Atlanta’s cycling community is positively booming right now. What with a city-wide bike share program slated to launch this Spring, a fancy new condo building suddenly using its own private bike share program as a selling point to draw buyers, and the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition (ABC) drawing new members into the community every day through awesome-sounding safety training classes (eg. “Confident City Cycling Class: Come grab some brunch and learn more about crash avoidance, lane positioning, and more”), there’s no denying it. Hotlanta is getting way into bikes.
Even Saba Long, an ABC board member who also does freelance communications work for MARTA, Atlanta’s transit authority, has been shocked by how high the numbers are. “The conversation around cycling has really shifted in the past three or four years,” says Long.
So when she learned about the Trick Out Your Trip campaign, Long took it as a challenge to find some way to make the city more open to cyclists, and to strengthen the relationship between the cycling community and MARTA. “The cyclist community is a natural ally,” says Long. “These are folks who are most likely to use our system. So we recognize that it’s a community that we need to have a great relationship with. We know there are going to be more people cycling, and from MARTA’s standpoint, those are folks who are pro-transit. We want to pull them into the fold and let them know that hey, we know that you are part of the conversation of shifting away from vehicles and into alternative transportation.”
“We know there are going to be more people cycling, and from MARTA’s standpoint, those are folks who are pro-transit. We want to pull them into the fold and let them know that hey, we know that you are part of the conversation of shifting away from vehicles and into alternative transportation.”
It turns out that one thing the Atlanta cycling community needs is more stations where they can pump up tires, tighten loose parts, and make other repairs, so Long and her team leading their ioby campaign are preparing to bring several repair kiosks online in the next few months. All of them will be situated at high-traffic transit hubs, inviting people to bike to and from the bus. Already there are three such kiosks set up in the Community Improvement District. Long has visited them and reports that they’re being used and maintained by the community – cyclists are taking good care of the new resource.
Because MARTA isn’t an extensive transit system, many Atlanta residents live in suburbs of parts of town that have previously felt too far from any station to make public transit a feasible option. Long hopes that the new trend toward cycling will change that. “We think these folks in particular, if we can get them to cycle to the bus stop or train station, it will open up a transportation option they may not have recognized before,” she says.
Also cooking in Atlanta is another, much more high-tech project, this one led by engineer and software designer Binh Dam. Having moved from Paris, where arrival times are listed electronically on big screens, Dam was disappointed by the lack of scheduling information at Atlanta bus stops, most of which are nothing more than a pole and a sign that reads “MARTA.” So Dam decided to take matters into his own hands, and create a scan code for users with smart phones. The concept couldn’t be more simple – just scan the image with your phone, and up pops an accurate timetable.
By end of Nov, 15 bus stops in midtown and downtown Atlanta should be outfitted with both hard copy schedules (many stations don’t even offer that much, currently) and scan code stations.
“There’s a lot of work that could be done,” says Dam, but Atlanta residents are showing more and more interest in improving – and using! – their beleaguered public transit system. “I think the conditions are more favorable for transit to improve,” says Dam. The reasons? Dam points to: “public opinion, demographics, people moving more to the inner city, and of course issues with traffic.”
Dam believes that the new schedules and scan codes – the clarity they provide – will not only make life easier for current riders, but also draw in potential new riders. And when they do, he’ll be tracking the data. It’s a huge boon to be able to track usership in real time, and so accurately. He’ll know right away whether the service is being taken advantage of, and whether the program is worth expanding.