from Joel's photos

“A city should be so constructed so that it is safely navigable by any seven-year-old on a bicycle” –ENRIQUE PEÑALOSA

Sunday, May 23 marked Atlanta’s first ciclovia, Atlanta Streets Alive. Six months in the making, I was completely floored by what I saw Sunday at 1 pm. People spilling out into the streets to explore the city unimpeded or distracted by car traffic, children riding bikes without fear, grownups dancing like kids in the streets. It was magical.

I was intrigued by the ciclovia concept after experiencing it as a student in Bogota, Colombia as a Fulbright scholar. (Scholar might be overselling it, but I did take classes at both the elitist and the leftist universities – Los Andes, where I dodged pointy-toed prada and La Nacional, where I dodged tear gas and rubber bullets – and researched participatory planning efforts including transportation.)

In Bogota, the ciclovia is so widespread that every Sunday, simply by walking two blocks from my apartment I was at ciclovia, and most residents of the city could say the same.  100+ miles of city streets are fully or partially closed to automobiles, buses and taxes, and turned over into public, democratic spaces for people to get active.  An estimated 800,000 – 1 million participate . It’s unbelievable.

I wanted that for our town. And I wanted it for my family. Most days, I bike Everett to daycare in the trailer on back streets, taking a circuitous route that adds 10 minutes to my trip. Most days Josh picks him up and they ride the bus home together, but on those occasions when I pick him up by bike, there just is no good way to get home.

It’s frustrating to me that we are trying to do the right thing and our streets, designed and built primarily for cars, don’t make it easy. Biking by yourself, as an adult, and biking with a child, your child, are two very different things at this point in our city’s evolution.

So the ciclovia held a special appeal for me as a parent.

from Kyle's photos

from Kyle's photos

Making it happen in Atlanta was ambitious, to say the least. Some key people at the CDC suggested late last year that the 2010 Congress for New Urbanism coming to Atlanta might be a good time to do it. And we (the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, city councilmember  Kwanza Hall, and a volunteer planning committee including CDC, ARC, CAP, ADID, GSU, and GT people – so many acronyms in one place!) took it on. Saturday, May 22, I was nearly sick with anticipation and asking myself why. Sunday, May 23 found me ecstatic at the turnout and universal looks of glee on people’s faces.

from Court's photos

I hope you had  a chance to experience it for yourself. It was madcap, it was organized, it was raucous, it was peaceful. It was crazy fun, and we hope to do it again in the fall.

from Kyle's photos

Best of all, for at least that afternoon I didn’t feel any fear as I watched Josh pull Everett in his bike trailer down Edgewood Avenue.

image by Kyle Torok

To quote Enrique Peñalosa again,

“We humans know more about what constitutes healthy habitat for a mountain gorilla than for a child living in a city.”

“We humans are pedestrians. We need to walk, not in order to survive, but to be happy.”

“In order to choose a city model we must have an idea of how do we want to live, because a city is really a means to a way of life. For example if we want a humane, child friendly city, motor-car road infrastructure may have to be limited and car use restricted.”

Photos in this post came from the Atlanta Streets Alive photo album on Facebook (I used images taken by ABC members), and from images captured by ABC volunteer Kyle Torok, who covered the event for FreeWheelin’ (Kyle’s album). Thanks guys!

It’s been two month since we last blogged. Two months!  Occasionally we say to each other, vaguely, we should blog more. So and so asked if we were still blogging.  Are we? We nod sagely – we should blog about something, soon.  But about what?  We ask.  We agree that we don’t know.

Being car-free has turned out to be a fairly ordinary experience, in the best possible of ways.  All the predictions that we’d give up when we found out how hard it was to live in Atlanta without a car have not come to pass.  All our questions and concerns have faded.  All the excuses and fears that kept us from doing it sooner have been quieted by our day to day existence,  crowded out by our happy, boring lives. And we like it that way!

The biggest news I have to share is that we have started buying tall beers in aluminum cans at the gas station, where a kindly old man watches over our bikes.  I gave him a dollar yesterday, which he nearly wouldn’t take but finally did so with great pleasure.  I would have watched it for nothing, you know.  I knew, and that’s why I felt moved to dig around in my purse.

The first time I biked for our beer I rolled into the crowded storefront, insistent that No Way was I leaving my precious bicycle outside.  No bike racks around here. No fence posts, even!  I was taking my mode inside, and there was nothing the gentlemen behind the bullet-proof glass could do about it. I think they realized it would take them longer to kick me out than to ring me up, so I escaped with my six pack.

