 mile. I have not driven my car in about 4 weeks. It feels good!

  2. Patrick says:

    Congratulations on the new habit, I frequently commute from the west side of the city into downtown. I have found that most drivers in the city are fairly tolerant of bikes since there seem to be quite a few bike messengers and students that ride around in town. I can’t say the same for buses, most of my close calls have either been from MARTA or school buses. I think the MARTA drivers just have an apathetic view of the road and don’t care enough to make concessions for bikes on the shoulder and the school bus drivers feel that their cargo is too precious to waver anywhere near the center dividing line. I have been run into a ditch by a school bus on Moores Mill road on two separate occasions, I was lucky enough to catch up to the driver on both occasions and verbally abuse them in front of a load of students, I have no idea if anything I said actually sank in. Good luck out there.

  3. Paul of N.W. GA says:

    I live close to Chattanooga,
    Before winter go ahead and buy things like gloves for different temperature ranges, shoe covers, a good bicycle jacket and other cold weather/winter gear. Why start now, sales and time to research. Being this far south studded tires aren’t needed.

    Rain gear (I like the Carradice Pro Route Cape year round) and a helmet cover (also good to help keep head warm in winter). Riding in the rain is nice most of the time for the other days having something to keep you dry and not sweating too much is nice.

    I also love my touring bike w/ front and rear racks, carries a lot, fast and fun with a hub generator powering the lights for rainy days, fog and short winter days, fenders not just for rain but after rain and the liquids cars leak, a real all weather commuter bike. I do have the drop bars a little high, so I can see better in traffic and still be able to get pretty low for head winds.

    Also a mirror is great, I like the helmet mounted type, a quick turn of my head and I see everything behind me. I find my dela airzound (horn) helpful when motorist don’t see me or are talking on the cell.

    All this may seem expansive but will serve for years and making your commute comfortable for every day and will never be questioned after a couple of uses.

    When your tires need replacing, get tires with reflective sidewalls and Kevlar.

    Don’t for get the tools, pump and patch kit.

    Last, your first defense is visibility, put reflective tape on your crank arms, helmet, palms and back of gloves and anywhere that help motorist see you as far off as possible.

    Oh, practice looking back while riding a straight line.

    Our children are going to pay for our car-culture

  4. Sarah of SLC, UT says:

    My husband and I just started commuting to work by bicycle about a month ago when our car broke down and we were too lazy to get it registered. We love biking! We both hate going to the gym to work out, so this is the best way for us to get exercise. Plus, you’re saving money and bettering the environment.

    Currently I am riding around on a Gary Fisher mountain bike. It’s nice and light and takes the hills well, but I am looking for a bike with a U-frame (so it’s easier to get on and off), upright handle bars, and a comfortable seat. I’m looking for a bike that combines the features of my Gary Fisher and a “cruiser” type bike. Any suggestions out there?

  5. g Anton says:

    Go to “http://www.dinottelighting.com/dinotte_store.html” to get a super bright tail light for night, dusk, dawn, and/or bad weather. It is a little bit pricey, but what is your health and life worth?

  6. Jett says:

    I’ve been commuting in Atlanta for many years and since I actually count the number of cyclists I see each day, I can say the numbers keep increasing.

    My cycling corridor is favorable for cycling. I live between Midtown and Decatur and perhaps more significantly, between Georgia Tech and Emory. All four areas have good numbers of bike commuters, high motorist acceptance of cyclists, and several good routes (as long as you don’t mind hills).

    It sounds like you might be aware that riding the sidewalks is more dangerous than riding the road so I’ll just say I’m glad you’re out there riding and I hope you continue to enjoy it, and maybe I’ll see you on the road one day.

  7. Sol says:

    I live and work in Norcross, Gwinnett county (NE Atlanta). Fortunately, since I’ve just moved here I was able to find a house close to work (3 miles). Coming from a bike friendly city (Ottawa), I was quite surprised to see the complete lack of people walking on the streets here (except in parking lots).

    I’m now determined to showcase to my colleagues a different way of commuting to work (like what all of you have done). I’ve purchased a used Montague MX folding bike for a few hundred dollars. This is a great folding full sized mountain bike that rides, functions, and looks very cool. I’m also purchasing an electric hub motor with controller, charger, etc (lot of hills where I am so it will be nice to have a flex-fuel bike – electricity or mangos). I know I don’t really need a motor (albeit electric) to go to work but I want to extend my range to go even further on bike for other activities.

