Biking to work - easier than I thought it would be
As an avid cyclist, I've done a lot of cycling - but not in the city. My wife and I would drive out to the Silver Comet Trail or drive 45 minutes to an hour away from Atlanta in order to find roads with less traffic where we would ride our bicycles. We usually ride fairly long distances, 30 to 50 miles, sometimes longer.
So when I went to work for the Clean Air Campaign, which is only 12.5 miles from my home, the distance wasn't an issue - but I was definitely worried about the traffic.
I talked to every Atlanta bicycle commuter I could find, and got a lot of advice, and then went for it. I scouted out routes, trying to stay away from main thoroughfares with heavy traffic. I was able to find neighborhood roads for about 7.5 of those 12.5 miles, but there was no way around it - I was going to have about 5 miles on Peachtree Road and Peachtree Street.
One of the pieces of advice I heard was to "take the lane". This means rather than staying as far to the right as possible, if the lane is too narrow for a car to safely pass you (safely means at least 3 feet between you and the car) you should ride in the center of the lane.
It might sound counterintuitive, but even the "Georgia Bike Sense" guide says to move to the left or take the center of the lane in the following situations:
- Left turns
- Avoiding hazards or debris
- The lane is too narrow to share safely with other vehicles
- Passing standing vehicles
- Moving to the left in these circumstances is legal, so keep in mind that staying to the right is not always required and not always the safest place to be."
I ride Peachtree Road/Street from Peachtree Battle to Woodruff Park. In that stretch there are always 2 or 3 lanes. So when I turn on to Peachtree Road, I get in the center of the right lane. In most cases, cars and trucks have plenty of room to move over. Sometimes they get stuck behind me, but I have never had an unpleasant encounter because of that. In fact the only close encounter I've had at all was when I was lax about staying in the center of the lane, and someone thought they could squeeze by me; they went by with a one foot clearance, and that was too close for comfort.
The other important piece of advice I have for bike commuting is to get a rear view mirror. There are several different types; some mount on the handlebar, some mount on your helmet, some even mount on your glasses. I always ride with eye protection, so I went for the mirror on the glasses type. Being aware of traffic to the rear has made the biggest difference for me in terms of safety and peace of mind.
And on the days when I just don't feel like riding that 5 miles on Peachtree, there's always MARTA. The station is only 3 miles from my home, which takes me about 15 minutes on the bike.
Still not sure? Take the "Confident City Cycling" course offered by the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition.
If you've been thinking about bike commuting, Bike To Work Week is the perfect time to just do it. Once I tried it, I found it's a lot easier than I thought it would be.
See you on the road!