Downtown Connector’s bridges evolving from spartan crossings to garden-like settings
By David Pendered
Atlanta’s Downtown Connector is a bit like a house that’s been expanded with additional rooms, in the form of bridges, and now there’s a lot of conversation about adding a second floor – in the form a platform above the highway that would host greenspace and buildings – and sprucing up the 10th Street Bridge.
This conversation is likely to accelerate as soon as mid December. Central Atlanta Progress is close to completing and releasing the latest updates on the technical and financial aspects of a project named the Stitch. It involves constructing a platform above the Connector from MARTA’s Civic Center Station, at West Peachtree Street, south to Piedmont Avenue, and using the space created for greenspace and development.
The 10th Street Bridge proposal is still a year away from the design and engineering phase, according to a report by Midtown Alliance. Planners now are focused on chores such as conducting traffic counts of vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists, and developing recommendations to create a better multi-modal facility.
As a development project, the Stitch sounds similar to plans to develop the Gulch. Both would utilize above-ground platforms to serve as the foundation for new development and greenspace. One difference appears to be way they address nearby MARTA rail stations.
The Gulch acknowledges the proximity of two MARTA rail stations, but available plans don’t provide enough detail to show the level to which the rail stations would be incorporated as integral transit components of the planned development.
The Stitch, by comparison, embraces a MARTA station, according to a report on CAP’s website, and would:
- “Generate a significant opportunity to foster transit-oriented development at the Civic Center MARTA rail station – the station could be re-positioned as a major transit hub for this part of the City.
- “A key focal point of The Stitch concept design is improving what is currently the Civic Center MARTA station by creating a dynamic urban plaza coined ‘Emory Square.’ The Emory Square plaza would connect St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on the west to a re-imagined Emory Square MARTA station, as well as to Emory’s future ‘Medical Arts Institute’ building and to new retail and residential areas.”
In a sense, the Stitch is the latest incarnation of Atlanta’s ongoing efforts to reclaim space above the Downtown Connector, and to devise bridges that are aesthetically pleasing and accommodate all modes of transportation. As such, each of the Connector’s bridges represents the transportation philosophy, and budget, of its era.
The Stitch could be viewed as a version of the 5th Street Bridge, on steroids.
The 5th Street Bridge is a pedestrian pleasure garden. The highway beneath the bridge is all but invisible because of walls and plantings. Both sides of the bridge are flanked by stone risers that serve as seating. The north side of the bridge has a fairly wide grassy lawn lined by trees that help conceal the highway below. The south side has an expansive trellis covered with climbing greenery.
And it feels safe. Sidewalks are wide and streetlights provide some level of protection from errant vehicles. Bike lanes flank the sidewalks and there are just two travel lanes and a turn lane.
Likewise, the 5th Street Bridge pushed the limits established by the 14th Street Bridge. The 14th Street Bridge was a marvel when it opened because it offered a heavily planted median with spacious end caps. The ends provide a safe spot for pedestrians crossing the street after walking on wide sidewalks. In addition, the planting reinforced the polished image that Midtown Alliance was fostering throughout the neighborhood.
The current generation of discussions about bridges over the Connector dates to the unveiling of plans for the 10th Street Bridge, the one that’s to be revamped. No one in Midtown was expecting a bridge that’s as utilitarian as they come. It didn’t fit the neighborhood’s vision of the bridge as a thing of beauty that would serve as a gateway to Midtown’s leafy streets.
Midtown made its opinions known. The results are evident in even small details in subsequent bridges, such as the fences that prevent folks from jumping off a bridge or throwing items onto the road below.
On the suburban style 10th Street Bridge, chain link fence tied off to pipes serves as a projectile fence. On the more urbane 17th Street Bridge, the fence has more of an artisan style and it’s attached to supports that rise and fall in height as they cross the bridge.