By Maggie Lee
Updated with comment from the Georgia Department of Transportation
On the day he officially opened Lynhurst Drive’s “complete street” redo, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed repeated a pledge to make Martin Luther King Jr. Drive the best MLK corridor in the nation.
Lynhurst’s wide sidewalks, lights, benches and resurfaced pavement make it what’s called a “complete street:” it’s ready for folks no matter what mode of transportation they’re taking.
“This complete street project is another example of a promise made and promise kept,” said Reed, just ahead of the ceremonial ribbon-cutting. The works on 2.2 miles of road cost $6.3 million, Reed said, part of which came from the Renew Atlanta bond, a voter-approved spend on infrastructure citywide.
During the speech, Reed also repeated a pledge to invest in Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. The works will cost about $40 million, he told the crowd, which includes a $10 million federal grant made during the Obama administration.
“The base design is to put it on a road diet, in other words, to slow the traffic down, it becomes two-way [one lane in each direction with turning lanes] for a large portion of it, there are bike lanes,” said Public Works Commissioner William Johnson, when asked for an MLK update after the ceremony.
The idea is to make it a little slower and more of a complete street — nice wide sidewalks, good crossings, new trees and green space.
Right now, the drive from Lynhurst on MLK makes for a fairly quick five-mile drive to the walls of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Part of MLK has been resurfaced, but for most of its length, it’s a four-lane road with no turning lane, no bike lane and in some places, sidewalks that could use some work. There’s some on-street parking in the Lowery Boulevard area. It passes under the BeltLine and it’s overlooked by the roofless shell of historic Gaines Hall.
Johnson said their models show the road diet idea will improve traffic flow.
“Now, there’s lots of on-street parking where there are no cutouts and certain times of the day there’s only traffic one lane of through traffic in each direction with no turn lane so it kind of backs the traffic up,” Johnson said.
The city has already collected bids for about a mile of works just west of Northside Drive. Those works include road resurfacing, new lighting, well-marked crosswalks, landscaping, median islands and bike lanes.
Bid documents on the portion further west, from Ollie Street to Fulton Industrial, haven’t been issued yet.
Johnson said there has been some pushback in parts of that section against some of the roadway diet design features, but that the city is still hoping to win over critics.
“We’re still hopeful we’ll be able to convince those communities that are saying, ‘Hey leave us out of the bike lanes, we dont want you to change the width of the streets’ that we’ll be able to demonstrate to them how much of an improvement this is going to be for their safety,” Johnson said.
Reed said everything that was visible on Lynhurst in terms of kind and quality would be a minimum standard for the King corridor.
He said there has not been major investment on the MLK in decades, but also noted there are two major new developments coming online. A new YMCA leadership and learning center is planned on MLK in Vine City. On the other end, near Charlie Brown Airport, UPS is building a major new distribution center.
Later on Thursday, after the Lynhurst ribbon-cutting, Reed and other city leaders held a ceremony to mark grants for several small business owners in the corridor.
The Georgia Department of Transportation is also part of talks about part of the corridor. It controls the portion of MLK from Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard to the Fulton County line. A department spokeswoman said in a written statement that the project along the corridor is being managed by the city of Atlanta, but will ultimately be reviewed and need to be approved by the state via a special encroachment permit to work on the state right-of-way. “The details of the project’s scope will need to come from Atlanta,” she wrote.