By David Pendered
Transportation planners overlooked one aspect of Atlanta’s convention industry – the people who attend – and that evidently contributed to Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ decision to halt the first step in a plan aimed at making Downtown more pleasant for pedestrians. In addition, the mayor ordered a review of the entire Downtown mobility plan by the city’s newly approved Transportation Department, which is to be functional by late 2020.
The transportation plan didn’t account for the 30 buses packed with conventioneers that simultaneously land at, or leave from, the Hilton Atlanta hotel. Planners didn’t know that many buses traveled at once, Josh Rowan, head of Renew Atlanta/TSPLOST, told the Atlanta City Council’s Transportation Committee.
The Hyatt Regency Atlanta and Atlanta Marriott Marquis have joined the Hilton in raising mobility concerns about the Downtown plan; all concerns are to be addressed, Rowan said. Likewise, the American Cancer Society and residents of Museum Tower are to be brought into the conversation, he said.
Rowan said city officials also intend to review, “how future developments Downtown … would interact with one another.” This likely is to include a fresh look at growth projections used to devise the new traffic patterns for Downtown. For starters, the plan calls for about 12,000 additional persons to reside in about 20,000 new homes that are to be built by 2030.
Rowan spoke in response to questions raised July 10 by members of the Atlanta City Council’s Transportation Committee.
The next day, the mayor released a statement explaining her decision to veto the council’s vote to approve the administration’s request to convert Baker Street from one-way to two-way. The city was to pay $1.3 million of the projected $2.7 million cost of converting 0.57 miles of Baker Street.
The conversion is part of a much broader mobility plan, Downtown Atlanta Transportation Plan, for the Downtown area that was sponsored by Central Atlanta Progress and its affiliate, Atlanta Downtown Improvement District; Atlanta Regional Commission, and Georgia Department of Transportation.
The plan calls for converting a total of 6.7 miles of Downtown streets from one-way to two-way roads.
The mayor’s veto statement observed:
- “As the Downtown area will be the focus of several large-scale development and redevelopment projects, it is critical that the city of Atlanta take a more inclusive look at how major transportation investments, such as the Baker Street two-way conversion, tie together mobility, zoning, conservation, preservation and affordable housing.
- “Accordingly, and because my administration is committed to ensuring that major transportation investments are accountable, transparent, and are reached through an informal decision-making process, the proposed Baker Street two-way conversion investment will be the subject of a comprehensive evaluation and a priority project of the newly created Department of Transportation.
Concerns expressed by Hyatt Regency Atlanta will be easiest to address, Rowan said. The Atlanta Marriott Marquis also has loading problems, though Rowan didn’t characterize the ease of a solution.
“The Hilton is the most technical one,” Rowan said.
This is how Rowan described the situation a the Hilton:
- “We have met with the Hilton and there are some legitimate challenges there.
- “The biggest issue they have is their loading and unloading of large tour groups.
- “I believe we had underestimated, a little bit, how many motor coaches move through at one time. They said they have as many as 30 motor coaches, and that they stage them five at a time.
- “We’re looking at how we could accommodate five motor coaches at one time, to get them in and out of that area.”
In handing the matter over to the city’s future DOT, the mayor ensured the discussions over the Downtown mobility plan could continue for up to 18 months. The city’s DOT is to be functional by late 2020, according to legislation the council approved June 17.
According to the legislation, six functions have been assigned to the DOT, with the sixth providing a degree of latitude for it to take on additional responsibilities:
- “Develop a comprehensive multimodal transportation plan that provides residents, commuters, and visitors safe access within and to the City of Atlanta;
- “Coordinate transportation operations, funding, and project delivery with partnering jurisdictions and agencies to improve mobility;
- “Plan, design, manage, and execute transportation projects to improve mobility for residents, commuters, and visitors;
- “Conduct maintenance and operations on existing transportation assets to maintain an efficient and effective transportation system for the City of Atlanta;
- “Manage the use of transportation funding to plan or execute enhancements to the City of Atlanta transportation network; and
- “Other transportation functions and duties which are under the purview of the Department of Public Works, the Department of City of Planning, and Renew Atlanta which may be transferred to the Department of Transportation.”