People are increasingly riding bikes for commuting and recreational purposes throughout the country, including in Georgia. Statistics from the National Household Travel Survey show that the number of trips made by bicycle more than doubled in the U.S. between 2001 and 2009, going from 1.7 billion to 4 billion.
But an important question remains: Are states doing enough to prevent collisions between bicycles and motor vehicles?
Assessing how well states and cities are prioritizing bicycle safety is a complicated process. Many factors come into play, ranging from the types of laws that protect cyclists to how much funding is available to make bike-friendly changes to road infrastructure.
The Alliance for Bicycling and Walking recently released its 2014 Benchmarking Report, an attempt to examine these questions on a national and state-by-state basis. The report shows that Georgia has made major strides to improve road safety for bicyclists, but there is still a lot of room for progress.
Report: Atlanta Is Making Streets Safer for Cyclists
According to the Benchmarking Report, Georgia ranks No. 43 in the country for its bicycle fatality rate, with 18.3 deaths per 10,000 bicycle commuters. While that is a troubling overall number, one hopeful sign is that Atlanta – the state’s most populous city – is ranked No. 7 nationally for its bike fatality rate, with 1.6 deaths per 10,000 cyclists.
Recent statewide changes have certainly aided in the effort to improve bicycle safety. In 2009, Georgia increased fines for motorists who seriously injure bicyclists on the roads. Lawmakers also approved a request that biking on sidewalks be allowed for children 12 and under. Because not all roads in Georgia are well-equipped for bikes to have safe passage, bike enthusiasts advocated for children to have sidewalk access as a preventive measure.
In 2011, the state also passed the Better Biking Bill, which includes a provision that requires motorists to leave a minimum distance of three feet from a bicyclist when passing them on the road. This was an important step toward asserting cyclists’ rights on the state’s roads.
Georgia has also adopted a Complete Streets policy, in which the state Department of Transportation has committed to incorporating elements to accommodate cyclists, pedestrians and transit users in road design and reconstruction projects.
Atlanta has made several steps to protect its cyclists as well. According to the Benchmarking Report, the city has for the first time published a goal to reduce bike fatalities. Also, the Metropolitan Area Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) provides no restrictions on hours for people to bring their bicycles on board, aside from making sure that aisles and doors are kept clear. According to the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, only two other U.S. cities – Minneapolis and Memphis – provide cyclists with the same services on transit lines.
In addition, more permanent bike trails are cropping up around the Atlanta Metro area, giving bicyclists more safe space to ride than ever before.
Next Steps for Bike Safety in Georgia
To continue progress in bicycle safety in Georgia, it will require funding. As the Benchmarking Report notes, federal funds tend to go toward roadway infrastructure rather than sidewalks, crosswalks and bike lanes. According to the report’s analysis, 15 percent of roadway fatalities are pedestrians or cyclists, yet only 2.1 percent of federal transportation funding goes toward cycling or walking projects. Certainly, this needs to change.
Motorists and cyclists can also make sure they know the laws about bicycles in Georgia. Bikes are considered vehicles in Georgia, and cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as any other traveler. To learn more specifics about bike laws in the state, the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety provides this pocket guide as well as a detailed description of the state’s bike laws on its website.
There are no guarantees that people will follow even the best laws to protect bicyclists. Unfortunately, some people view cyclists as a menace and a hazard on the roads, and they let their irritation cloud their judgment when it comes to following the law.
Cyclists must be vigilant and take all steps to protect themselves as well. That means not only obeying traffic rules but also wearing a helmet, using hand signals to indicate your intentions to motorists and regularly inspecting and maintaining your bike.
You can also brush up on your biking skills and emergency response techniques by taking adult instruction classes offered by organizations such as the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition.