In 2008, an irate driver wrote a letter to the Atlanta paper complaining about bikers: “Traffic is bad enough without people taking a recreational ride down a major road while productive members of society are trying to get to actual destinations.” Such attitudes showed just how far the city still had to go to become bike-friendly, despite the PATH Foundation’s sustained efforts on its network of recreational trails (nearing 300 miles in Georgia), including the BeltLine. Rebecca Serna, the young executive director of the Atlanta Bicycle Campaign (later renamed Atlanta Bicycle Coalition), commuted to work by bicycle and felt called upon to respond to this letter. Since riding her bike to work, Serna wrote, she had lost 15 pounds and saved $8,500 a year by ditching her car and sharing her husband’s when necessary. She felt energized and alert after her 20-minute ride each way. She pointed out that bike commuters save the public 13 cents a mile in congestion and pollution costs. Finally, she noted, “We’re not clogging up traffic, we are traffic.”
Yet Atlanta was far behind many other cities in almost every aspect of bicycling. In 2006, Bicycling Magazine ranked Atlanta as one of the three worst cities in the country for cyclists. A 2008 survey found that over a third of Atlanta’s bike-riders didn’t wear helmets, and a quarter rode on the sidewalk – somewhat understandably, since there were few bike lanes on the crowded streets. The Department of Public Works posted “Share the Road” signs, a lame response. Even on Edgewood Avenue, which featured a rare bike lane, the 2008 surveyors saw an SUV swerve into it, nearly running down two bikers. In response, on the last Friday of the month, hundreds of Critical Mass bicyclists gathered defiantly to block intersections and protest the dominance of the automobile. Such behavior only exacerbated antagonisms on both sides. “There is a war going on between Atlanta’s motorists and bicyclists,” a local reporter observed.
Over the next few years, however, a sea change in attitude towards cycling took place in Atlanta. In 2010, Rebecca Serna launched “Atlanta Streets Alive,” securing permission to temporarily block off two miles along Auburn and Edgewood Avenues, so that people could walk, bike, dance, and socialize where cars usually ruled. The Streets Alive program was a hit, and the renamed Atlanta Bicycle Coalition continued to sponsor such road parties in different neighborhoods, even blocking off Peachtree Street for one festival featuring music and a bicycle parade.