So there you have it – my big news.  Beer in cans is easier to transport by bike. Unless you have The Perfect Bike Bag, which is a meaty (faux meaty anyway) topic I’ll bravely tackle in a future post!

Til then, ride on, my brave ones.  Ride on.

Yesterday we decided to ride over to check out the Capitol View after hearing how great the elementary school was from the woman who runs metro Atlanta’s Safe Routes to School program.  We have several friends who live in the neighborhood as well as adjacent Adair Park, and have a little history with Perkerson Park – it’s where Josh won me over, although I didn’t know it at the time!

It was Hands on Atlanta Day, 2006.  While the rest of the rag-tag band of volunteers were using their fingernails to scrape paint off an old railing (I’m almost not exaggerating here – I’ve been to many Hands On Atlanta Days, and if you get a bad volunteer coordinator, you are in for some ditzy DIY not-so-much-improvements.) our group was asked to build a picnic table, but we weren’t provided any tools, just the kit.  Luckily Josh had come prepared with a well-stocked and organized tool box.  He stayed late with me to finish after everyone else but the organizer had given up.

Back to yesterday.  It was a gorgeous spring-like day, so riding bikes there was a no-brainer.  It does take a little longer to get packed and ready with a kiddo and bike trailer, but since we were setting out for a longer trip the extra preparation paid off.  Everett only needed the Freak-Out Bag TM once, but once is enough!  Waving the snack pack at him usually does the trick.

Josh is a big proponent of neon reflective vests, and E’s at the mimic stage, so he decided he needed one too.

We took the same route I normally use to take Everett to daycare in Adair Park, so the video below shows the West End streets we bike daily.

The house was stunning.  An open house was being set up, so we got to see the inside even though we hadn’t brought our realtor.  The neighborhood was very diverse – lots of young professional looking types, lots of teens and kids, and some older folks.   As we were wandering around trying to find the house, a sketchy looking dude stopped suddenly when he saw us and yelled out, “I love your baby cart!”  I need to be less judge-y.

It may have been the aforementioned gorgeous spring-like weather, but people were so nice yesterday it was ridiculous.

That was the theme for the ride – hardened looking guys wearing gang colors breaking into huge grins when they saw the bike trailer.  Teenage girls and cooing over how adorable Everett was.  Older ladies we expected to wag fingers slowing down to exclaim over our little family bike trip.  Toddler girls at the park telling me, “I LOVE your baby!”  White dude in a pickup truck who hollered  out “crazy bikers!” turning out to be Tim, who runs BeltLine Bikes in Adair Park (and for whom Josh was mistaken earlier in our ride when we ran into some kids on bikes in Adair Park.  After a brief hesitation, “Hey Mr. Tim!”)  Josh can’t hear well so he just said Hey back and we rolled on home.

Amazingly, I passed another cyclist on my way home.  Lots of people were walking in the West End, too.

When you need coffee, beer, and toothbrushes, it doesn’t matter much what the weather outside is like .

Speaking of which, I could NOT get that song out of my head tonight:

Oh the weather outside is frightful, but inside it’s so delightful.  As long as you love me so, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

One problem I’ve never had on my  Miyata 1000LT

is Sudden Unintended Acceleration.  Nope, never been an issue!  More like extremely tepid, very intentional, mild acceleration.  That’s more like it.

Even when I do have a breakdown, as I did just this week, I have a back-up bike (or two…) in the garage.

Monday morning was a real Monday this week.  I heard a timid squeaking sound coming from my chain, but chose to ignore it.  Bad move.  Nearing the top of the hill on Donnelly, it snapped. Pow!  Everett seemed impressed with the pop as we coasted to a slow stop in the driveway of a house that has been in various stages of remodeling for months.

Immediately a car pulled over.  Wow, I thought – people are so helpful around here!  Two older men stepped out, and walked deliberately around us to get a closer look at the phone number on the dumpster behind the house. “Is that an 818 or 810?”  “I think it’s an 818.”   “Oh, hi.” And that was the extent of that.

I fiddled with my chain for a few minutes, on the off chance I could somehow bend the link back again with my bare hands.  Superwoman though I am, that proved impossible (must have been the light chill in the air…yeah, that’s it).

But then another bike rider pulled up.  “You got a chain tool?” I asked, hoping, hoping.  “No, but let me see what I can do.”  Five minutes later, we both gave up.  Everett was miraculously quiet and chill the entire time (thanks, kid!)

