Paul Ficklin-Alred, 54 years old, stands outside his front door taking in the morning weather. Will it be a T-shirt day or a sweatshirt day? Bike to Work Week has come and gone, but to Paul, it makes no difference. Like 865,000 other Americans, cycling is already a part of his daily routine.
Two doors down—in the Diamond Head neighborhood of Decatur, part of the Atlanta Metropolitan Area in Georgia—lives Nathan Scronce, who owns a video production company called Outfit. "We do a lot of videos," he says, "mostly explainer and talking-head videos for corporations." Although family responsibilities limit his cycling, Nathan has spent a great deal of time cycling to work in the past. When he discovered the Pedals 4 Professionals video contest online, he knew it was something he could win. "It felt like this contest was something close to home, something I could relate to." He reached out to Paul, whose daughter babysits his kids—and who he sees cycling to work regularly.
"It's a friendly neighborhood," Paul says. "We see the neighbors out walking dogs and going out with the kids. We all look out for each other." When Nathan first texted, Paul was skeptical about being the feature of Nathan's video. "I'm this boring middle-aged guy who bikes to work every day—not the most interesting subject for a video." Nevertheless, he was excited.
For his road footage, Nathan borrowed a friend's GoPro. "There was a lot of good footage we got from it, but it became a lot of the same thing every day. We whittled a lot of that down." What was more important to Nathan was to get a sense of Paul's personality.
"I really wanted a documentary style. I assumed a lot of people would do shots of people on their bikes with a voiceover. I wanted to see Paul outside the setting of riding his bike." The two met over several weekends, conducting interviews in the bedroom of Nathan's son. "Being a one-man crew, it was a lot of trial and error. You never know what you're going to get. The first time I interviewed him there was a lawnmower next door. We tried outdoors, but there was a dog barking. We started to get it right over the last few weeks."
Perhaps the most enjoyable part was spending time with his neighbor. "It was cool getting to know Paul—why he rides, and the things he sees." He adds, "He's a really cool guy."
Paul works at the Department of Pediatrics in the School of Medicine at Emory University, where he helps doctors meet qualifications and earn credentials for their practice. Paul was first motivated to cycle to work when the university doubled its campus parking fees. It was part of an initiative to encourage alternative modes of transportation on campus and included upgrades for bike lanes and bike facilities in new, LEED-certified buildings. When Paul's department moved to a building that had a shower facility and locker room, he thought, "I've been biking for a lot of my adult life. Why not bike to work?" He began cycling two miles to a nearby shuttle, which he rode the rest of the way. After a few months, he decided to cycle the full six miles every day.
"Paul has a lot more of an intense ride to work than I thought," said Nathan, who cycled with Paul to get footage of the route. "I was surprised by how much traffic he has to deal with to get around."
In fact, Paul cycles two routes. His ride to work is on a busier street—where there are no bike lanes until the university campus. Certain areas don't even have shoulders or sidewalks. "Those are stretches where I pedal along with an eye over my shoulder." His route home is more uphill but in a more relaxed residential area. "In the afternoon, I can take my time and enjoy a prettier neighborhood," he says.
Cycling has become a part of Paul's identity. There was a two-year period when Paul worked a position across town and wasn't able to bike to work. "It wasn't very bike friendly," he says, explaining the brief hiatus. It was 10 miles each way and involved crossing busy streets and highways. "For those two years, I could feel a real change in attitude. I was restless and irritable. There was this part of my day that was missing. When I came back to Emory and started biking again, I felt more like my old self again."
Much of Paul's enjoyment comes from seeing his town from a unique perspective. "When you're biking, you see everything up close—from roadkill to abandoned furniture." When biking through the more well-to-do areas, he says, "I'll see something like a sofa on the curb that looks pretty good to me." Paul's cats turn his furniture into scratching posts—and so he never buys anything new. When he sees something he likes, he'll phone home asking his wife to bring the car. "I like finding those roadside treasures," says Paul. "But the roadkill can stay where it is."
Cycling in Atlanta
For both Nathan and Paul, Atlanta may not be known for its cycling community, but it's getting better. "I think we rank really, really low in the top 50 bike towns in America. We're always at the very bottom, if we're even on it," says Nathan. (After a quick search, Atlanta is nowhere to be found on any cycling-related "top" or "best of" lists.) "I don't think people are used to seeing bikers on the road," he says.
Paul is more optimistic but thinks cycling has a long way to go to becoming the norm. "I think there's more of a commitment to recreational cycling," he says, "but not so much to cycling to work." After 17 years in the neighborhood, he's seen the city change. It used to be common for people to drive up close behind him, honking their horns—and he's heard stories of cars trying to run cyclists off the road. But he's seen great improvement. "The aggression and animosity towards bikers seems to have eased in the last 10 years," he says. More cars have bike racks and bumper stickers that read "My other car is a bicycle." The State of Georgia also offers decorative license plates that read "Share the road" with a silhouette of a bicycle.
Atlanta is also home to the new BeltLine development—a 22-mile multi-use trail built overtop of out-of-use rail beds. As part of an initiative to create more integrated living spaces, the belt circles the downtown area, connects 45 neighborhoods and features new developments for greenspace, housing and public art installations. It is an ongoing project with an additional 33 miles planned for offshoot trails.
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New bike equipment
As winners of the Pedals 4 Professionals contest, Nathan and Paul are eligible for up to $5,000 of new bike equipment. Nathan selected a Novara touring bike and, among other accessories, is especially looking forward to a new GoPro setup. He'll likely be found cycling the nearby Stone Mountain trails with his family. Reflecting on the contest, Nathan enjoyed spending time with his neighbor. "The coolest thing about this is that Paul is getting this new bike," says Nathan. "He's been very appreciative of the win, and I know it means an extreme amount to him. Seeing him light up when he heard the news was great—the fact that he's getting a new bike, which he uses every day, it's a good story."
When Paul first started cycling to work, he rode an old bike with a milk crate bolted through a piece of plywood on the back. He rode it until it literally fell apart. Recently, he bought a new mountain bike through Craigslist. He got a good deal, but it wasn't quite what he was looking for. Visibility is a huge goal for Paul, and his new Novara hybrid is highly reflective. "My wife worries about me when I bike in the dark," he says. "It puts her mind at ease that I'm not as much at risk."
Paul enjoyed the time making the video. "The whole thing was fun. Nathan is a great guy, very creative. I feel honored that he chose me to be the subject for his video. It was great getting to know him better—seeing the kind of work he does, seeing his talent and creativity. I really enjoyed the process. I hope it motivates other people to get out there on their bikes, too."
- Atlanta BeltLine. "The 5 Ws and Then Some." The Atlanta BeltLine Project website.
- United States Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics. "National Transportation Statistics, Table 1-41 - Principal Means of Transportation to Work (Updated April 2014)." United States Department of Transportation website.