In the past week, locals have been shaken by news that a section of a bike lane recently installed in southwest Atlanta — and funded in part by a grant — was suddenly removed and replaced with parking spaces. And that it happened without the required City Council authorization.
In 2015, outdoor-retailer REI donated a total of $100,000 to six US cities for the creation of new bicycle infrastructure as part of a grant program run by People for Bikes. Atlanta was one of the winners, with a grant of about $20,000 going toward a barrier-protected bike lane on Westview Drive.
Not long after the bike lane was completed, Shiloh Baptist Church in the Ashview Heights neighborhood requested that the barriers be removed on a portion of the lane that runs in front of the church so that parishioners could park there on Sundays. The city complied.
“Last June, Council member Winslow asked Commissioner Tim Keane, from the Department of Planning & Community Development, to address concerns raised by residents and members of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church. The city made some adjustments at the church’s request. We hoped this would fix the issues and result in better communication. After this meeting, Council member Winslow passed legislation allowing churchgoers to park on the street.
From bike lane to parking lane in a week
People were caught off-guard last week when a 1,000-foot section of the bike lane in front of the church was completely removed by the City — and replaced with dedicated parking spaces. In this news report, the church claims that they didn’t ask for the lane to be removed. They say they only asked to have some bollards removed.
This raises questions about why the City has put free, dedicated parking spaces in the public right-of-way. Particularly since this is a section of road that, prior to the now-interrupted bike lane, parking was not even allowed. This Google Street View archive photo, below, shows ‘No Parking’ signs in front of the church.
The required Council authorization for removal didn’t happen
Who gave the order to remove the lane and replace it with parking where no parking existed before? Apparently it was someone who doesn’t know the law. Here’s what City of Atlanta ordinance has to say about removing or substantially altering a bike lane:
“150-65. – Bicycle routes, bicycle lanes, and multi-use trails Removal. Designated bicycle routes, bicycle lanes, and multi-use trails shall not be removed or substantially altered except as specifically authorized by the city council through an appropriate resolution.”
That authorization from Atlanta City Council did not happen. There was no resolution.**
Another key question is: what led to the decision to remove the bike lane completely here and replace it with parking? It’s a mystery at this point. We honestly don’t know, and we need answers.
What can be done?
The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition has published an detailed post about this bike-lane removal, and in it they’ve asked Atlantans to let the city know that safety is a top concern. They write:
“Call Atlanta District 4 Councilmember, Cleta Winslow, at (404) 330-6047
Email the Councilmember and the Commissioners of Public Works and Planning: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com”
Why this is important: safety and trust
The safety benefits of this bike lane are considerable. As ABC’s post notes: “Data from the City of Atlanta shows that in the past year that the bike lane existed, crashes (car, bike, pedestrian) decreased 38%! Even more compelling, crashes that caused serious injuries fell 68%! Local residents were safer because of the project.”
In addition to safety, at least two other things that are important to protect here: people’s trust in the process of public engagement, and the the trust that corporate donors have in the City using their money well.
What are we saying to the residents who participated in the planning of this bike lane and others when we undo those plans? What are we saying to all Atlantans when our government doesn’t follow its own rules? And what are we saying to REI and other corporations when we waste their donations?
The city needs to address these questions. ThreadATL joins ABC in urging Atlantans to contact city leaders about this removal.
More details are bound to emerge about this story. We’ll update the post as they arise.
** There was an ordinance from July, 2016 that allowed parking on the side of this street, but there is NO MENTION of the bike path in it. It’s likely that the City’s law department will argue that it nonetheless allows the bike lane to be removed. If that’s the case, the ordinance that PROTECTS bike lanes from removal without specific authorization is considerably weakened. It’s something to watch for in the coming days and weeks.