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The Answer to Safer Bike Commuting: Golf?
Golf could be the spoonful of sugar needed to make bike lanes go down.
I find golf irretrievably dumb. Imagine grown humans taking seriously a ridiculous, expensive pastime which requires them to dress in bright clothes and huff around quoting arcane rules to one another. It’s nothing like a real sport, professional cycling, where the grown humans… Hm. Uh.
Well, anyway, as I say, golf: dumb. But if golf, a thing I don’t like, can help me get more safe cycling, a thing I do like, then, all of a sudden we’ve got ourselves a flip-flop, and not just the kind you can use to swat flies off grandma’s hamburger.
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To quote the Federal Highway Administration:
The main disincentives to bicycle are concerns over traffic safety, lack of routes, and weather. However, if bicycle commuting is the subject, then distance to the work place, followed by safety, and the absence of shower and parking facilities are the main impediments
I want to see more people on bikes for the best possible reason: because it would benefit me. Granted, as you can see above, there are some problems, but, as I will show, they can be ameliorated by golf. Yeah. Golf.
Commuting problem the first: Distance
I consider this problem first because I think commuting is more important to climate than recreation. I don’t think project cars are hurting the climate nearly as much as commuting, and I don’t think recreational cycling is reducing commuting by car.
So: distance. Distance might actually get shorter as many people’s commute reduces to zero thanks to more people working from home. And, for those still actually commuting, if you believe Deloitte, e-bikes will also help folks ride bikes without most of the common-ass pedaling.
Let’s be honest, though. If I’m riding an e-bike, it’s not to go farther, it’s to go the same distance assholier.
Still. Like a toothache addressed with an industrial rock drill, let’s call distance “uncomfortably solved.” And we haven’t even had to resort to golf yet!
Commuting problem the second: Safety
A couple of things people don’t like: understanding traffic laws, paying full attention while driving, and the idea of a car whacking them off their bikes like a golf bat whacking a ball off a tee. They also hate all potential traffic remedies, like traffic calming, a.k.a. “road diets.”
People get froth-spitting mad at the idea of reducing travel lanes even though… More. Lanes. Don’t. Help. There’s even evidence to show more lanes make traffic worse. It’s going to be a hard sell to get people to reduce travel lanes in order to include protected bike lanes.
Let me add some perspective.
When Decatur, GA converted some of its travel lanes to protected bike path, some friends and I held a comedy show obliquely lampooning the change. The show sold out. It was the biggest night the venue ever had. I was able to pay my team and myself plus hold a second show. Everyone got paid at the second show too. We only stopped doing the show because of COVID.
That’s how much people hate converting road lanes to bike lanes. They will allow local comedy writers to get paid if they’ll make fun of it.
So, we need an area that’s safe to ride, where we can reclaim some space from cars without people blowing holes in reality by shitting their pants at super-luminal speeds. And we need a way to pay for it.
Stitch in Time?
There are already ideas that addresses some of these problems. One is known as The Stitch. It would plop a cover on part of Atlanta’s Downtown connector (a 16-lane trench of traffic hell-scape through the middle of town) and convert the space to parks and streets.
It would also connect the Midtown street grid with streets on the west side of the connector currently only accessible by way of bridges at North Ave, 10th, 14th, and 17th streets. I’m not seeing any protected bike lane in the plan, but, to be fair, I reached out to the Stitch team and they got back to me to say they aren’t that far along in the planning process yet. There may yet be hope.
The greater point is, though, I’m not entirely insane to suggest covering over the Connector. Or at least, not alone in my insanity.
There’s also a second, similar plan. They are compared here in a column by noted AJC columnist and hater of bicycles Bill Torpy, who, friends assure me, even though he hates bikes, is a person worthy of respect.
It would be a massive waste of money and a wrong-headed municipal self-nut-kicking to spend all that money and not increase protected bike lanes. In fact, it would be to physically break one’s own femur so that your leg swings freely in all directions, so that you can windmill it around to kick your own municipal nuts. In other words it’s exactly what is most likely to occur.
Consider instead my practical solution.
The Master Stroke: Protected Bike Lanes and Golf
Why protected bike lanes? Because people will feel safer, thus they will ride their bikes, thus we will get healthier human beings, a more robust cycling industry, lessen the burden of traffic, and produce fewer harmful emissions. The downside being that the cargo shorts set hates bikes.
Why golf? Because it will pay for the improvements and be the spoonful of sugar to the bike infrastructure’s medicine. Parks are great. But we need a solution that appeals to the kind of person who would otherwise either be disinterested or who outright hates cyclists for interrupting their drive-time podcasts by bouncing off the front of their two-story pickups.
Topgolf generated approximately $1.1 billion in revenue in 2019 and has grown at a 30% compound annual rate since 2017.
Those figures are as reported by Top Golf, so they’re certainly rosy, but compare those with Piedmont Park’s finances. Piedmont Park is a few hundred grand in the red in 2020: $463,905 if I’ve understood the document correctly.
Mind you, I’m not saying that public parks and businesses are the same. Piedmont Park doesn’t have to make money. And the experience of walking through Top Golf is undeniably different than walking in the Olmstead-designed Piedmont Park, which — alls I’m saying is I’m just saying — until 1979, had golf.
And it’s not as if the city isn’t already having an affair with golf. They already maintain four golf courses.
But what appears to be holding “The Stitch” up is funding.
Let’s bang in some golf. TopGolf already has the nets figured out so golf balls won’t be pinging off your kid’s face on the 4th story balcony. Doesn’t have to be them if they don’t win the contract, but someone like them.
We can use golf to sell the whole project to the cargo shorts contingent. They probably won’t even notice the protected bike lanes weaving throughout the links, reducing emissions and traffic. Everyone will realize their dreams, relinquish their white-knuckle grip on a non-existant past, and finally, once and for all, love their neighbors.