Popular Support for Bike Lanes Is Precisely the Problem for Atlanta Columnist Bill Torpy

If he can't drive his car on it, it's of little use to Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Bill Torpy. Image: City of Decatur
If he can't drive his car on it, it's of little use to Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Bill Torpy. Image: City of Decatur

A plan to put an extra-wide suburban Atlanta thoroughfare on a road diet, adding protected bike lanes in the process, has come under fire from a local columnist with an unhealthy vendetta against people who ride bikes.

Every big city newspaper in America seems to have one columnist whose stock in trade is ginning up resentment toward people on bikes. In the Atlanta region, Bill Torpy is that columnist. His latest column continues in that tradition.

Torpy calls Commerce Drive “sort of a mini-I-285 around downtown Decatur.” Upset that he and other drivers will no longer be as free to speed around Decatur on what he describes as a miniature interstate, Torpy attempts to set off a populist bikelash.

Trouble is, the people of Decatur aren’t with him. A survey of more than 1,000 Decatur residents for the city’s comprehensive plan update found 77 percent support “improving pedestrian and bicycle service” even if it “can result in increased automobile congestion and slower vehicular movement.”

But that won’t deter Torpy, who casts the Commerce Drive change as a battle between ordinary “folks just cruising through, trying to get somewhere in a timely manner” and snobby “People’s Republic of Decatur” residents trying “keep other people from driving through their city.”

Atlanta-area bicycle advocates say Torpy needs to get a grip.

“Every city has those who tap into the frustration of car commuting in traffic. And far from the stereotype summoned in the article, people biking in Decatur today come from all walks of life — working class, middle class, older adults, and above all, kids,” said Bennett Foster, membership and campaigns manager at the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition. “While it’s great for clickbait, scapegoating safety improvements and people who bike rarely produces accurate reporting.”

The Commerce Drive protected bike lanes, developed as part of a 10-year master plan with the PATH Foundation, will be part of a network connecting people with Emory University, downtown Decatur, and the Atlanta BeltLine. To Torpy, it’s “part of an ongoing counterinsurgency against autos, a plan that hopes to nudge motorists into leaving their vehicles at home and pedaling to work.”

The horror! Maybe Torpy should get out from behind the wheel once in a while and try using the new bike lanes. He might discover that he likes it.

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