Cobb targets cyclists
Fines up to $500 considered for riders who illegally use roads
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 01/23/07
Cobb County officials are considering setting up some legal roadblocks on one of the most popular places to ride in metro Atlanta, setting up fines up to $500.
With its flat surface, wide shoulders and lack of parked cars, Columns Drive near Marietta draws dozens of cyclists on a nice day, including many who use the somewhat remote road as their training track, riding lap after lap up and down the 2 1/2 mile street.
But angry residents who live along the road in upwards of million-dollar homes say the cyclists whip along the street three or more abreast, cutting off cars, robbing the roadway and scaring people even as they step out to check their mailbox.
Tonight the county Board of Commissioners will hold a public hearing on a "cruising" ordinance that would crack down on those who buzz back and forth along the road. The ordinance would fine anyone who rides past a given point twice in an hour.
Biking advocates say the new law would effectively shut down the roadway to many riders. This would be the first such law in metro Atlanta, and possibly in the country, said Dennis Hoffarth, executive director of the advocacy group called The Atlanta Bicycle Campaign. And he believes any type of anti-cycling law would be a black eye to Atlanta.
But residents who purchased homes along the Chattahoochee River say they've had enough of dangerous, inconsiderate and at time rude cyclists.
"I'm talking about the speed bicyclist," said Paul McNulty, who has lived there about 17 years. "They'll go 30, 40, 50 miles per hour down Columns Drive. They want the drivers, the skaters, the walkers to get out of their way so they can have the whole road."
Some cyclists exceed the speed limit of 25 mph, sidle up to cars and "thump" on the car to get it out of their way, residents say.
"It's not being considerate, respectful or polite," McNulty said.
The bicyclists, for their part, say they have a legal right to ride there, and that while there are a few bad apples, the groups in general try to be safe and respectful.
"The cyclists have a right to the road," said Jim Hunt, 26, who has ridden the road two to three times a week for about five years. "I know that can be hard to swallow."
He added, though, that cyclists have a responsibility to stay on the shoulder.
In a sense, Columns Drive has become a victim of its own success, he said. On warm days, the shoulders can become congested with cyclists, joggers and walkers, and sometimes cyclists must enter into the road to avoid hitting some of them. He suggested the county consider adding sidewalks.
Hunt added, "I hope everybody would be willing to compromise. Patience is a big part of it."
Columns Road is among the safest routes for bike riding in metro Atlanta, and such places are few and far between, said Hoffarth of the Atlanta Bicycle Campaign. Consequently the road draws many riders from outside the area, which piques the homeowners even more.
His group met with public officials, residents and riders in October to try to broker a resolution. He believes the proposed cruising ordinance smacks of selective enforcement against the riders.
The law would fine a person $50 for the first violation, $100 for the second and $500 for the third within a year.
Hoffarth said he has checked with biking groups across the country and none have heard of such a law. He foresees a backlash locally and nationally, asserting that metro Atlanta would look as though it were cracking down on a healthy recreational activity.
"This could actually be an embarrassment across the country," he said.
Cobb Commissioner Joe Thompson, who represents this area, said he will await the public comment before deciding on the ordinance.
Some people involved with the issue are hoping the proposed ordinance is another attempt by the county to bring the warring parties together and create more compromise.
At the same time, Thompson believes some sort of change is needed.
"Columns Drive is simply not a park. It's a street in a subdivision," Thompson said. "It creates sort of an unsafe situation."