The Atlanta Half Inch Avalanche Bike Commute

Ask and you shall receive

I put out a call a little while ago for the obligatory “crazy cyclist on ice covered streets” news photo from Atlanta, and Janice in Georgia pointed me to Mike Weigand’s video showing his cyclocross bike commute through Atlanta yesterday morning. He commutes 6.5 miles. For the snow, he mounted his ultra grippy Grifo CX tires and ran them at 35 PSI. He and other Atlanta bike commuters report their commute took just a few minutes longer than usual.

#halfinchavalanche bike commute from Mike Weigand on Vimeo.

Rare events like last night’s ice storm in the U.S. southeast highlights the fragility of depending on a single mode of transportation. In California, earthquakes, strikes and even weather can temporarily knock out important pieces of our transportation network. Other modes exist, however, so people can still get home and get to work in spite of the challenging Bay Area geography. The region even pays for an expensive and highly polluting ferry system specifically for transportation disaster preparedness.

15% of Atlanta commuters ride MARTA, the region’s bus and rail public transit agency. About half of them ride the bus, and they suffered in traffic along with all of drivers. Rail suffers minor delays (on the order of several minutes), but it’s nothing like the hours long nightmares making the news last night and this morning.

What fascinates me are stories of parents walking five miles to their children’s schools to spend the night with them. I know school districts have been consolidating their infrastructure, but good grief: five miles from home to a grade school? There are three public grade schools within a mile and half of my office in Santa Clara. There are 10 grade schools in four different cities within a five mile radius. I purposely chose where I live to be within easy walking distance of my children’s schools.

The other takeaway: I know I live a horrendous distance from my office so I’m a bit of a hypocrite about this, but I at least understand that it’s my own stupid fault on the occasions I’m trapped on one side or the other of the Santa Cruz Mountains. I’ve seen discussion among some east coast cycling advocates that they couldn’t help but get stuck in traffic because they live 40 miles away from the office. Atlanta routinely ranks highly among American cities with bad commutes and traffic congestion. If you live 40 miles away, that’s more vehicle miles traveled, which means more congestion. Although plenty of people still try to deny it, there really is a connection between land use, regional planning and transportation.

Californians are reminded annually to update our disaster preparedness plans. Although much of the nation dismisses the Left Coast as an entitled welfare nanny state, we understand perfectly well that we’re on our own for several days after a major disaster. Nobody blames a mayor or the Governor for an earthquake, nor do we blame school officials when they can’t contact parents like so many outraged Atlanta suburbanites are doing today. Atlanta shows the rest of the nation that you, too, should pay attention and think about how you’ll get home and contact your children after a disaster of any kind.

One Comment

  1. I do take comfort in knowing that I can always get home on my bike in case of disaster. I’ve worked in over a dozen locations throughout Silicon Valley and never been further than about 12 miles from home in Mountain View.

    In the 1989 earthquake I probably would have gotten home from Santa Clara quicker by bike than by car. Traffic was so bad I gave up and stopped at Togo’s for dinner. It was nice to watch the horrible news in a group, though.

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