A more urban Atlanta calls for shift to two-way streets and e-scooters

By Maria Saporta

Change is hard.

We are witnessing that fact every day – whether it be turning one-way streets into two-way streets or whether it be introducing 10,000 e-scooters on our city’s streets in the past year.

It all comes down to a simple fact. We are readjusting the way we are moving around in Atlanta. We are shifting from a car-oriented transportation network to one that includes multiple modes – pedestrians, cyclists, transit riders and users of the myriad of micro-mobility modes that have emerged on our streets, trails and sidewalks.

Baker Street at Centennial Olympic Park Drive where it goes from one-way to two way (Photo by Maria Saporta)

But not everyone is embracing the change – as we found out with the proposal to turn six blocks of Baker Street downtown from a one way corridor to a two-way street.

After the legislation was  approved by the Atlanta City Council in an 11-4 vote, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms surprisingly vetoed it.

“A lot of concerns have been raised,” Mayor Bottoms said in a brief interview after the ribbon-cutting of the Atlanta BeltLine’s Eastside Trail north of Memorial Drive. “Out of an abundance of caution, I wanted to be sure we have addressed their concerns. We have an opportunity to take a step back, to give everyone the assurance that their concerns are being addressed.”

Asked if the two-way proposal was still on the table, the mayor answered without hesitation: “Absolutely.”

Bottoms said the is continuing to get input from the those who would be impacted by making all of Baker Street two ways – the residents, the business community, including downtown hotels among others.

“It is an opportunity to take a step back and make sure we have done our due diligence. We want to make this transition as safe as possible. There’s never any harm in slowing this process down,” said Bottoms, who added that she doesn’t have “over-arching concerns” about the proposal.

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms answers questions from reporters after ribbon-cutting of a new section of the BeltLine trail (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

She also said she had met with Tim Keane, the city’s planning commissioner, to discuss her veto.

“Tim Keane is a seasoned professional,” Bottoms said. “I trust his judgement.”

One can attribute part of Atlanta’s changing transportation habits to the BeltLine – trails that serve pedestrian, cyclists, skateboarders, skaters, e-scooters, e-bikes and other means of movement.

As an example of how the BeltLine has changed our psyche, Mayor Bottoms admitted at the ribbon-cutting that 10 years ago, she had heard about the BeltLine “but I probably couldn’t tell you what it was.” Now it has changed the profile of Atlanta.

Downtown  is not the only area changing its focus from cars to pedestrians.

The Midtown Alliance is planning to turn one-way thoroughfares into two-way streets. The Midtown Alliance has several plans to change the feel of one of the hottest real estate markets in the Atlanta region.

The intersection at 10th and Monroe at the crossing of the BeltLine shows the many modes of transportation Atlantans are using (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Kevin Green, president and CEO of the Midtown Alliance, recently revealed the results of an extensive survey of people who live and/or work in Midtown.

One interesting response was that “94 percent agree that Midtown is no longer a place to go through,” Green said. Instead it is a destination – a place to experience and enjoy. Green said there are 70 lane miles within the 1.2 square mile that makes up Midtown. Plans call for reducing only 8 percent of that space for alternative modes of transportation.

The survey revealed support for a shift in priorities.

When asked about which modes of transportation should be a priority, 96 percent answered walking; 90 percent said transit; 79 percent said cycling; 42 percent said dockless scooters and the lowest priority was cars with 39 percent.

Scooters were non-existent in Atlanta before May 2018. Today there are about 10,000 scooters offered by 10 vendors. It’s become a little bit like the wild, wild west on Atlanta’s streets.

A major pedestrian crossing on the two-way portion of Baker Street between Centennial Olympic Park and the Georgia Aquarium shows the various modes of transportation (Photo by Maria Saporta)

But at the monthly Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable event at Southface on July 12, there was consensus that the scooters are here to stay.

“It’s better to have a 40-pound scooter than a two-ton car” competing for space on our cities streets, said Shaun Green, senior transportation engineer for Atlanta BeltLine Inc. Green said that  just one of the vendors – Lime – had one million rides in just one year; and he added that 37 percent of scooter rides are replacing a car trip.

“The best part about scooters is that people are no longer as pissed off at bicycles,” Green said jokingly.

