Last weekend, visiting family in Atlanta, I had the opportunity to ride some of the new bicycle facilities which recently sprang up in the city. Atlanta’s BeltLine is a 22-mile path being built on old railroad rights-of-way which connects the city’s parks and neighborhoods with a dedicated bicycle/pedestrian route. It also links to a new cycle track, one of several planned, which offers cyclists a two-way, separated bike lane along a busy road. These facilities made for an enjoyable 12-mile ride, and it was clear we weren’t the only ones enjoying the beautiful day. The BeltLine is a major draw for the citizens of Atlanta as well as visitors, and in the nine months since this section opened the number of cyclists has increased significantly and there are clear signs of economic redevelopment in the surrounding neighborhoods.
My Atlanta experience provides an interesting perspective on the state of infrastructure development in St. Louis. On the day I returned, for instance, Karen Karabell published a critique of plans to put bicycle lanes on Manchester road, arguing that they are neither safe nor necessary, and advocating instead for more sharrows. Its no surprise that cyclists hold a dazzling array of opinions when it comes to bike infrastructure (discussed for example here and here), and the safety concerns of committed cyclists must not be lightly dismissed. Still, implacable foes of bicycle infrastructure fail to acknowledge something fundamental and readily apparent in Atlanta: people overwhelmingly like bike infrastructure — in Atlanta they love it — and the more protected the better. Better infrastructure leads to more riders, and this is as true in St. Louis as in Atlanta.
There are a number of reasons why more cycling is good for cities and communities. Riders on the streets build a sense of community and reduce crime, spur economic development and calm automobile traffic. People who ride live longer and are healthier, reducing health care costs and increasing the quality of life. Acceptance of cyclists and bicycle infrastructure has reached a tipping point and is now essentially mainstream across the United States. The question is not whether St. Louis will build additional infrastructure, but where and what kind. It will be some time before St. Louis gets its own BeltLine, but outstanding bicycle infrastructure which is a joy to ride and convenient to use is critical to fulfill this City’s potential.