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.
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