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The city of Atlanta recently removed a bike lane on the westside of town, and it’s left the community and cycling advocates with questions.
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Zahra Alabanza looks at the section of Westview Drive, in front of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, where the bike lane used to be.
“It was a typical bike lane,” she said. “It was protected so it had barriers between it and traffic, which tends to make people feel safe.”
As a resident of the neighborhood and co-founder of the black cycling collective Red Bike and Green, Alabanza’s been thinking about what led the bike lane to be taken out.
Tension started a year ago when the city installed the lane using a grant from the outdoor retailer REI and the nonprofit PeopleForBikes.
“The main problem is that the church didn’t get any type of community engagement for the bike lanes,” Jonathan Whitfield said.
Whitfield, a minister at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, said the bike lane made parking difficult for churchgoers.
And there was something else about it that bothered the church and the community.
“Most people feel like these bikes lanes are not for the people here,” he said. “It’s for the people to come.”
With the trail connecting to the BeltLine, he said, it became a symbol of gentrification.
Still, Whitfield said, the church wanted to find a solution that accommodated cyclists. And after a public meeting together, they did reach compromises.
First, the city took out a few barriers to allow easier turns into the church lot. Later, the Atlanta City Council passed an ordinance that sanctioned parking in the bike lane on Sundays.
But then two weeks ago, without public notice, the city went a step further.
“A community resident sent us a picture of the bike lane being removed,” said Rebecca Serna, executive director of the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition.
Getting rid of bike infrastructure in that way should require a City Council vote and, before that, a public hearing, Serna said.
The fact that the city didn’t follow its own process, she said, “sends a message that bike lanes aren’t important.”
So, now, a lot of people are left asking, how could this all have happened?
Standing along Westview Drive, what Alabanza sees is a lack of discussion from the city.
She said it should be talking about the underlying issues — displacement, the benefits of biking and the area’s future.
“Atlanta has an opportunity to broaden conversation and come up with real solutions,” she said. “Taking out a bike lane is not solving anything.”
In a statement, the city said it is “committed to making our streets safe and accessible for all users” and is exploring other options after the uproar over the bike lane’s removal.
For now, though, the 1,000-foot section of the bike lane in front of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church has been replaced by a few newly painted on-street parking spaces.