When it comes to scooters, the rules of the road and the sidewalk still need to be fine-tuned. Common courtesy goes a long way – no matter what mode of transportation one uses. And our streets need to be reconfigured to make them more welcoming to non-automobile modes of transportation.

My guess is that this micro-mobility revolution is in its infancy. As time goes on, my guess is that we will see different  kinds of electric vehicles that would appeal to the over-50 demographic – seated scooters or even mini golf carts.

They all will play a part as we witness that transition from cars to a multimodal transportation system. Micro-mobility modes are becoming part of the “last-mile solution” – filling in the gaps that exist because of our limited transit network.

Two pedestrians cross Baker Street at Peachtree Street intersection (Photo by Maria Saporta)

“How can we build a region where it’s easier and safer for everyone to walk and bike?” asked Byron Rushing, bicycling and walking program manager for the Atlanta Regional Commission, during the Southface panel discussion. “We need to build better streets. If there are no facilities for people to walk or bike safely, people are not going to walk or bike.”

An ARC study – “Walk, Bike, Thrive” – lays out the opportunities for the region. And it is not surprising that the change will begin in the city of Atlanta – where density and development is forcing a shift away from cars to alternative modes.

So it’s only a matter of time before Baker Street and several of our other one-way thoroughfares become two-way streets that are more inviting to those on foot, on bicycles or scooters. Complete streets, here we come.

“Let’s talk Midtown” survey shows the how alternative modes of transportation are gaining support (Special: Midtown Alliance)

A new section of the Atlanta BeltLine opened on July 11 (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

It takes a village. Poster shows the multiple partners that have made the BeltLine a reality. Mayor Bottoms admits that 10 years ago, she probably couldn’t tell you what the BeltLine was (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

7 replies
  1. Avatar
    Myreon / Matt says:

    Maria,
    Thank you for your story. Ive been a fan forever!!
    I do want to say, if you were suprised by the Mayor's veto than you must have not been following this ordinance in each coucil transportation committee meeting from April 2019 when Wesley Brown emailed that the Baker St ordinance was not on the Agenda for the April 24th transportation committee and would not be for 2 to 4 months. However it was walked in as Street 1 and from that sate on CAP has been attempting to do a hit job and character assassination to anyone who didnt agree with CAP.
    Gracious and well informed President Moore of Alanta City Council asked Josh Rowan of ReNew Atlanta where are the buses going to go. Josh replied I dont know and deferred to Wesley Brown a CAP employee who responded "on the street" . President Moore asked a follow up question to Mr. Rowan is is this a Atanta Public Works initiative or CAP initiative? Again Mr. Rowan replied I don't know. Let me help. Its a CAP initiative and they dont run our city. Our Mayor does. And a damn good job!! Wesley Brown and JA Robinson mislead council in committee and full council repeatedly. They created a narrative that there was only one person who opposed the conversion. Councilman Farohki knew this was a false narrative but allowed it to continue being fed to councilmembers and the public alike. Councilman Fahrokhi agreed to hold a stakeholders meeting instead of cheery picking stakeholders. I subsuquently got a email from someone (Amir) that I want to support stating JA Robinson says no more stakeholders meetings. Really? Who elected Robinson?!?
    Are you aware of over 20 personal and corporate letters of opposition from tenants and residents in the impact zone. Piedmont Avenue to Centennial Olympic Park Dr. In addition to letters the Mayor was made aware of 400 plus electronic and manual signatures. In addition the Mayor I believe was aware of the 3 engineering firms and two out of the three engineering firms recommended a comprehensive city wide traffic grid study. In addition are aware of the letter the CEO of AMLI apartments wrote stating that in Austin, TX the one way to two conversion had a major economic downturn for their assets.
    In addition Bill Torpy did a story regarding other studies of one way to two way and how there was a 70% negative impact to businesses in the impact area. The businesses on Baker St. are the lifeline of downtown.

    The CAP letters of support came from David Marvin and his Legacy partners entity's along Marietta st. Not one CAP letter of supoort has ingress or egress on Baker st.

