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Education for Everyone in Atlanta

It may seem like I’m blogging about Georgia a lot lately, and it’s for good reason. The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition is one of two Advocacy Advance model grant recipients. ABC’s grant is focused on doubling federal spending on bicycle and pedestrian projects and programs, as well as tripling the mode share to 3 percent. While in town for an Action 2020 workshop, I had the pleasure of meeting Neil Walker, a cycling instructor who wears many hats.

It’s hard to get involved in bicycle education in Atlanta without running into Neil. As a League Cycling Instructor and educator, Neil has made a mission of working with low-income and minority kids and adults in the metro region. “I grew up in a lower income area and was pretty much confined to a few square blocks,” notes Walker. “Once I got a bike, suddenly I was able to go all over the place. That bike got me my first jobs delivering groceries and newspapers.”

Credit: Neil Walker

Today Neil is working with a number of organizations and neighborhoods:

  • Metro Atlanta Cycling Club: Through their One Love event, the club has raised more than $100,000 in the past five years for the Dream Team, East Atlanta Kids Club, and Bicycle Little League. The club is primarily focused on involving African Americans in cycling
  • Dream Team Bike Ride Across Georgia (BRAG): The program starts with teaching Traffic Skills 101 to middle and high school students. The main goal is to get kids on bikes. For the 2012 ride, 20 kids are signed up to participate, with the course set to travel through the mountains of northern Georgia.
  • East Atlanta Neighborhoods: Neil’s work is focused mainly on health and nutrition. Among other things, he has led local rides to the farmers market (55 participants on the last trip) to highlight local, healthy food options. Atlanta City Councilmember Aaron Watson (himself a huge bike proponent) liked the program so much he formally adopted it as his Living Smart Initiative.

At the national level, Neil has been working with the National Brotherhood of Cyclists to expand their educational offerings. The goal is to go from the current four LCIs nationally to at least five in each of the 35 local clubs.

Credit: Neil Walker

There are definitely hurdles for working in low-income and minority neighborhoods. A lack of local bicycle shops and infrastructure makes it hard to establish the necessary culture. Working with the Atlanta Police Athletic League, Neil and others have been bringing bike shops to the neighborhoods. “We showed up at a public housing development with no warning and ended up fixing 22 bikes,” Neil says. “Kids just kept coming up to us.” Neil also works with his old employer REI to do neighborhood bike repair days.

A huge myth is that only poor people ride bicycles. “It really creates a bicycling stigma in the minds of low income people,” says Walker. “Adults are difficult. They may be self conscious on a bike or just not know where to start.” School bicycle clubs are one way to address the issue, as kids are usually eager to ride and share that freedom with their family. Adults also start to come on board once they expand their definition of a cyclist beyond the lycra. “With cut-backs in local bus service, showing someone how to ride to the closest MARTA [Atlanta’s light rail system] station can be huge,” Walker says.

There’s also the challenge that some people just don’t think of bicycling as an option. The Dream Team has expanded throughout Georgia, mainly due to people asking about it as BRAG passes through town. This type of event can be the spark that gets folks thinking “maybe I should be riding a bike.”

If you’d like to learn more about these programs, email Neil at [email protected].

Elsewhere in cycling advocacy…

  • Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman has signed the state’s three foot safe passing legislation into law. Sponsored by state Sen. Tom Hansen, the law provides a safe passing distance for bicyclists, pedestrians, and electric personal assistance mobility devices. Nebraska becomes the 24th state to adopt a safe passing law. Who’s going to get us to the halfway point?
  • Virginia is for bicycle touring, and it’s getting easier thanks to the Virginia Bicycle Federation. VBF worked with Joe Elton, Virginia’s State Parks Director to create designated areas for cyclists to camp even when campgrounds are full. Ride-in touring cyclists will always have a place to stay.
  • The Florida legislature recently passed a series of bicycling bills. The bills cover topics from additional exemptions to the state’s mandatory bike lane law (which could stand to be repealed) to allowing cyclists cited for riding without lights at night to avoid fines by installing lights on their bicycles.

Do you have news from your advocacy organization?  Let me know: [email protected]


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