Money to build pricey pedestrian bridge over Northside Drive should be spent at street-level
By Maria Saporta
Memo to Atlanta’s next mayor:
Please put a stop to the building of an unnecessary $24 million loopy-loop pedestrian bridge across Northside Drive.
Now let me explain my rationale.
The expensive pedestrian bridge would connect the Vine City MARTA Station with the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The total length of the bridge would be about two blocks to just get pedestrians to cross over a 70-foot crosswalk.
As a safety concern, it is possible the bridge would only be open on game days and for special events at the Stadium, which makes it even a more questionable expenditure.
Even during special events, pedestrians likely would prefer to just cross the street rather than take the circuitous route of the pedestrian bridge.
“Transportation engineers have long known that pedestrian bridges are rarely an effective safety solution,” wrote Sally Flocks, founder of PEDS, in a comment posted in response to Mike Dobbins’ guest column in last week’s SaportaReport.
“Pedestrian bridges are useful for crossing highways, rivers and railroad tracks,” Flocks continued. “But few, if any, people will walk 700 feet to cross a surface street. For the same cost, the City of Atlanta could install over 200 traffic signals. Or even better, address nearly 10 percent of the city’s enormous backlog of broken sidewalks.”
More importantly, an investment of $24 million at street level to improve pedestrian crossings would significantly improve the Northside Drive corridor all day, every day.
Central Atlanta Progress, working with the Kimley-Horn transportation design firm, came up with a plan more than a year ago to improve the walkability along on Northside Drive.
The urban design plan would include a landscaped median, wider sidewalks and more defined pedestrian crosswalks at key intersections along the street.
The Georgia Department of Transportation already has been working on plans to make Northside Drive, a state-owned road, into a “complete street.” That means making the corridor friendly for pedestrians, cyclists, transit and other modes of transportation.
The beauty of this approach? Enhancing Northside Drive into a people-friendly corridor would create a strong link between the struggling Westside and the city’s downtown convention and entertainment district – a real community bridge that would be in place 365 days a year.
Better yet, the intersection of the legacy Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Northside Drive can become the gateway between downtown and the Westside, an area destined to be rejuvenated.
Unfortunately, the plan has yet to be funded or implemented. And the notion of spending $24 million on a pedestrian bridge that will be seldom used is an unwise use of precious city resources.
According to Flocks, part of the funding for the $24 million bridge would be paid for by funds diverted from Renew Atlanta – which was established to address the city’s backlog of infrastructure maintenance.
“The bridge was not on the Renew Atlanta project list; nor was it publicly vetted,” Flocks wrote.
Hopefully – on the eve of the city elections, we are about to enter a new day of leadership at City Hall – regardless of who is elected.
We now can embark on a more collaborative, inclusive, rational and efficient way in how we decide to invest in our Atlanta’s future.
A good place to start would be to stop the pricey, loopy-loop pedestrian bridge over Northside Drive. Then we can reallocate those funds to make Northside Drive a corridor that really connects the people in our city.