Atlanta’s latest plan for MLK Drive: Shift vehicles onto a two-lane street

By David Pendered

Atlanta now is proposing to reroute traffic west of the Falcons stadium from Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to a two-lane residential street that has curbside parking.

This proposal would route vehicles using Martin Luther King Jr. Drive onto Mitchell and Tatnall streets in an effort to avoid creating a virtual "dead end" of MLK Drive at Northside Drive. Atlanta's Department of Public Works released the plan Wednesday. Credit: Atlanta DPW

This proposal would route vehicles using Martin Luther King Jr. Drive onto Mitchell and Tatnall streets in an effort to avoid creating a virtual “dead end” of MLK Drive at Northside Drive. Atlanta’s Department of Public Works released the plan Wednesday. Credit: Atlanta DPW

The Parsons Brinckerfhoff engineering firm designed this solution to the closure of the MLK viaduct. The proposal would create a seamless MLK Drive corridor, Richard Mendoza, the city’s public works commissioner, said Wednesday during a work session convened by the Atlanta City Council’s Utilities Committee.

MLK Drive once was a contiguous road that extended a dozen miles from Oakland Cemetery through Downtown Atlanta to the Chattahoochee River. After the road crosses into Cobb County, it becomes Mableton Parkway.

This month, MLK Drive was severed near the stadium. Now the question is how to reconnect a heavily traveled east-west connector. Mayor Kasim Reed has said he envisions MLK Drive as a European-style grand boulevard.

The plan Mendoza released was dated Jan. 10 and bears three logos – PB, the Falcons, and Atlanta.

On Jan. 28, Hans Utz, Reed’s deputy COO, told the Utilities Committee that the street layout was still being determined:

  • “As we understand the [stadium] layout and in-ground infrastructure that’s going to be needed, those plans will influence the street layout. Until those decisions are made, and until we have gotten full community feedback, it’s hard to say what the final plan will look like.”
This is Mike Dobbins' latest proposal to connect neighborhoods near the Falcons stadium with the central business district. Credit: Mike Dobbins

This is Mike Dobbins’ latest proposal to connect neighborhoods near the Falcons stadium with the central business district. Credit: Mike Dobbins

The PB proposal uses two existing residential streets to handle traffic vehicles that have used MLK Drive west of Northside Drive, Tatnall and Mitchell streets. The distance vehicles would travel along this diversion appears to be about a third of a mile.

Existing curbside parking would be eliminated to create room for a third travel lane.

The portion of Mitchell Street directly south of the Falcons stadium is renamed “New Martin Luther King Blvd.” on the PB map, which was provided by the Department of Public Works.

Here’s the PB proposal for vehicles traveling MLK Drive from the west toward the central business district:

  • Vehicles would pass the new Walmart, pass Herndon Stadium, and veer right onto Tatnall Street;
  • Vehicles would cross Walnut Street and continue along Mitchell Street to Northside Drive;
  • At Northside Drive, vehicles would be prohibited from turning left. The options would be to continue on Mitchell Street into Downtown Atlanta, or turn right onto Northside Drive.
This "Frankenmap" links the PB plan (left) with the stadium site (center, Georgia World Congress Center Authority), and MLK Drive and Mitchell Street near the stadium. Credit: David Pendered, with materials provided by the three entities

This “Frankenmap” links the PB plan (left) with the stadium site (center, Georgia World Congress Center Authority), and a mapquest.com view of MLK Drive and Mitchell Street near the stadium. Credit: David Pendered, with materials provided by the three entities

The PB proposal for vehicles traveling east from the business district does not show a traffic pattern east of the proposed stadium. Presumably, vehicles will:

  • Travel west on MLK Drive to Centennial Olympic Park Drive;
  • Turn left (south) on COP Drive;
  • Turn right (west) onto Mitchell Street;
  • Continue on Mitchell Street, past Walnut Street to Tatnall Street, and on to the intersection with MLK Drive.

Incidentally, maps have become the coin of the realm in some stadium discussions.

Debates unfold over which maps are the most recent; which maps are sanctioned by the Falcons or Atlanta or the Georgia World Congress Center Authority; even the scope of maps – how large of the stadium’s impact area do they represent.

One of the more prolific cartographers in this conversation is Mike Dobbins, a former Atlanta planning commissioner who now teaches at Georgia Tech.

Dobbins draws maps on whatever material is at hand – napkins, scrap paper, the border of pages of other maps. Dobbins uses full-sized paper once he’s fleshed out the ideas.

The Tech students Dobbins has overseen in the past year have created highly detailed maps that address issues ranging from transportation to environment. The work is part of their studies of the stadium neighborhoods in particular, as well as the Northside Drive corridor from I-75 in the north to I-20 in the south.

About David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with nearly 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.
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4 comments
NeilCThom
NeilCThom

Regarding the presumption for cars travelling east from downtown, if you head south on COP and turn right onto Mitchell, you'll have to break through a railing and drop several feet from a viaduct to ground level.

Equitable
Equitable

What about the other side of the stadium - Magnolia to Andrew Young International? While a straight throughway for vehicles is important to the south, I'm more interested in what will happen on the north. Will we get a once in a lifetime opportunity to build a bike/ped corridor linking Centennial Olympic Park to the west side trail to the west Beltline? West side folks deserve a link to the vitality of the city center that doesn't require them to get into cars and pay for parking downtown. A bike/ped link through the Falcons stadium site would be good for all involved - it would bring some life to the stadium area during the off season, be a selling point for hotel visitors, and be an important east-west link for upcoming bike share.

Equitable
Equitable

What about the other side of the stadium - Magnolia to Andrew Young International? While a straight throughway for vehicles is important to the south, I'm more interested in what will happen on the north. Will we get a once in a lifetime opportunity to build a bike/ped corridor linking Centennial Olympic Park to the west side trail to the west Beltline? West side folks deserve a link to the vitality of the city center that doesn't require them to get into cars and pay for parking downtown. A bike/ped link through the Falcons stadium site would be good for all involved - it would bring some life to the stadium area during the off season, be a selling point for hotel visitors, and be an important east-west link for upcoming bike share.