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Fighting for Bike Lanes In Atlanta’s Historic Black Neighborhood
Before returning to D.C. this fall, I lived — and became a bike advocate — in Atlanta. Late last month, I Megabus-ed 12 hours south to help the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition and Red, Bike and Green-Atlanta (a chapter I helped to co-found) gather support for dedicated bike lanes in one of the oldest African American neighborhoods in the country: Sweet Auburn Avenue.
Atlanta recently broke ground on a Street Car Project that will increase connectivity between downtown and the King National Historic site, a top tourist attraction. While city officials are pushing the project forward, there remains some concern that shuttling tourists from downtown to the historic site would preclude those tourist from spending their dollars with local businesses along the route. Also, as a city crippled by subpar transit, the Street Car provides little benefit to local citizens. So, in order to garner more support for the project the city initially promised to put in bike lanes along the street car route.
After this proposal won the support of local residents and cycling groups the city came back with another proposal that would maintain full bike lanes on one street and leave the other with interrupted bike lanes that are less safe. Well, the street that would be shortchanged is Auburn Avenue.
The mostly black neighborhood has struggled in recent years, while seeing a parallel street become a major bike thoroughfare that has blossomed economically — proving yet again that bikes mean business. Red, Bike and Green — a group focused on encouraging more blacks to bike in their communities — partnered with ABC and SOPO Bicycle Co-Op to host a bicycle tour of Sweet Auburn showcasing this incredible historical gem and gather the support of the community to advocate for complete bike lanes along the street.
Before the tour though, it was time to get some signatures on our Letter of Support from local businesses and residents. Red, Bike and Green- Atlanta Co-Founder, Zahra Alabanza and I set out walking up and down Auburn Ave for the rest of the afternoon. Auburn Ave is lined with some of the oldest black businesses and buildings in the nation but is in the top 10 most endangered historic places in the country, as well.
The street is no stranger to bike activism either, after a 1890 ordinance segregated the original Street Cars in Atlanta, a group of black citizens and Auburn Ave business owners led a boycott to appeal the law. What was their preferred mode of travel? Bicycles.
Then it was time for the fun part. After gathering more than 40 our new closest friends we headed out from Troy Davis Park to begin Tour de Sweet Auburn: A Community Bike Tour of the Sweet Auburn District.
The tour took us to several major historical spots along Auburn Ave. including Dr. Martin Luther King’s birth home; the headquarters of the Southern Christian Leadership Coalition (group founded in part by Dr. King); the oldest black barbershop in America; the Peacock nightclub, which, at one point, was the sole venue where black acts could perform; and some major black historical churches Big Bethel, Old Wheat Street and Ebenezer. Zahra provided some history about the area while Atlanta Bicycle Coalition ED Rebecca Serna pointed out the parts of Auburn that would have gotten bike lanes in the original proposal and explained the importance of connectivity to the rest of the city.
After all that riding and learning it was time to refuel and talk about what we’d seen. As part of our outreach efforts a local restaurant welcomed us to dine with them at a nice discount. Oh and DINE we did at Mangoes Caribbean Restaurant! After devouring a delicious dinner it was off to more merriment at the historic Pal’s Lounge. The owner at Pal’s not only committed to having a bike rack installed when he saw all the bikers swarming into his spot, but he also had a drink ready for us in anticipation. If you visit Atlanta and end up at Pal’s make sure you order “The Spoke” and tell them RBG sent you.
Of course, the Sweet Auburn Ride was just my first stop back in Atlanta. Stay tuned for my next post about the Georgia-lina Bike Summit!