    I’ll then be setting up solar panels in the backyard of my home to showcase sustainability living for both commuting and powering the house.

    The cost for the electric bike solution will be around $550 or so for a very nice high end foldable commuting electric-motorized bicycle (with a range of around 20 miles on electrons alone). The solar panels will be more of course but they are also for the home. I should be up and running on the bike shortly (the solar panel system is a more long term endeavor).

    I figured a sustainable commuting solution should be completely functional/practical but also look good/cool especially to encourage the younger generations to embrace sustainable practices.

    I hope that over time, I won’t be the only one riding a bike on the streets of Norcross…
    Keep up the good work, y’all.

  8. Michel Phillips says:

    I commute 6.9 miles each way from my home in Smyrna to my law office (what is it with us lawyers?) near downtown Marietta. I joined the Marietta YWCA, .4 miles from my office, for $36 per YEAR so I can use the shower. I leave my work clothes at the office, and when the weather is bad I drive my car and swap out the dirty work clothes for clean ones.

    My route is very hilly, and very bumpy — I spend a lot of time on sidewalks, because there are no bike lanes and the drivers around here just aren’t bike-conscious. Sidewalks means a lot of up-and-down when traversing driveways. Between that and hopping curbs, my knees were hurting using a hardtail, so I finally switched to a full-suspension bike. (A high-quality used one I got on eBay.) I love the fact I don’t even have to break rhythm when going in and out of driveways and over bumps, and my knees love it!

    I run Specialized Nimbus Armadillo 26×1.5 tires at 80 PSI and love them. Only one flat in over a year, compared to frequent flats on the old Kendas with Mr. Tuffy liners I was using before. I have a seatpost-mounted cargo rack.

    I also have an old, beat-up car I leave at the office for occasional mid-day errands or driving home when the weather is bad at the end of the day.

  9. Tim says:

    I’m glad to read of so many fellow bike-commuters in the area. I ride from near Marietta Square to Kennesaw State U, about 8 miles. Much of the ride is through neighborhoods or on the Cobb County bike trail, but a few miles are on four-lane roads with sidewalks that are often littered with trash (flatted out just last month).

    When I have the time I ride up K Mtn, adding a good workout to the hilly commute.

    I feel fortunate to be in a green building, complete with a shower to encourage alternative commutes. Two of my colleagues also commute; we hope to encourage others. Perhaps our school’s increased parking fees will help…

  10. Jack H says:

    I’ve been researching gas/electric bicycle conversion kits for the last month. So naturally I look for any dealers in Atlanta – and I’ve come up with a big zero. With all the hills here I can’t believe there’s no market for a few bicycle shops to add this to their offering. There are people with disabilities where an electric bike would bring alot of joy and help to their lives- not just us out of shape ones guys. What a great way to extend your usual route too. Does anybody know of anyone who sells electric or gas powered conversion kits for bikes here in ATL ?

  11. [...] Other bloggers have similar top 10 lists. [...]

  12. Sue says:

    I live in midtown and have to commute to Sandy Springs (Northside Dr/Powers Ferry intersection) so the closest Marta station (Sandy Springs) is nearly 6 miles away. I wanted to bike the 6 miles but I know 2 people who have gotten hurt biking (one hit by a car, another hit something in the road and was flipped over the handlebars) so I was just too scared to ride on the road. Atlanta especially just has so many bad drivers that don’t care…I wanted to ride on the sidewalks but I kept hearing that was actually against the law and more dangerous anyway. Reading how many people actually ride on the sidewalks is giving me a renewed inspiration that maybe I can do it afterall.

  13. Kevin says:

    Hi Tim. It’s been over a year how is your commuting going? I started commuting to work in 2004. I travel 9 miles each way. I mostly started for the exercise but now it’s a contest for me to keep my pickup truck in the driveway. (Only 500 miles on it last year). Atlanta is intimidating to ride but I was used to riding around the streets of West Palm Beach as a teenager so was able to acclimate.

    I’ve met some of the nicest folks riding (Jett for one) and would miss the exercise, scenery and connection with the world that driving a car cuts you off from. When was the last time a mockingbird momma gave you a warning peck on the back or a rainshower cooled you off while driving from work? I even enjoy the challenge of extremes in temperature (101F-17F) that I have ridden in. Now, on the rare days that I have to drive a car, I feel deprived.