    The three traffic engineering firms were engaged. All three provided different viewpoints. The consistent thread of implementation by all three is that there would not be any improvements for pedestrians or anyone else with the two way conversion. One study actually provided the fact that we would go from 59 conflict points to 109 conflict points if the two way conversion was made, which is only logical when introducing 27 plus left hand turns.
    I ask Maria, have you read the Atlanta Downtown Master Transportation plan? Have you seen their documented lack of engagement?
    Nobody who is knowledgeable of the facts should be surprised the Mayor vetoed this Ordinance.
    The Mayor should be APPLAUDED!
    The three major hotels Atlanta Atlanta Hilton, Marriott Marquis and the Hyatt Regency Atlanta all asked council to pause and take a broader approach to the conversion because their employees and clients could adversely be impacted unintentionally.
    We aren't afraid of change. We all want a better Atlanta but we can't implement change at a any means necessary.
    I thank the Mayor! I wish more of our elected officials would not allow outside entities to ram their personal agendas down our throat through non profit entities.
    Any questions please email Matt or Myreon at [email protected]Report

    Reply
  2. Avatar
    Steve says:

    It would be helpful to have access to the data (traffic counts, crash counts, business impact, etc.) that have been considered by the decision-makers. Similarly, it would be helpful to know what the proponents and opponents of turning Baker St into a 2-way street are basing their viewpoints on. It's hard to make good decisions (or arguments) without having access to accurate (complete) information.Report

    Reply
  3. Avatar
    Stephen Wheeler says:

    There is much, much more that the City of Atlanta can do to control e-scooters in our city. These are a few of San Diego's current regulations:

    "Another regulation pertains to parking or staging areas for bikes and scooters not in use. The new SDATIC rules state no more than four staged vehicles may remain in a 40-foot area. This aims to eliminate "bike piles" and obtrusive clusters of parked electric scooters. SDATIC aims to keep these vehicles easily accessible near bus and trolley stops without impeding the flow of foot traffic in these areas.

    The SDATIC also requires a per-device fee for each bike or scooter kept in a specified area and liability insurance for accidents involving these vehicles. Ultimately, the goal of these new regulations is to protect pedestrians, more evenly distribute green rideshare vehicles, and help riders navigate California streets more safely. The new regulations imposed on electric scooter and bike rental companies encourage greater responsibility, and the revenue earned from the device fees can help augment the city's existing transportation budget."

    I also understand that San Diego now has specific designated parking areas for e-scooters. To encourage the use of these areas, an e-scooter ride cannot be "completed" if the e-scooter is not parked in one of these designated areas.Report

    Reply
  4. Avatar
    Atlanta Resident says:

    In Georgia a provisional driver's license may be obtained by age 16; usually to obtain a full driver's license one must
    be 17; however children, little kids, can be seen riding electric scooters on streets in dense traffic in Atlanta.Report

    Reply
  5. Avatar
    ddrhazy says:

    @Steve – Two way streets help control traffic. One way streets will often have drivers "jockeying" for position, which means, they're breaking the law by going above the speed limit. Look up Jeff Speck on TED Talk, he is a city planner who is goes across the country fixing badly designed streets.Report

    Reply
  6. Avatar
    JakeJackson says:

    One thing that I've often seen left out of the discussion about making Baker a 2-way street is the expense: For reasons that I don't understand, the cost estimate is around $1 million. This amount seems astonishingly high, to me, and I wonder if Mayor Bottoms is negotiating. As well she should, given this price tag. Anyone else understand this expense? Beyond repainting lanes and changing signs, what must be done? If these funds are going towards planning and consulting, something is obviously wrong.Report

    Reply
  7. Avatar
    JMart says:

    The Baker Street "controversy" is the clearest recent example of how Downtown Atlanta has for decades been designed to accommodate visitors (both from the suburbs and out of town) to the detriment of residents. That simply HAS to end if downtown Atlanta is to become the kind of city neighborhood where people willingly choose to live.

    Why should city residents have to maintain a car dominate stretch of road way just so the hotels can ferry people to the GWCC less than a mile away. That is rhetorical question. THEY SHOULDN'T! It can't possibly be that difficult to figure out how to get conference attendees to the convention center with the change to a two-way Baker street. Holding this up for that purpose is unfortunately just too much like Atlanta.Report

    Reply

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