By Maria Saporta
Atlanta’s new motto? “Sidewalk Closed.”
One of the unfortunate by-products of developers and companies investing in Atlanta’s real estate is how sidewalks disappear when their projects are under construction.
In just a few blocks in Midtown – between Piedmont Avenue and Spring Street and from 4th Street to 14th Street – dozens of “Sidewalk Closed” signs have popped up.
I’ve included about a dozen photos to show examples of how we slight pedestrians in Atlanta’s most walkable communities – see below.
Try walking from the Midtown MARTA Station to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta along Peachtree Walk. Most of the sidewalk on the west side of Peachtree Walk (how ironic given the street’s name) is closed off. Then one will find the sidewalk on south side of 11th Street from Peachtree Walk to West Peachtree is closed off as part of the same development.
Cross over 11th Street, and you will be greeted with more “Closed Sidewalk” signs on the north side of the street from Peachtree Walk to Crescent. Of course, the sidewalk along Crescent is also closed.
Going west on 11th Street, one will find closed sidewalks bordering the block of West Peachtree, 10th Street and Spring Street
In fact, one can hardly find a block in the commercial part of Midtown without a “Sidewalk Closed” sign.
And Midtown is supposed to be one of the most pedestrian friendly communities in Atlanta. Even urbanist Chris Leinberger has proclaimed Midtown to be one of the Walkable Urban Places (Walk UPs) in our region.
Maybe someone at City Hall is handing out “Closed Sidewalk” signs as if it were candy – treats to please and reward developers for investing in the city.
Well let’s be truthful. A truly walkable city would never allow developers to close so many sidewalks.
Could you imagine closing off every other sidewalk in New York City? No way. New Yorkers, unlike Atlantans, recognize and respect that walking is a mode of transportation.
More importantly, we are trying to create more walkable communities. Developers are attracted to pedestrian-oriented, transit-oriented environments. Why? Because it is becoming more economically lucrative for developments to cater to walk-in traffic. People like working and living in places where they can walk.
So if a developers are closing off sidewalks during construction, in a subtle way, they are hurting their own economic interests. And they certainly are creating a drag on the existing businesses that have opened their doors to people on foot.
In a perfect world, we would ban “Closed Sidewalks” from ever being accepted during construction.
Obviously, we’re not there yet. But I would argue that we certainly shouldn’t be so willing to close off as many sidewalks as we have.
In many cases, sidewalks are closed on streets with little vehicular traffic. Why can’t the city and the developer agree to cordon off three feet or four feet – either by taking space from the development or by taking space from the street.
There must be a way to stop the proliferation of “Closed Sidewalk” signs, and most importantly, closed sidewalks.
We should be able to follow the lead of major cities where developers actually build a protected walkway for pedestrians – to make sure they are not hit with debris from a skyscraper construction site.
A quick study of how other densely-built cities address safe passage for pedestrians during the construction or renovation of buildings would be an easy exercise.
Atlanta could learn from best practices that have worked in other cities – and actually begin acting like the big city we’ve become.
The bottom-line is that when you seek to become a lively and thriving metropolis – pedestrians matter.