Your way around a city is the way you love it.
(Or how I learned to stop driving and love riding a bike)
On June 24, 2015, my car life ended, and my bike life began. My beloved 1985 white Chrysler LeBaron convertible was stolen from in front of my house, joyridden to Buckhead, and crashed into a retaining wall before the perpetrator allegedly performed a car jacking a block away. Because it was an old car, my insurance company totaled it. And because awesome old cars like that don’t come along every day, I decided to wait for a bit to buy a new car. For the first time since I was 15 years old, I was going to go carless and bike everywhere.
Now, I realize my decision to make biking my primary form of transportation is laden with all sorts of privilege. It’s not really that novel to not have a car in Atlanta — something like 23% of Atlanta’s household don’t — but a disproportionate number of those are urban and suburban poor trapped in communities underserved by transit and where not having a car means insanely long bus and train rides to get anywhere. But I was lucky enough a few years ago to sneak into a foreclosure deal in Poncey-Highland near the Beltline, and all the necessities in life — my work, my home, my daughter’s school, grocery stores — are located in a 2 mile radius of my house. So I made the decision to start an experiment. For two months, I would put off getting a car and get on my bike.
Before I decided to go carless, I had been riding my vintage single speed CCM road bike a lot. It was light and easy to maneuver when I biked to bars or to work one or two days a week. But once I made the decision to go carless, I switched to my Yuba Mundo cargo bike as my primary ride. And as a car replacement, the Yuba Mundo is hard to beat, primarily because it allows for the improvisational “carrying-of-stuff” that busy parents start to take for granted when driving around a city. The wooden bench with handlebars carries my daughter (or a friend). The oversize pannier bags hold 4 packed cloth grocery bags. I can strap up to 400 pounds of cargo on the back. Practically, what that means is any “on-the-way” errand that I would have to preplan on a regular bike (from picking up a six pack or a big bag of dog food to dropping off a car seat) I can do on my Yuba. When I still had a car, the Yuba Mundo freed me to hop on the bike most morning without making an excuse why I couldn’t. Now that I don’t have a car, that freedom has become invaluable.
During my two month experiment, I discovered a lot of the rationales for why I DIDN’T bike around the city every day just weren’t true. I always felt like Atlanta was an unsafe city to bike in, with very little bike infrastructure. But in fact, I’ve discovered that the bike infrastructure in Atlanta is surprisingly good and getting better. In Poncey Highland, I can get to Inman Park and Midtown with a 7-min bike ride, and with an easy 20-30 minute ride get to a wide swath of in-town Atlanta — from Decatur to West Midtown, from south Buckhead to East Atlanta, from Morningside to Adair Park. I would estimate that 85% of my rides are on trails, dedicated and protected bike lanes, or wide residential streets. And beyond the Beltline Eastside Trail, which I use daily, I’ve discovered a network of trails that I never knew existed (like the Trolley Line Trail which I just happened on last weekend) that connect neighborhoods in powerful ways — ways that often make biking even more efficient than driving. When I have to go somewhere that’s out of range of my bike (or if I’m running late and where I’m going is in a part of town don’t think I’ll get there in time, or don’t want to get there a little sweaty), I Uber. I used Uber a LOT the first month as I got used to the rhythm of biking, but now I use it 1–2 times a week, and I spend significantly less on it than what I spent on gas and insurance when I had a car.
More important than the savings are the quality of life improvements I’ve seen while biking. I’ve lost 10 pounds. I never have to sit in traffic with road rage. When I pick my daughter up from school she delights in the fact that we “aren’t polluting” as we ride through residential streets on the way home. I smile at my neighbors when I pass them, and stop to chat with new people every day. It’s a journey that every day changes my relationship with this city for the better. Which is why I ended up turning the two-month experiment into a permanent life change.
More than anything, biking around Atlanta I’ve discovered that the city we experience is a product of the choices we make (or are forced to make) in where we live, where we work, and how we get to the places that matter to us. And for me, biking has made me love my city a little more than I did before.