Baby steps across Northside Drive?

By Guest Columnist MIKE DOBBINS, a professor of the practice of planning at Georgia Tech’s College of Architecture who has overseen several Tech studios that examined Northside Drive and its neighborhoods

For over 30 years Northside Drive has separated westside residents from the jobs and vibrancy that continue to grow in Downtown Atlanta with a physical wall of traffic and pavement as if to emphasize the race and class divisions that plague the neighborhoods it bounds.

In a forum at the Atlanta Community Food Bank on the evening of Sept. 26, community members from Vine City and English Avenue heard from Central Atlanta Progress and the PATH Foundation on plans to upgrade the access, character, and quality of Northside Drive and improve its links to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium and beyond.

Mike Dobbins

Mike Dobbins

CAP presented a street-plan that, while modest in scope and scale, is likely effective in impact. Northside would include landscaped medians and 15-foot wide sidewalks, with uniform lighting and regularly spaced trees, matching what is now the standard in Downtown, Midtown and Buckhead. Pedestrian crosswalks would be demarcated and highlighted at intersections along its length, specifically across from the stadium, between Rhodes and Mitchell Streets.

The consultant’s traffic analyses confirm that this treatment would strategically buffer traffic, improving safety and access without reducing throughput. Game and other event-generated traffic would be managed by police, enabling directional traffic flows for arrival and departure times, just as it is now.

Perhaps more important, CAP and the community recognize the urgency of seizing this moment when attention and resources are focused on the stadium area, along with the benefits of encouraging more community involvement going forward.

PATH has a long history of communicating with the neighborhood while trying to find a suitable and technically feasible path for off-street bike-ped trails connecting the westside neighborhoods to downtown. Originally imagined as the Vine City Promenade, now funded mostly by the Georgia Department of Transportation and recast as Westside Beltline Trail, the project runs from Washington Park to Northside Drive and is proceeding toward construction.

Dobbins drawing Northside Drive

The proposed bridge above Northside Drive looks like a Slinky walking spring toy as it connects with the spiky appearance of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Credit: Mike Dobbins

PATH’s original plan for getting to Downtown ran east from Magnolia Street up the hill to Andrew Young International Boulevard at the Georgia World Congrees Center, and from there directly into Centennial Olympic Park. The Mercedes-Benz Stadium, however, extended the great wall of the Congress Center another quarter mile through the former site of Friendship Baptist Church and severed MLK Drive.

At the meeting, PATH updated its progress on alternate routing, crossing Northside and travelling north along its east side, level across what is now a bus drop-off for the GWCC, to a humanized, less bleak Ivan Allen bridge and then on to PATH’s planned Luckie Street bike route.

Both CAP and PATH seem to recognize that the Northside barrier needs to be breached, its hardships mitigated, and that they can take advantage of their positions to leverage the opportunity a $1.5 billion publicly subsidized stadium provides. In letting residents’ concerns inform their plans, PATH and CAP seem to be offering an open line of communication, at least an olive branch to a community that long ago earned it.

The City and the Falcons, on the other hand, hold barely a fig leaf to cover the deals and public funds that now seem to be committed to an unnecessary, costly, and over-designed bridge over Northside. At a cost approved by city council at just under $13 million, this project, though green-lighted by council in July, demands deeper scrutiny.

northside drive, pedestrian bridge site

The proposed pedestrian bridge across Northside Drive to Mercedes-Benz Stadium stretches about 800 feet to cross this section of roadway. Credit: David Pendered

Bridges that require climbing and descending two stories to cross 100 feet of street have proven nationally to be utter failures in serving pedestrian needs. Bridges that cross on the level from one active destination to another at an upper floor, on the other hand, while diminishing street life where it exists, can work. Witness the bridges that connect the hotels in the Peachtree Center area.

The proposed Northside bridge edifice, though, has the look of a “Slinky,” with ramps coiled on either side of Northside. If uncoiled and straightened out this structure would extend about 800 feet – think of it as almost two blocks of climbing up and downhill to cross the street.

A reasonable analysis of this proposal would include:

  • The frequency and volume of its projected use – VERY LOW except maybe at a few events per year;
  • Its use as a bike route – FOR FUN, MAYBE, skateboarders too, especially since there won’t be pedestrians;
  • Its cost and sources of funding – $13 MILLION+/-, APPARENTLY ALL CITY FUNDED;
  • Its aesthetics – ?????????

Off the top, then, might there not be better neighborhood-serving applications for those kinds of dollars? Its context adjacent to some of Atlanta’s lowest wealth neighborhoods with the most neglected infrastructure, whose straits seem finally to be a concern of movers and shakers, would suggest that the answer is: YES. To put the city’s commitment of $15 million to such a project, to what end, flies in the face of the city’s repeated pious assurances of how it cares for its Westside neighborhoods. Consider what $15 million means:

Dobbins, Northside bridge to Mercedes-Benz Stadium

The proposed bridge across Northside Drive to serve the Mercedes-Benz Stadium would be about 800 feet long. Credit: Atlanta

  • $13 million is is about as much as the $15 million the neighborhood struggled to wrest out of the City and Invest Atlanta for neighborhood improvement, money to which it was already entitled through the provisions of the Westside Tax Allocation District (TAD);
  • $13 million would build about 25 miles of sidewalk;
  • $13 million would build about 120 new homes, about 200 apartment units, or rehab about 250 existing homes;
  • $13 million would pay for the purchase and installation of about 3,000 street lights or about 1500 surveillance cameras;
  • $13 million would pay Matt Ryan’s salary for a year.