    Sue, I don’t believe it’s actually against the law to ride on the sidewalk in GA. However, IMO it’s generally a very bad idea. I suggest you look into an Effective Cycling class by the Atlanta Bicycle Campaign. Adult utility riding is a bit different than what we learned as children. It may help give you confidence and encouragement to join in the fun.

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  15. October 24, 2008
    Commuting by bike is clearly picking up steam in the Buckhead and Midtown areas of Atlanta. I started riding to work full time in November of ’07. I never saw another bike untill April. My route is up Peachtree St, the main corridor through town and it starts at the northern edge of midtown, ending in the middle of Buckhead, at Tower Place.

    In April of this year, it started to change and I’d see the occassional other bike or two. Now, in October, it’s likely I’ll see 6 bikes on each commute. To borrow (and mangle) Arlo Guthrie’s famous line in Alice’s Restaurant, “…and if 50 people start doing it….they’ll think it’s a movement!”

    On a safety note, particularly important along the busy Peacthree corridor of Atlanta, read these great bike accident statistics and live to ride longer:

    http://danenet.wicip.org/bcp2006/ite_article.html

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  17. Ethan says:

    I commute to class at Chattahoochee Tech twice a week from Bells Ferry Rd., Marietta. My commute is 8 miles one way. I have tried riding on the road but after a few close calls I stay on the sidewalk except for where the bike lane appears on Church street and then quickly disappears. I always give pedestrians plenty of room since it is their sidewalk. I will continue to do this because, I love the exercise, I dislike buying foreign oil, and the trip is always a fun challenge. Hope to see you riding.

  18. Rodney says:

    I began commuting in October 2007. Would have began sooner, but the sidewalks stopped halfway in my 8 mile o/w commute.

    I found Street Smarts, by John Allen. What an eye opener. I live in Florida and the book was adapted to FL statutes.

    Rarely do I use the sidewalk these days. (There is road construction along my route and not enough safe passing distance while controlling the lane)

    My rides have become MUCH LESS STRESSFUL and more enjoyable since adopting the principles found in Street Smarts.

    I regularly post at our local blog http://www.CommuteOrlando.com. Check us out sometime.

  19. jerry says:

    If you don’t think people are like sheeps led to the slaughter, then I’m amazed at those who repeat the ridiculous theory that “bicycling on sidewalks is more dangerous than on the streets”

    I’ve ridden on sidewalks all my life (except wide open subdivisions or bike paths) and am injury free.

    Street riding Example 1: my nephew is now a PARAPLEGIC after getting hit by a driver who was adjusting her car radio !!

    Example 2: My neighbor broke his arm,ribs and collarbone by teenagers intentionally running him off the road. He’s a triathlete. This wasn’t his first road accident.

    ON and ON.

    You can see cars coming and ride without fear.

    Driveway issue? BS. The difference between riding in the street and on the sidewalk is only 2-3 feet. If the person backing out of the driveway won’t see you on the sidewalk, they won’t see you 2′ further away.

    Crosswalks??? You mean cars can see pedestrians in the crosswalk but not a pedestrian with a bike ?? come on.

    Whoever designed your city street never intended a Hummer and a biker to share the road.

    When I’m in the city, it’s the sidewalk, I want to live. (And yes, I literally stop or slow down to 1mph and move all the way over when I see a pedestrian.)

    I want to pedal my wheels, not push them in a wheelchair.

    don’t believe the hype – THINK !

  20. Michel Phillips says:

    Been bike commuting part-time for about 5 years now. The longer I do it, the more I ride in the road instead of on the sidewalk. But there are still times when I stick to the sidewalk — especially (a) uphill, and (b) when the road is narrow and visibility ahead is restricted.

  21. Kevin says:

    response for Jerry (item 20)

    It is now illegal for anyone over 12 years of age to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk in Georgia.
    Code Section 40-6-144

    This is a good thing because adult riding on a sidewalk is 24.8 times riskier than riding on a major street without bicycle facilites.
    http://www.bicyclinglife.com/Library/Moritz2.htm

    incidentally,
    A recent research project finds that car drivers are responsible for 90% of car/bike accidents in Toronto.

    http://www.research.utoronto.ca/behind_the_headlines/smart-cycling/

    “The most common type of crash in this study involved a motorist entering an intersection failing to stop properly or proceeding before it was safe to do so. The second most common crash type involved a motorist overtaking unsafely. The third involved a motorist opening a door onto an oncoming cyclist.