“They say you should always carry a spare chain and a chain tool,” he noted.  (Here’s Mike at Intown on what to carry.)   I gave our new acquaintance a set of lights, and he took off for the library (after offering to walk us home – I demurred).

It didn’t take long to get back to the house since we we were just about a mile away.  We coasted down hills and pushed back up (well, I pushed – Everett just continued to be cooperative, but heavy).  Home before we knew it, I rolled my bike into the shed and picked out another bike from our collection.

That’s another nice thing about bikes – you can afford to own a backup (or two)!

Thursday afternoon, one of Atlanta’s few remaining bike messengers came in through the open door at ABC.  He came bearing a gift – a rusty but very functional multitool…with a chain attachment.

In case you’re interested, here’s how to fix a broken bicycle chain.  (Your chain is pretty sure to break if you don’t click on the link, and unlikely to snap if you do.)

Ah, the naysayers.  Not only can they not live without a car, they don’t think anyone else can do it either.  So many reasons.  We say, if you don’t want to do it, that’s probably why you can’t.

Among the reasons:

  • It’s too dangerous [Is it?]
  • It’s too far to bike/walk/transit [Is it?]
  • I have to pick up / drop off my kids / dog / mother-in-law [We do too!]
  • MARTA doesn’t go where I need it to go [Look harder in a 2 mile radius]
  • There are no bike lanes in my community [Neither in ours…]
  • I hate getting wet / cold / sweaty [I do too – but you get used to it]
  • My husband / wife / baby daddy/mama would never go for it [Everyone is capable of change…if they want to]

I’ll post more on each of the Nays later.

For now, a quick highlights reel of why I’m loving this car-free thing right now!

  • Guilt free cartons of ice cream
  • More quality time with my kid and husband (on the bus/train/bike – as opposed to feeling stressed in a car, or with Everett facing backwards in the back sleep)
  • Running into friends on my commute, and being able to truly interact with them, even riding along for  a ways
  • No worries about being car-jacked (hey, if it can happen to the city council president, it can happen to you)
  • No impulsive shopping trips to Target where we spend too much money, waste too much time, and have too little to show for it
  • Realization that I could have been shopping online all along, saving time and money!
  • Creative juices flowing as we plan new adventures together
  • No $$$ spent on gasoline, oil changes, major or minor repairs, impulsive gas station buys, or car accessories.  All those little thing really added up.
  • (We’re still shopping non-owner car insurance so we have coverage if we borrow a friend or family member’s car from time to time, so still paying that for now.)
  • Our nice empty driveway means we never worry about having our car stolen!  Ooops, did I already mention that?  Turned out to be one of those worries I only noticed after it was lifted.
  • More control over our lives.
  • Guilt-free travel – previously I would sometimes agonize over the “right” way versus the easy way to get somewhere.  I would want to bike or take MARTA but let time get away until it was too late to do anything but drive, or I would drive to the grocery store (one sheepish mile away) because it would have been too difficult, in my mind, to lug all those groceries home.  Turns out I was just wrong, and I’m loving it!
  • Knowing our healthful travel modes will not only benefit our own health and financial well-being, but are good for everyone around us by contributing to cleaner air, greater sense of community, and less wear and tear on the roads.

Now if only all the drivers would get that memo.

When man invented the bicycle he reached the peak of his attainments.  Here was a machine of precision and balance for the convenience of man.  And (unlike subsequent inventions for man’s convenience) the more he used it, the fitter his body became.  Here, for once, was a product of man’s brain that was entirely beneficial to those who used it, and of no harm or irritation to others.  Progress should have stopped when man invented the bicycle.

~Elizabeth West, Hovel in the Hills

Has it been one full week now or two?  I’m not sure – it’s already become routine (as in, the new normal, not as in boring).

I take Everett to daycare by bike every morning and Josh brings him home by bus each afternoon and we all feel pretty good about it, at least those of us who can talk do, and E has other ways of making his displeasure known, so I feel confident he’s enjoying it.  He still screams when the helmet goes on, but the second we’re in motion he’s humming happily along, and is usually in a deep sleep by the time we pull in to daycare 15 minutes later.

We take mostly neighborhood streets with very low traffic.  On average, 3-5 cars pass us on each trip, and so far everyone gives us an exaggerated passing distance.

Yesterday a woman crossing Beecher as we were stopped at a red light stopped to say “Neat – I love what you’re doing.”  Then, a beat later, “Wait – there’s a baby in there!”

What could I say?  You’re gonna get some hop-ons

Josh captured us taking off Friday morning: