As the general manager of the Atlanta Falcons, Thomas Dimitroff is charged with overseeing the operations of one of professional football’s most competitive teams. But Dimitroff doesn’t just love the gridiron; he’s also an avid bicyclist who works to promote the sport in the ATL. It all ties into the Falcons’ efforts to combat childhood obesity, which we’ve written about before in The Inside Track.
Dimitroff took the time for a quick Q&A with us about his love of bicycling. No word on who the Falcons might pick in the upcoming draft…
How old were you when you first learned to ride a bike? What do you remember about your first bike?
As a kid, I always had hand-me-down bicycles. I guess it was an early start to recycling.
Bicycling and football: They don’t seem very similar. Why do you think you developed such a passion for it?
My dad was a college football coach, and back in the 1970s there was not a lot of money in that business. So I got into biking not only because it was great fun, but it was also a reliable mode of transportation. I’ve always preferred getting from here to there on two wheels. I never had a car as a teenager. Plus, there’s more adventure in biking.
Do you bike just for fun, or have you incorporated it into your daily routine?
Both. I bike for fun, and I use the bike to run errands whenever possible. I would bike up to Flowery Branch, where the football facility is located, if there were a bike path. It’s a great way to stay fit and you can’t beat the endorphin buzz.
The Falcons organization has done so much to address childhood obesity in Atlanta. How do you think biking relates to that effort?
We believe in the Play 60 mission
, and we are committed to finding ways for every kid to be physically active for 60 minutes every day. To make this happen, kids need opportunities to pick up healthy habits that are fun and that can last a lifetime. Kids are sharp customers, and the physical activity has got to be fun for it to stick. Cycling is something nearly every kid can try. Kids see a bike and they want to jump on it and ride. And it’s something families can do together. In many cases, they just need some help getting started. Sometimes this means getting access to bikes and equipment, so we are working with community partners to figure out what kind of bike-share program can work best in Atlanta. It also means opening up more trails and bike paths so kids have safe places to ride.
What’s the state of Atlanta cycling?
Biking in Atlanta is growing in popularity, whether it's for fun, fitness, or to get places. The number of residents biking to work, not traditionally part of Atlanta commuting, has more than doubled. Groups like the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition
are growing, also. ABC’s membership doubled in 2011, and the groups are leading several projects that will make biking more accessible throughout the city. Our universities are adopting innovative bike programs, most notableGeorgia Tech
. We need to sustain the progress. There are still too few bike lanes, trails and bike-friendly streets.
What’s new for Atlanta biking in 2012?
One exciting new element is the Eastside Trail
, part of the Atlanta BeltLine
that will connect with Piedmont Park. Opening in springtime, this segment of the BeltLine is going to be extremely popular. I will be exploring it with hundreds of other cyclists during the BeltLine Bike Tour
on May 5. Another great development is a bike park opening in Southwest Atlanta. The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, with help from a neighborhood group and SORBA Atlanta
, are breaking ground on the first phase of a mountain bike park that will include an off-road beginner loop and what's known as a “pump track” that will create opportunities for exercise and fun for kids of all ages. In another project, ABC is partnering with Georgia Tech to create a safer connection for one of the more popular bike routes in Midtown Atlanta, where 5th Street crosses West Peachtree. That project will include some innovations new to Atlanta — a cyclist push button to change the traffic signal, a highly visible cycle track and bike lane and a "Copenhagen left" — design elements taken directly from the recently released Urban Bikeways Design Guide.
What about people who don't own a bike. How does better biking benefit them? How do you convince them to get on a bike to begin with?
Streets that are safe for biking are safer overall. Car crashes are the leading cause of unintentional deaths to children, so making streets safer for drivers too will save lives. Of course cycling has great health and environmental benefits. And the city of Atlanta hopes to adopt a bike share program — basically bike stations where residents and visitors can check out a bike — so that anyone can hop on a bike for any reason.