    The available evidence suggests that collisions have far more to do with aggressive driving than aggressive cycling.”

  22. jerry says:

    response for Kevin, # 22

    Kevin,

    You made my point for me: “A recent research project finds that car drivers are responsible for 90% of car/bike accidents in Toronto.”

    1. Apparently it doesn’t matter if the biker does all the right things, cars are out of your control and you take your chances.

    2.Biker not in street, ie sidewalk: both win, no accidents except by bicyclist.

    3.If you’re on the sidewalk, won’t get hit by driver opening door.

    Now we’re up to it’s 25x riskier to ride on the sidewalk???? Where do these people get this? You can make numbers fit any situation you want. It just takes one car wreck to be pushing yourself in a wheelchair.

    Look, I’d rather ride on the street, and do when it’s wide open, I hate the bumpy sidewalks.

    But I don’t want to put my life in the hands of someone driving and talking and texting on their cellphone.

    I’ll pay the sidewalk fine and live. To each their own. I wish I had the cajones to fly up and down the streets in rush hour, but I guess I’d rather go slower and get there.

    Thanks y’all !

  23. Michel Phillips says:

    I still ride on the sidewalk some, but ride more and more on the street.

    The most important factor, I think, is visibility — which is driven by expectations. If a stretch of sidewalk is crossed by driveways and side streets, I avoid it — because cars turning into those driveways and cross streets will not be looking for me on the sidewalk. ESPECIALLY cars turning left, who are looking for a quick hole in oncoming car traffic. (Thus Jerry’s point #2 is wrong.) Riding on the sidewalk also makes you vulnerable to the “right hook,” which you can prevent by riding out in the middle of the traffic lane.

    I’m more likely to ride on the sidewalk when the pavement is narrow and visibility ahead is blocked by a hill or curve.

    My speed is also important. I am much more likely to ride on the sidewalk uphill than downhill.

    Pedestrian traffic is also a factor. If there are pedestrians on the sidewalk, I’ll probably get in the street.

  24. The way you have described this is very thorough. I will link your blog page to mine.

  25. Bubba says:

    Recently I was in San Francisco where I enjoyed touring by bike and riding across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. But they have bike lanes.

    I would love to be able to commute by bike in Atlanta. But in the absence of bike lanes, a daily commute from Sandy Springs to Midtown on Roswell Road and Peachtree would be the statistical equivalent of Russian Roulette. I have tried to figure out a safer route but no matter how you cut there is a long stretch in busy traffic lanes shared with impatient drivers distracted with their cell phones.

  26. Dan says:

    I’ve been commuting 3 months in the Norcross area by bike. Like other stories, it was instigated by a car malfunction. I have lost nearly 30 lbs and still dropping, feel the best I’ve felt in years, sleep better, and my stress has pretty much evaporated.

    I live within a 15 minute ride from work, and my apartment and job are both straddled by major shopping centers, so a bike only lifestyle has been an easy switch.

    Anything further then that, I can taxi or MARTA/GCT.

    If it’s against the law to ride on the sidewalk, it should be changed. As we love to lay pavement in this city for cars, but don’t seem to care for pedestrians or cyclists (many places don’t even have sidewalks or crosswalks, much less bike lanes or bike paths), I think that law to be a bit silly.

    I have nearly been clipped several times, including a close call with a Gwinnett County Police Car going full speed when riding on a stretch of Holcomb Bridge Road that has no sidewalk. I don’t trust people on the road to slow down, and/or take the second lane when available. Over and over again I’ve seen, they won’t. Not to mention some semi barreling down Holcomb Bridge in the right lane cause of another stupid law that they have to take the lane closest to the curb.

    So, whatever your statistics are, I think the defining factor should be the route and the general behavior of the drivers and type of traffic on it. I will continue to ride on the sidewalk when I can. When I can’t, I take the lane, rather then try and stay close, that way they must pass me, rather then try and squeeze by…but I’d rather just use the empty sidewalks and back streets and avoid the inconvenience and risk.

    With regard to pedestrians, it’s not downtown or NYC. It’s not like there is a flush of foot traffic in the Norcross area, and when there is, I act as a pedestrian, slow down or bypass them (hop onto the road for a bit, or ride the grass to pass them).

    If they decide to fine me, so be it.

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