All of you two-wheeling residents have a new trusted ally at City Hall, as Becky Katz became Atlanta’s first chief bicycle officer late last year. The Adair Park resident has been focused on creating a bike-friendly city and helping to remedy our city’s infamous traffic congestion. She’s putting the pedal to the metal as she works with local organizations like Georgia Department of Transportation and Atlanta Bicycle Coalition to get the word out about the growing need and demand for a cycling-friendly city. Cool events like Atlanta Streets Alive and projects like the newly launched bike-sharing program, Relay, are helping to make Becky’s name known throughout the city. Get to know Atlanta’s one and only bike czar and what she proposes for all of us to get out of our cars and enjoy our beloved city up close and personal, upon a shiny two-wheeler. Welcome Becky, today’s FACE of Atlanta!
You’re Atlanta’s first ever chief bicycle officer (CBO)! How did you earn this position and why do you think our city needs a CBO?
I have built my career around leveraging authentic community involvement into solving engineering challenges in the built environment. Through undergraduate and graduate school, I worked directly with communities to learn how engineering and design can be led by them and to solve the challenges their communities identified.
The City of Atlanta, under Mayor Reed’s leadership and with the assistance of the Falcon’s Youth Foundation and Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, created the chief bicycle officer position. On the surface, I am responsible for ensuring that the city doubles the bike-facility mileage, creates a connected and safe bike network, continues to grow our bike share system and helps to double bike commutes. But it goes deeper into how do the city and I work with communities on mobility, safer streets and livability.
Atlanta’s traffic is deplorable and seems to get worse every day. How are you and your team working to break our car addiction and get us hooked on biking?
The way to get people out of their cars is to build better, safer biking infrastructure. We need to prioritize biking infrastructure the way we have prioritized car infrastructure over the past 50 years. This includes building high-quality protected bike lanes, installing a dense network of Relay bike share stations and implementing a strong enforcement strategy (for all modes).
What are some of your favorite bike trails/rides in Atlanta?
I typically ride to get from A to B for my everyday trips. But if I am riding for pleasure, I enjoy riding down Lee Street, from Castleberry Hill to College Park. I also enjoy riding the Lionel Hampton Trail. And I am really excited for the first mountain bike trails in the City of Atlanta to open; the Department of Parks and International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) are leading the charge to build mountain bike trails in Southside Park.
What is your favorite element of Atlanta Streets Alive, a pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly event?
The people! It’s the feeling that we live together in this city. Getting around in Atlanta can sometimes be isolating but Atlanta Streets Alive always reminds me how transportation and mobility can help create a more civil, just and people-oriented society and city. I remember when I first moved here and didn’t own a car, and everywhere I went I was thinking, Where are the people? Where is Atlanta?! But at Streets Alive, my questions were answered.
When and where did you first learn to ride a bike?
I learned to bike in a park with my parents; no big story there. I am pretty embarrassed by my college-day attempts at riding. In my senior year at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, I purchased a cheap bike from a friend. And I tried so hard to ride; I really did. But Ithaca is incredibly hilly and I just never worked up the strength to bike every day. Mostly, I just rode back and forth on Stewart Avenue, one of the flatter streets in Ithaca. I actually fell in love with biking in Atlanta. Currently with the city’s land-use patterns, biking is the best way to move around in the city.
Where in Atlanta do you shop for cute, yet durable, clothing that looks good on and off a bike?
The West End Goodwill is the best Goodwill in the city, hands down.
You have both a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in engineering from top universities. Why is it important for girls to get involved in math and science? What would you tell young women considering programs in male-dominated subjects, like engineering?
It’s important to pursue your strengths and passions. Math and science are often presented as unapproachable, hard-to-achieve academic pursuits but they underwrite many different elements of everyday life. I would tell any young women pursuing engineering that it’s a way to think, a way to analyze issues, it’s a process. Engineering is a field to explore all facets of life — whether it is transportation, technology, fashion, medical research, social justice and so much more. Encouraging young women to pursue math and science is to ensure better solutions to societal issues big and small — and a better future for all of us.
Where’s your favorite place in Atlanta to grab a tasty bite?
Food is definitely a highlight for me in Atlanta. Some of my favorite spots are Desta, DUA, Mi Barrio and Healthful Essence. All are affordable, delicious and in different parts of the city. Food is a great way to explore Atlanta’s different neighborhoods.
In five years, do you think this city’s biking landscape will change? If so, how?
The biking landscape and, more importantly, the city landscape are changing and will continue to change. I am hoping Atlantans will rally together for better, more inclusive urbanism. I believe the future of Atlanta lies in shifting away from car-centric development and sprawl, which isolates us, and a shift toward development that connects people and neighborhoods — one that encourages natural community connections and experiencing Atlanta in a new way.
What are three things you cannot live without, excluding friends, family and faith?
My bike, coffee and MARTA
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Don’t make your passions a hobby — live them, breathe them, be them.
A huge thank you to Becky Katz for sharing more about the bicycle landscape of Atlanta! And as always, thanks to CatMax Photography for today’s wonderful photos.
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