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.

Northside Drive

Map of how the street improvements would look including the pedestrian bridge (Special Kimley-Horn)

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.

Northside Drive

A before and after look at Northside Drive if the improvements are made at street-level (Special: Kimley-Horn)

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.

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Northside Drive

Another before and after look at Northside Drive, if the city decides to invest the funds at street-level (Special: Kimley-Horn)

 

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.

29 replies
  1. Sally Flocks says:

    Absolutely. And also put a stop to the proposed pedestrian bridge between the Municipal Court Building and its parking lot. At a recent information session for potential contractors, a Renew Atlanta program manager estimated the cost of this bridge at $1.8 to $2 million – all of which would come from Renew Atlanta Bonds. Once again, the bridge was not on the Renew Atlanta project list and it was not publicly vetted. It’s also contrary to Atlanta’s comprehensive transportation plan and the Downtown Master Plan. Also appalling: Mayor Reed and others are holding a groundbreaking event for the proposed bridge on December 13 – despite the fact that Atlanta hasn’t selected a contractor. As a taxpayer in Atlanta, I have 3 questions for Mayor Reed: How do you justify diverting bonds intended for infrastructure maintenance to new projects? Why the behind closed doors decisions? And what’s the rush?Report

    Reply
  2. C. Hakim says:

    I agree that the funds can and should be better used on the ground to serve the needs of stadium event attendees as needed and local residents all the time.Report

    Reply
  3. Larry Keating says:

    Absolutely agree. Part of the land along Northside Drive is owned by Arthur Blank who built a “preferred guest” parking lot there in contravention of a City/Neighborhood agreement that there would be no event parking west of Northside Drive when the (now demolished) Georgia Dome was built. Far too many tax receipts subsidized the construction of the new stadium which also occasioned the demolition of Spelman College’s founding site.
    Subsidizing a bridge to this parking adds insult to injury.Report

    Reply
  4. Matthew Johnson says:

    The point made at public meetings: CAN WE TRUST RENEW WITH THE BOND MONEY? Rushing to do projects that were NOT VETTED, INCLUDED OR PUBLICLY ANNOUNCED. ON, NO, NOT ANOTHER BETRAYAL!! STILL NOTHING IN VIEW FOR DEKALB AVENUE CONSTIPATION.Report

    Reply
  5. John Fetner says:

    Ive attended several events at the old stadium. Northside Drive is intimidating to cross for pedestrians.
    Bet there’s a lower cost solution than this $24 million dollar bridge. Too much money for this project. Just take a look at all of the nice little pedestrian bridges on the Silver Comet Trail. Bet they were chump change compared to this proposal.Report

    Reply
    • Sally Flocks says:

      Installing a traffic signal or the type of beacons used on Ponce de Leon – which are called Pedestrian Hybrid Beacons – would cost about $100,000. For the cost of the proposed bridge, Atlanta could install 240 of these. Research shows that few people will walk more than 300 feet out of their way to use a crosswalk, so people who live near Northside drive need safe crossing treatments at far more than 1 location.Report

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  6. Anderson says:

    Would not a traffic stop light with an enlarged crosswalk with extended train crossing type arms which lift be just as effective and less expensive as a bridge?Report

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    • Sally Flocks says:

      A traffic signal would be far more effective. Few, if any pedestrians will be willing to walk 700′ to cross a 70′ wide road. People will cross at ground level, but the bridge may give people who are driving the sense that no one will be walking there.Report

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      • brainstar8 says:

        For those of us who are long-time residents of the City of Atlanta and have paid our share of taxes for services we never receive, that’s not the point. My family is all for community and how our dollars support those who are in need. But this bridge is not a need – it’s an ego thing for Babyman Reid and his pompous crew.Report

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    • atlman says:

      Are you even aware that the state redistributes tons of tax revenue from the urban areas to rural Georgia already? If the state allowed Atlanta and DeKalb to keep all its tax revenue, those urban areas would have more than enough for dozens of projects like this and to spare. The rural areas on the other hand …

      Also since you spoke favorably of Trump, I take it that you are a free market capitalist. Well that is why these “amenities” are necessary. Educated, skilled, talented, motivated people who earn high salaries and/are or entrepreneurs can live anywhere. They tend to congregate to places that offer them the best “living experience”, meaning said amenities. It is an arms race to attract the best and brightest with things like great public school systems, outstanding museums, good transit, great parks, strong university systems, nightlife/recreation etc. It isn’t so much to induce people to move from the rural area to the big city – which happens anyway – but to get people to choose one big city over another. If Atlanta has no “amenities” as you call it, then all that tech talent that is drawing employers from all over to this city would move to Houston, Dallas, Miami, Seattle, San Diego, Boston or even Charlotte and Chattanooga. This is something that everyone but conservatives seem to realize, but that crowd convinces itself that the way to draw jobs and workers is to cut taxes left and right. Well Mississippi and Alabama have among the lowest tax rates in the country, yet you don’t see many Fortune 500 companies or investment bankers moving there do you?Report

      Reply
  7. jim martin says:

    At the Atlanta on the Move forum, Keisha said that she would not spend $20M on pedestrian infrastructure city-wide because the money was not available. Cancelling this foolishness ought to free it up pretty easily…Report

    Reply
    • brainstar8 says:

      Let’s see if Keisha cancels it, as it sounds like her mentor, Babyman Reid, has his fingerprints on this plan.

      City of Atlanta residents voted nearly two years ago for a referendum that was ostensibly to repair Atlanta’s Third World-like streets and roads. There is little evidence of this, and I expect Keisha L-B to act just as Reid, such as diverting infrastructure funds serving thousands of Atlantans to a neighborhood swimming pool, to the tune of $17 million, serving a comparative handful of Atlantans. I don’t expect to be disappointed in Ms. L-B, because my expectations that she will rise above her mentor’s corruptness and cronyism are already rock-bottom.Report

      Reply
  8. David Nelson says:

    Pedestrian bridges can be a good thing, but like all major projects, need to be put into perspective financially, and in terms of actual use. I’ve seen pedestrian bridges built with the best of intentions, but the folks that lived in a particular neighborhood preferred the direct route across an uncontrolled boulevard. The trick is to know when the bridge makes sense.Report

    Reply

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