Closing of our city’s streets to cars brings Atlanta to life

By Maria Saporta

A friend called me Saturday morning to tell me Peachtree Street was closed off to traffic until 1 p.m. that day. My friend knew how much I enjoyed it when streets were turned over to people.

The High Museum of Art had gotten permission to close down Atlanta’s main corridor so it could display several dozen classic antique cars.

While it was a unique experience to see cars older than I am, the real thrill was being able to walk down the middle of Peachtree Street with others.

We should do this more often.

Closing streets for pedestrians, even temporarily, is a liberating feeling. Rather than being constricted to relatively narrow sidewalks, one can walk along the wide expanse of the street in a celebratory mood.

Peachtree Street was only closed for a few hours on Saturday.

But on Auburn Avenue, the streetwas closed all weekend because of the Sweet Auburn Festival. Once again, people were free to walk for almost the whole length of the street without the intrusion of cars.

We are in the middle of festival season. A couple of weeks ago, we were able to enjoy the Inman Park Festival a grid of closed streets. Next month we’ll be able to enjoy the Virginia-Highland Festival when Virginia Avenue is closed from Highland Avenue to the Inman Middle School.

When the Arts Festival Atlanta decided to leave Piedmont Park for downtown, it was like losing a friend. But I recognized that the festival had grown so big that people were concerned about its wear and tear on Piedmont Park (but what are public parks for?).

At the time, I thought a much better solution would have been to close down Peachtree Street from the Fox Theatre to the Woodruff Arts Center.

The artist booths could line both sides of the streets. And there could be both music and theatrical stages indoors and outdoors along the length of the corridor.

Automobile traffic actually can easily handle the shutting down of Peachtree Street in both Midtown and downtown.

Spring Street and West Peachtree provide one-way pairs on the west side of the Peachtree, and Juniper/Courtland and Piedmont provide one-way pairs on the east side of the street.

Throughout Europe, cities experimented with permanently turning streets into pedestrian walkways. Some have been more successful than others.

But closing streets for special events and festivals is a no-brainer. Turning over our streets to pedestrians rather than cars and trucks literally helps bring a city to life.

Live on Atlanta.

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.

16 replies
  1. Jeannie says:

    Maria – when I saw the title to your blog I assumed you were talking about Atlanta Streets Alive. The link is in the comment above. Here’s the facebook group:!/group.php?gid=293579758899

    May 23 from 1:00 – 6:00 they are closing down a major portion of midtown & old fourth ward ranging from Auburn to Piedmont to North Ave. to Glen Iris / Randolph and Edgewood. Lots of activities, street vending, arts & crafts, and more planned. Perfect day for you!Report

  2. Yr1215 says:

    Atlanta Streets Alive looks pretty cool.

    Maria, I would add one thought related to some things you note. The plethora of one-way streets in Midtown and Downtown, while conducive to the expedient movement of traffic (a real need in this city), they are counter-productive from an urban planning standpoint. I’m not a city planner, but I think most city planners (or at least Jane Jacobs – author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities) would agree that 2-way streets are much better at fostering street level retail and pedestrianoriented businesses.

    I have argued, and will continue to argue, that West Peachtree, Juniper, and Piedmont need to become 2 way streets. Spring Street, until such time as there is a decent access road on the west side of the connector, needs to remain 1-way. But these other roads could be converted to 2-way traffic and would significantly improve the urban fabric in Midtown and Downtown as a result. I think (although I don’t know for sure), that the benefits would far outweigh the costs (stop light changes, re-striping, and re-signing the streets).Report

  3. Tiger Woods + Jesse James = SuperBAD meets SuperEVIL in "SUPERUGLY!" says:


    I do like the idea of shutting down some local neighborhood streets for street festivals and special events. Areas like Auburn Avenue, Virginia-Highland, Inman Park are perfect for restricting automobile traffic and closing streets for festivals and special events, but I would think twice before fully recommending the same policy be consistently implemented on PEACHTREE STREET on a regular basis. Events on Saturday Mornings or even some holidays when there are far fewer commuters moving about the city are acceptable, but closing Peachtree on regular evenings, weeknights and God forbid, weekdays, are and should be out of the question.

    Peachtree is to Atlanta what Michigan Avenue is to Chicago and Broadway is to New York. Even though, obviously, Peachtree may not have quite reached anywhere near its full potential, but Peachtree is still Atlanta’s flagship street and any consideration to restrict or close the street shouldn’t be taken lightly. Michigan Avenue in Chicago is such a major throughfare that it has never been restricted to traffic for a special event in recent memory and Broadway in New York is only restricted to pedustrian traffic for New Year’s Eve celebrations in Times Square and maybe the occasional uber-awards show production. I’m not disagreeing with you and saying that Peachtree should NEVER be closed to vehicular traffic for special events and festivals, but I am saying that if and when Peachtree is closed to vehicular traffic it had better be a darned big event, an event of “stop the presses” type of proportions and not every “namby-pamby”-type of frequent event that happens every week or so.