CAP and PATH noted that their plans, however practical and sensible for getting across Northside Drive, at this point have zero funding. I’ll bet that if the City put up a million or two, GDOT would build the CAP and PATH plans, greatly improving Vine City and English Avenue connectivity to Downtown and Midtown, greatly improving the travel experience for all and especially pedestrians, and launching a grand boulevard for shaping the city’s future.

All they would have to do is scuttle “Slinky” the bridge, move a little of the money to implement what would really work, and apply the remaining $11 million, since it seems to be available, to some of the above neighborhood-serving projects. What do you think?

 

16 replies
  1. letmesaythis says:

    Beautifully written
    Solid argument
    Stupid bridge
    Improve the community (sidewalks, homes, retail = greater tax revenue
    Slinky bridge = no tax revenueReport

    Reply
  2. Burroughston Broch says:

    Where’s the social equity in providing these improvements for this neighborhood and not for others? Every neighborhood deserves a slinky bridge.Report

    Reply
  3. Sally Flocks says:

    Research shows that people won’t walk more than 300 feet out of their way to cross the street, even if it doesn’t requiring ascending or descending between a bridge and the sidewalk. Is anyone listening at City Hall: people want sidewalk repairs, not pedestrian bridges.Report

    Reply
  4. Abhishek Behera says:

    It is quite interesting to see hoe Prof Dobbins compared the expenditure to things that we as Atlantans need or care about (including Matt Ryan’s annual salary). As an architect/ urban designer and a planner-to-be, I have always believed in creating iconic architecture and urban design that would represent and serve the city and its people. Several leaders (and rulers) have always wanted to leave behind their legacy in the city. Something of permanence, which the citizens can identify their term(s) with. The “Slinky” is one of the many in the list, which Mayor Reed is leaving behind for us. 
    Is the bridge going to serve the city and the people? Probably not. Is it iconic? “Who am I to judge?” Could we have used those $13 million for something better? Most definitely yes! Redirect the money towards more physical, permanent and usable assets for the people! Maybe direct it towards the MARTA and T-SPLOST referendums coming up this November!Report

    Reply
  5. johnradams says:

    Strikes me as ironic that the bridge will “serve the Mercedes Benz stadium”.   How about spending the money to serve the neighborhood, few of whom are enamored by Mercedes-Benz?  As far as usage, does anyone actually believe that people will walk nearly three football fields instead of racing across the street?  Come on.   Whoever is driving this bridge, please stop with the disingenuous absurd positioning, and acknowledge that Mike Dobbins simply makes sense.Report

    Reply
  6. scfranklin says:

    As a part time resident of Austin for 3 plus years I observed the active use of bridges, wideside walks, winding walkways combined with a beautiful and well maintained miles of new river bank trails. The integration of the transportation solutions is as important as the components in my view.Report

    Reply
  7. Equitable says:

    Hear hear Professor Dobbins! The LAST thing Atlanta needs is another ugly structure along Northside Drive. This is foolishness squared. STOP THIS MADNESS. Please contact your City council person and let them know: NORTHSIDE SLINKY = TOTAL WASTE OF MONEY.Report

    Reply
  8. Chad Carlson says:

    Segregating Falcon fans from people who live in the area and from street life is regressive; it continues in the long tradition of segregating certain classes of people from others through geographic barriers, as exemplified by the Falcons Stadium being dumped in the middle of MLK Drive, cutting Southwest Atlanta neighborhoods off from downtown.Report

    Reply
  9. JoanPiccalo says:

    If the street is to busy to cross as a pedestrian, maybe it’s the street we should work on? Seems like the Slinky will encourage the street to become even more car-centric, and create a huge dead zone for pedestrians grade. Atlanta wants to be taken seriously on a global and national scale with our airport and our new stadiums, but when will we take public transit seriously? – JPReport

    Reply
  10. Butler 63 says:

    Do you really believe A.J.Robinson( CEO of CAP) who gave us the rod iron barriers and planters for the homeless to squad on Peachtree and others to use as ash trays between John Portman ave and International Blvd  along with the glorious Trolley to nowhere and the Xernona Clayton Plaza (Hardy Ivery Park ) which is a bedroom during the day and night for the substance abusers is into any thing more than foolishly spending money on ill conceived plans that KNOWLEDGABLE planners and developers know are urban failures 
    All AJ and Cap have become are seekers of projects that will generate photo opps and get some press without admitting the subsequent failuresReport

    Reply
  11. Abhishek Behera says:

    Butler 63 How we as human beings use ‘design’ is upto us. it isn’t always the same as it was intended to be, but most of the times it is. A cup is used to drink coffee as well as a pen stand. Was it designed for the latter? I dont think so. Planters are still better than empty sidewalks, and it isnt always the homeless who throng those spaces. The issue of homelessness isnt one person/ organisation’s responsibility and cant be just solved with urban design and planning by the most “KNOWLEDGEABLE” of folks – if that was the case, we wouldnt have this issue at our hands. Its always easy to play the blame game than to acknowledge or appreciate efforts or for that matter provide constructive criticism. 
    One thing my mother always said –  “you do bad work, people will accuse you; you do good work, they will still accuse you; they never will appreciate or help you out”Report

    Reply

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