By David Pendered
A planned VIP parking lot at the future Falcons stadium will require a virtual dead end of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive at the stadium, and will affect the road’s ability to become the grand boulevard envisioned by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.
The first public discussion of this proposal is scheduled Tuesday morning during the Atlanta City Council’s Utilities Committee. No final action on the legislation is expected, as the agenda states a public hearing will be advertised.
The Falcons contend fans will benefit from VIP parking and related traffic management plan that will enhance their game-day experience. Others contend the price of the proposal is too great because it further disjoints MLK Drive, an important east-west connector that’s already struggling.
“It’s a Chris Christie approach to traffic management in Atlanta,” said Michael Dobbins, a Georgia Tech professor of practice, referring to the New Jersey governor whose staff closed a bridge in political retaliation.
- [Scroll to the bottom of this story for a gallery of photos of the Martin Luther King Jr. Drive corridor, from the BeltLine overpass to Oakland Cemetery.]
The pending legislation is on the fast-track: The procedure used to submit the legislation has cut two weeks off the length of time the legislation must remain under consideration. The legislation was submitted by Councilperson Michael Julian Bond, elected citywide, and Councilmember C.T. Martin, a representative of southwest Atlanta. Each member submitted three separate proposals.
Already, a portable traffic signal has been installed on MLK Drive, on the viaduct over the railroad gulch, to warn drivers of a route change dated for February.
Incidentally, this request comes the month after Atlanta completed two significant steps to help the stadium project. The council completed the process to provide up to $200 million in stadium financing, and abandoned property needed for the site of the actual stadium.
Regarding the pending proposal, the Georgia World Congress Center has asked Atlanta to abandon a total of six parcels, or rights of way, in order to facilitate the VIP parking lot and the Falcons traffic management plan.
These six parcels will result in MLK Drive being rerouted onto Mitchell Street. Here’s what the new route would mean for a driver headed toward downtown from points west of the future stadium:
- Head east on MLK Drive toward downtown;
- When MLK reaches its planned terminus at Northside Drive, turn right;
- Go one block and turn left onto Mitchell Street. Proceed over the bridge into downtown.
MLK Drive already is troubled by a traffic management scheme in this area, at its intersection with Spring Street near the old Norfolk Southern headquarters.
The segment of MLK Drive west of Spring Street is two-way. The segment of MLK Drive east of Spring Street is one-way, heading west from the state Capitol all the way to Spring Street. The eastbound traffic on MLK Drive that reaches Spring Street now is routed south on Spring Street to a left-turn onto Mitchell Street.
Dobbins suggests that the solution to this traffic imbroglio is to make MLK Drive a two-way street from its beginning at Oakland Cemetery all the way through the city. Any additional cut-offs would be detrimental to the corridor.
“To discontinue Martin Luther King Jr. Drive by truncating it at Northside Drive is a blow to its symbolism and culture,” Dobbins said. “It’s also a blow to the vision of MLK as a grand boulevard, as a connector from east to west.”
Mayor Reed strongly indicated that MLK Drive will be refurbished. He delivered the message during his remarks at the recent King Day memorial service at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
Reed has yet to provide details of the improvements he foresees. The mayor has spoken highly of the potential to restore stadium neighborhoods through the $30 million improvement program that’s being created, and paid for, by the city and the Blank Foundation.
“Shame on me, and shame on all of us, that in the city where Dr. Martin Luther King is from, Martin Luther King Drive looks like every other Martin Luther King Drive in the United States,” Reed said at Ebenezer Baptist Church. “We’re going to do something about that.”
Note to readers: The gallery follows Martin Luther King Jr. Drive from the BeltLine overpass, through the corridor’s mini-downtown near the old Paschal’s Restaurant and new Walmart, past the Georgia Dome and through downtown Atlanta to its terminus at Atlanta’s historic Oakland Cemetery.