    To recap, I agree with Maria about closing local streets for festivals and fairs, but I don’t quite agree that a street of Peachtree’s magitude and impact should be closed more often for festivals and exhibitions, but do think that Peachtree could be shut down for MAJOR big-time special events.Report

  4. Yr1215 says:

    TW+JJ, add my vote for your points. But I don’t think Maria was suggesting that Peachtree ever be closed during rush hour.

    I would argue that closing the street permanently (an idea toyed with, but not suggested by Maria) would be an insanely bad idea. Raleigh just reopened their main street downtown last year because without it, every retailer died immediately when they blocked it off in the late 80’s.Report

  5. Tiger Woods + Jesse James = SuperBAD meets SuperEVIL in "SuperUGLY!" says:

    Yr1215: I do like the idea of making those particular one-way streets that you named into two-way streets as a way to bring people and street-level retail to an area that really desires alot more of both like Midtown. I wasn’t thinking that Maria suggested closing down Peachtree during rush-hour, I was just expressing my doubts about closing the street to traffic in the evening period after rush-hour (7pm and later) during the week. I’m somewhat okay with occasionally closing the street down on Saturday Mornings, I just am not necessarily in full support of making it a habit unless it’s some type of monster event because of the importance of the street to Atlanta.

    “I would argue that closing the street permanently (an idea toyed with, but not suggested by Maria) would be an insanely bad idea. Raleigh just reopened their main street downtown last year because without it, every retailer died immediately when they blocked it off in the late 80’s.”

    Your point above about Raieigh reopening their Main Street to vehicular traffic in an effort to bring back retailers to that street kind of illustrates why any closing of Peachtree should be carefully considered as the City of Atlanta seeks long-term to develop that area of the city into “The Midtown Mile”, an stretch of street-level retail and pedustrial-friendly shops that is similar to Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, or possibly even New York’s Broadway. A planned linear development like that should help generate more and more pedustrian traffic, but will also need a steady stream of vehicular traffic, albeit vehicular traffic regulated by innovative design features to help provide a much safer pedustrian environment so that the two can sensibly co-exist. Any closings must help to enhance the city’s long-term plans to continously develop and foster that type of pedustrian-friendly environment.Report

  6. Midtowner says:

    The vast majority of our city’s public land is not in parks, it’s in streets. Michigan Avenue, Broadway, the Champs Elysees, and so many other famous streets gain their notoriety from the fact that they are used as promenades, not as through-ways. These and so many other streets are the center of our public life, and nothing speaks to the character of the neighborhood as much as its primary public street.

    Several blocks of Peachtree Street are sandwiched between two pairs of one-way streets (Piedmont & Juniper / West P’tree & Spring) that were designed (like it or not) for moving traffic quickly through Midtown. Everyone knows that Peachtree Street is a “local,” with traffic lights at every block and pedestrians crossing at every corner. Anyone trying to get on past Midtown without stopping is going to take Spring or West Peachtree.

    The good news is that this gives us a wonderful opportunity celebrate in our main street with almost no impact to traffic, particularly on weekends. (The traffic counts bear this out very clearly. I checked!) Peachtree Street Atlanta’s linear town square. Why not use it?

    Atlanta has plenty of highways and streets crammed with cars. From time-to-time, we should use our great public spaces like Peachtree, Virginia/Highland and Edgewood for something more uplifting than the daily commute.Report

  7. Paul says:

    “Michigan Avenue in Chicago is such a major throughfare that it has never been restricted to traffic for a special event in recent memory and Broadway in New York is only restricted to pedustrian traffic for New Year’s Eve celebrations in Times Square and maybe the occasional uber-awards show production.”

    This statement is simply false. In fact, the streets around Times Square are now permanently 100% pedestrian, and New York city is making even more streets off-limits to vehicles, such as a large section of 34th street and sections of the meatpacking district. Meanwhile, in Chicago, Michigan Avenue is very frequently closed to all vehicles for events such as the Chicago Marathon, multiple parades and festivals, political events, and even a yearly Oprah show.

    Nobody is suggesting that Peachtree Street should be permanently closed to traffic. What we are suggesting is that Peachtree is the symbolic heart of Atlanta, and the city is greatly enhanced by all of the festivals, parades, and charity events that limit the street to pedestrian-only use.Report

  8. Jett says:

    I don’t think it has been pointed out here that “Atlanta Streets Alive” is modeled after a movement that is already occurring throughout the Americas. It’s a reminder that streets are public gathering places for people, and how much more personal social interactions become once we get people out from behind the wheel of their cars. We smile more, we greet each other, and we feel like we’re part of something bigger than ourselves.

    The cycling community is aware of this event, but unfortunately, not many outside of the cycling community have heard about it. Everyone who enjoys a car-free street from time to time should know about this opportunity.Report

  9. J. Glover says:

    Besides the previously mentioned Atlanta Streets Alive, there is a new arts festival seeking a permit which appears would do just what you suggest and take place on a closed section of Peachtree in Midtown. Oddly, the new “Midtown Festival of the Arts”, if approved, would take place the weekend immediately following the reincarnated Atlanta Arts Festival which is back in Piedmont Park.

    As to converting one-way streets to two-way, that change is already planned for almost all of the city’s one-way streets as part of the Connect Atlanta Plan (the city’s long-term transportation plan) including Piedmont, Juniper, West Peachtree and Spring.Report


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