Becky Katz has pounded the pedal towards major victories since becoming the City of Atlanta’s first ever Chief Bicycle Officer. As we sat down to talk at the new bike-themed coffee shop Cafe + Velo (naturally), she beamed about Atlanta’s recent ranking among Bicycling’s Top 50 Best Bike Cities. Atlanta clocked in at just 43 of 50 but Becky knows this is just the beginning.
What is your background and how did you land the Chief Bicycle Officer position?
My background is in civil and environmental engineering. In my education, I focused on how the built environment affects communities and how communities give input to engineering. Engineering is a field that struggles from the perception that engagement is not always necessary. But in engineering, community feedback and understanding cultural context is essential.
I moved to Atlanta from Saudi Arabia and started working at Park Pride, a nonprofit that focuses on community engagement in designing parks. That experience gave me a strong understanding of working directly with communities in Atlanta, along with hands-on experience in how changes are made in the built environment.
In 2012, the Assistant Director of Transportation Planning and Atlanta Bicycle Coalition (ABC) brought Nicole Freedman, Boston’s Bike Czar, to speak. She talked about how having a position in a city could help move bike projects forward. That talk was very inspiring and started the conversation around having a Chief Bicycle Officer. When the position opened I applied and got the job!
As Chief Bicycle Officer, what is your vision for Atlanta as a more bike-friendly city?
Safety is huge. First of all, we must improve safety, and bicycle infrastructure is a tool for that. Things like installing bike lanes improve safety for everyone. I want to make sure people are safe no matter what transportation option they are choosing.
We also need to change the conversation around transportation. Pushing people through the city is how we have thought about transportation, but that needs to change. More social modes of movement (transit, walking, biking) build communities and make places more vibrant. The conversation should also include low-income communities and how they are the most dependent on transit, biking, and walking, but have the least facilities for transportation.
The vision is really to increase the number of people walking and biking; to do that we have to build the right type of infrastructure. That means building a network of protected bike facilities, along with having educational reinforcement efforts. If people are interested in biking but are too nervous to do it, or have too many barriers, we can alleviate that with better infrastructure.
We can squeeze so much more capacity out of our roads by adding pedestrian and bike facilities. For example, by adding the 10th street bike lane you went from a road that solely supported cars and some pedestrians, to a road now that has a huge increase of biking on it. We have squeezed capacity out of a roadway for around $100,000, not for multi-millions.
What are misconceptions or pain points when advocating for alternate forms of transportation?
Often, people hear ‘biking’ and immediately assume you are asking them to sell their car. But then projects like the BeltLine happen and people experience a new version of their lives. Transportation change is really hard for people to imagine so it causes a lot of friction. Advocating for biking is encouraging people to take a leap in transportation projects. We need to implement more projects that are game changers; then people will not only see the benefits but experience them.
It’s almost more about psychology than transportation infrastructure. You have to think about psychology to talk about transportation because movement is essential to our lives.
For folks who would like to dip their toes in biking around Atlanta, what are some good places or events that you’d recommend checking out?
The most popular is the Eastside of the Atlanta BeltLine. I’d recommend taking the BeltLine to the 10th Street Cycle Track to try out that infrastructure, then go into Piedmont Park. The Freedom Park Path is also connected directly to the BeltLine and you can ride the new connection in Downtown on John Portman Boulevard. If you want to try some hills and work on your muscles, the Lionel Hampton Trail in Southwest Atlanta is really good.
I would also recommend taking a class to learn how to cycle safely and lawfully on a guided tour around Atlanta; different entities offer city cycling courses including ABC and Relay Bike Share.
How can people support your biking efforts around the city?
One huge thing is to get educated and vote in the upcoming election. There are two big referendums on the ballot; one is about transit and one about transportation.
There are a number of public meetings about Renew Atlanta Bond’s Ten Complete Streets Project. Those are major transportation projects on thoroughfares like Cascade Road, Howell Mill, DeKalb Avenue and Monroe/Boulevard. The Renew Atlanta Bond team and all associated City Departments want to hear how you’d like these streets to reflect the vibrancy and soul of Atlanta.
Please have conversations. Talk to your neighbors about how you’d like to bike or walk; community building is essential for transportation improvements.
And finally, ride. Try Bike Share, try all of the different routes through the city. Just ride!
Eager to spin your spokes? Check out Atlanta Bicycle Coalition’s upcoming The Mobile Social on Friday, November 11.
Photo Creds: Property of CatMax Photography (headliner) and Streets Alive.