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Bikelash on Barnett Shoals

No matter where they are, the case against bike lanes is usually the same: Taking away a car lane makes traffic worse. Most people drive, and not everyone has the luxury of being able to bike. Cyclists don’t pay taxes like drivers do. And few people bike there, so bike lanes are unnecessary. Among transportation experts, this is known as “bikelash.”

One Snapfinger Drive resident made all of those points about the temporary separated two-way bike path on Barnett Shoals Road at the Athens-Clarke County Commission’s Sept. 18 agenda-setting meeting. “You’ve just made it a nightmare,” John Johnson told commissioners.

The counter-argument is: The only way to reduce congestion is to get cars off the road by providing alternatives to driving. Bikes are light and don’t damage the road the way cars do, and cyclists do pay sales taxes that go toward maintenance. Not everyone has the luxury of driving, either. And if few people are biking, it’s usually because they feel unsafe.

But few people are making those arguments as of this writing, although BikeAthens did post a defense of the path by Carol Myers at bikeathens.org. She called it a cutting-edge project that’s the start of much-needed bike infrastructure on the Eastside.

“This is an item that I have received the most comment on since I’ve been a commissioner for almost four years,” said Sharyn Dickerson, who doesn’t represent that stretch of Barnett Shoals, but represents constituents who drive through it from farther out on the Eastside. “I’ve received 15 emails and two phone calls in five days, and all of them were against the project. I say that just to let everybody know that it’s not being well received.” She called for traffic and corridor studies before moving forward.

At the same meeting, commissioners discussed Athens in Motion, the new 20-year update of the county’s bike and pedestrian master plan, which contains a prioritized menu of over 100 sidewalk and bike projects they can pick and choose from in the coming decades as opportunities arise and resources become available. While many Athens residents advocate for complete streets that don’t prioritize cars over other users, after the recent backlash against bike lanes on Chase Street and Boulevard—in perhaps the bike-happiest part of town—it begs the question once again, is Athens really that progressive when the rubber meets the road?

The Barnett Shoals bike path runs from Whitehall Road to College Station Road, serving hundreds of residents who live in the subdivisions along that corridor. Its importance as a part of the Eastside’s growing bike network was underscored last week when ACC Leisure Services announced that another stretch of the North Oconee River Greenway is now open, running from Carriage Lane off Barnett Shoals to the University of Georgia’s new park-and-ride lot at College Station and the Loop. The network will make more sense, and be more useful, as it grows.

Commissioners are scheduled to vote on whether to make the Barnett Shoals bike path permanent at its Oct. 2 meeting, and if they only hear from naysayers, they will likely vote it down. ACC is taking feedback at athensclarkecounty.com/barnett.

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