CNU18 folks pray for a city built for people and bicycles

By Maria Saporta

There was some preaching going on at the Tabernacle this week.

But the preaching had nothing to do with God.

Instead, the sermons all had a theme — our cities would be healthier if we relied more on two wheels and two feet than driving around on four wheels.

David Byrne, the front man for Talking Heads, likes to the see the world from a bicycle. When the band is touring, Byrne makes a point of riding his bicycle around the cities he’s visiting.

The end result? A book called: “Bicycle Diaries.”

“I’m probably preaching to the choir in the Tabernacle,” Byrne told people attending a session of the 18th Congress for New Urbanism, which has been meeting in Atlanta this week.

Byrne showed slides and video of the places he has visited. His favorite cities were those where cyclists and pedestrians dominated the streets instead of cars. But in the United States, cars tend to take precedence over bicycles and pedestrians.

“In many ways, cities are against their own citizens,” Byrne said.

Next up was Charles Brewer, founder of the internet services provider MindSpring.

Brewer is an avid cyclist who has become a developer of communities designed around the theories of new urbanism. He developed Glenwood Park in Southeast Atlanta.

Now he has shifted his focus to Costa Rica where he is developing a community — Las Catalinas — largely without cars.

Brewer spent his time on stage preaching about the evil of cars.

“If it weren’t for cars, way more people would be out on their bicycles,” Brewer said. “Cars are the problem.”

Brewer then directed his criticism to the new urbanists visiting Atlanta for the CNU18 national conference.

“I personally feel like the new urbanists bend over backwards to accommodate cars,” Brewer said, adding that one of his favorite places in the world is Eze in France, which is built into a hill on two-and-a-half acres — too compact a community for cars.

“Why aren’t we new urbanists building new Ezes?” Brewer asked. “Why aren’t we more willing to put cars out. Keeping cars out means peace and quiet.”

Plus, Brewer said that with so many overweight Americans, cycling also has wonderful health benefits — providing non-polluting transportation as well as exercise.

If it were up to him, Brewer would remove cars from our communities and add more bikes.

The next speaker was Scotty Greene, who had headed the Buckhead Community Improvement District. Greene coordinated the of Peachtree Road between Piedmont Avenue and the Buckhead MARTA station and making it more pedestrian friendly.

Greene said the project took 17 years to build from when it was first envisioned, and it cost $61 million to transform just two miles. The complicated project required a complex web of funding because of limited dollars for the urban redesign of streets.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful, Greene told folks at CNU18, if nearly all of available transportation dollars was allocated for transit, sidewalks and bike paths.

Greene kept dreaming. Imagine if when folks went to ask for highway funding, they would be told: “We don’t do any highways anymore.” And then they would be told about a small slice of CMAQ dollars that could be used for roads.

In short, Greene was describing the exact opposite of how transportation dollars are distributed today.

So this week, the Tabernacle became a place where people gathered and prayed for a different kind of city — a city built for people rather than cars.

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. Sixty One Million Dollar Man says:

    I am shocked that redoing a two mile stretch of Peachtree cost $61 million! Zoning is just as important as infrastructure in making areas walkable. The Dick’s/Filene’s/Publix shopping center across from Phipps is a great example. It’s a nice dense developement, but it was clearly built for cars. Most stores do not have pedestrian access from the street and pedestrians have to cut through a parking deck to access most of the stores.

    P.S. – Piedmont Road is in Buckhead, not Piedmont Avenue. I’m not sure of the official spot, but I believe that it changes from Avenue to Road near Cheshire Bridge Road.Report

  2. Stephanie says:

    I gave up my car -and love it. I Marta, walk, ride share and rent when needed. Join me.

    Is there a city wide day for Atlanta WithOut a Car?

    Follow my adventure – Going AWOC – Atlanta WithOut a Car!Report

  3. J. Glover says:

    61MMan, I refer to that center as Fort Buckhead. It presents an almost impregnable front to the street and pedestrians; the only thing else it really needs is a moat.Report

  4. Yr1215 says:

    I second the 61MM man. $61MM for 2 miles is an insane amount of money. That’s more than it costs for light rail for 2 miles. Must be gold buried under the sidewalks.Report

  5. Yr1215 says:

    Of note, cars are not evil, unless people are evil. People need and use cars. Pedestrians and bicyclists should not be accommodated to the exclusion of cars any more than the other should happen.

    The real problem is pedestrians and bicycles are generally not accommodated in any fashion. In addition, the incompatibility between cars and peds/bicyclists is the problem. Cars can hurt people, and pedestrians and bicyclists are vulnerable (and generally don’t hurt other people). If the city can find a way to segregate the uses in a safe way, that’s the solution. PATH is on the right track, and I would argue (more) on street bicycle lanes should have physical curbs protecting them from cars. And sidewalks for pedestrians should perhaps be more prevalent than they currently are.

    But it all takes money, which happens to be in short supply at the moment.Report

  6. professional skeptic says:

    “But it all takes money, which happens to be in short supply at the moment.”

    Agreed… except somehow, we always end up finding the $60M, $100M, $500M needed for resurfacing or widening roads & interstates. Whenever the topic turns to funding rail and bike paths, however, all we hear are crickets chirping and all we see are tumbleweeds bouncing along an empty landscape. Somehow the money done dried up! But the roadbuilder man always gets paid…Report


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