Northside Drive’s renewal a critical “next step” to bolstering continued revival of Downtown, Midtown

By David Pendered

Consider just one aspect of the challenge facing the Georgia Tech study that aims to retool Northside Drive into an urban boulevard that both anchors and promotes the development of Midtown and Downtown:

Northside trestle

The Northside Drive corridor is designed for vehicles, and trains, in this section looking toward I-75 along Northside Drive. Credit: David Pendered

MARTA doesn’t provide regular bus service on Northside between I-75 and I-20, which is the area encompassed by the study. The region’s largest transit system hasn’t identified anywhere along this stretch of Northside that warrants north-south bus service.

That one fact represents many of the challenges for the Tech study. Northside remains a road to destinations that are located away from Northside Drive, rather than as a route to places that are destinations onto themselves.

Consider another aspect of Northside Drive: The main destination that’s advertised on official signs along I-75 near the Northside exit is the Georgia Dome, located miles to the south of the highway.

There’s no signage to other major destinations that are easily accessible from Northside – Atlantic Station, Georgia Tech, the Atlanta University Center, and the neighborhoods west of the Dome that served as an incubator for the nation’s civil rights movement.

Yet, the Northside Drive corridor is a necessary focal point in the continuing effort to renew of Atlanta’s urban core – including efforts to rebuild the area around the downtown Gulch and build a new stadium.

Pioneering developments were already popping up before the recession, including one anchored by a mid-rise apartment building, and a small retail center of the type built in places such as East Atlanta, which were “discovered” before the economic slowdown.

Neighborhoods just to the north of Northside Drive were starting to fill in, as well, as developers identified a market for retrofitted neighborhoods and the fringes of the industrial park between Marietta Boulevard and Northside Drive.

“The reason we’re doing this study is because a whole lot of stuff is happening along this corridor,” Michael Dobbins said Monday during his students’ presentation of ideas for reshaping Northside Drive.

Dobbins is a former Atlanta planning commissioner who now serves as a professor of practice in Georgia Tech’s School of City and Regional Planning.

Northside retail

Developers were just starting to add projects to the Northside Drive corridor, such as this retail center near I-75, when the recession arrived. Credit: David Pendered

“The premise of this study is that Northside Drive ought to be able to take up of some of this traffic that now clogs the Downtown Connector and Peachtree,” Dobbins said. “The potential seems positive to add a robust transit link along Northside Drive. The property that fronts on Northside Drive really needs to do that, and can do that, by developing into places where people can live and work and go about their daily activities.”

The students’ presentation began with Margaret Carraher describing the framework of the study. The goal is to bolster the corridor so that it can both handle the pending development and continue to attract growth to the west side of Atlanta’s urban core.

“Northside Drive will have to be widened with bike lanes and provide better pedestrian access,” Carraher said. “There are no sidewalks under some of the rail overpasses. We want to provide transit along Northside Drive: A lot of people live there, and a lot of people work there.”

The study’s timeline calls for its completion by the end of Tech’s fall semester. In the spring, students will seek comments in hopes of improving their work, followed by the formal presentation of findings and recommendations.

“We think we’ve done quite a bit of research, but we also know we don’t know a lot and we’re eager to hear what we’re missing – attitudes and information about where we’re headed and what we’re doing,” Dobbins said.

Meanwhile, for the foreseeable future, transit commuters who do have destinations along Northside will continue to get there via cross-town buses from MARTA stations served by the rail line or buses that run along Peachtree.

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

8 replies
  1. TylerBlazer says:

    So is the idea is to take traffic away from the Connector by making Northside wider and acting like a “bypass” OR to make Northside more friendly for bicyclists and pedestrians and reducing traffic lanes?
     
    It seems conficting to have both ideas work together as the current road is clearly TOO auto-centric and too wide as it is.
     
    I’d be more interested in seeing how the studies would propose changes to the transit service in the area and finally connect West Midtown to Midtown and Downtown areas.Report

    Reply
    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      @TylerBlazer
       I agree that it is conflicting to have both the ideas of widening Northside Drive to take traffic away from the Downtown Connector and widening the road with bike lanes because, for one, there is very little, if any, additional right-of-way remaining along the road, particularly below the 14th Street/Hemphill Avenue/16th Street junction where Northside Drive bottlenecks from 6 lanes down to 4 before going under the Southern Railway/Norfolk Southern underpass and continues onto the north to the I-75 junction as a road with only 4 through lanes.
       
      I also agree that the road is too auto-centric, though when compared to some of the great urban throughfares in some of the world’s great (transit-centric) cities, by no means can the 4-6 lane Northside Drive be considered “too wide”, especially when compared to roads like Michigan Avenue through Downtown Chicago, Grand Concourse through the Bronx in NYC and Queens Boulevard through the Borough of Queens in NYC, each of which are as wide as 10 lanes in some places or Stony Island Avenue on the Southside of Chicago which is a wide urban boulevard that is as wide 12 lanes between the I-90 Chicago Skyway and Jackson Park (roughly between 67th & 79th Streets on the Southside of Chicago) with a very wide linear park-like median.Report

      Reply
      • TylerBlazer says:

        @The Last Democrat in Georgia 
         
        When it comes to great urban thoroughfares – Michigan Avenue is at its widest along the parks edges and also lines against extremely dense urban infill. Other parts where the road narrows they have on-street parking and medians with generous pedestrian crosswalks as it lies all within an urban grid.
         
        Grand Concourse/others- these are broken down in scale with plenty of protected and clearly marked crosswalks as well as somewhat of a streetscape system that often includes mass-transit in segments and park-like medians in some areas.
         
        But comparing Northside Drive to be on par with the “great urban  thoroughfares” of other cities isn’t justifiable. I do not think it is necessary to widen Northside in justification of taking traffic away from the Connector. the problem is providing properly dedicated bicycle lanes, improving mass transit options in the area (perhaps the future 10th and/or North ave streetcar cross-town connections should be kept in mind), and increasing pedestrian access not only in the N-S corridor that Northside follows but also improving the E-W access as well. 
         
        I will agree that are some “bottleneck” areas (Marietta St, Tech Parkway, 14th St, 17th Street, and the railroad bridge between 17th and 14th streets) could be improved in regards to vehicular access, but at the same time other improvements are going to be necessary to improve the overall condition of the Northside corridor- which is still VERY auto-centric.Report

        Reply
        • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

          @TylerBlazer
           I wasn’t saying that Northside Drive is itself one of the world’s great urban thoroughfares as it is obviously not (though it should be noted that Northside Drive is still a very important north-south surface thoroughfare within the City of Atlanta), I was just comparing its width to the total width to some of the great urban thoroughfares in some of the world’s great cities that have transportation networks that are much more multidimensional.
           
          South of 14th Street there is virtually no additional right-of-way available to widen the street beyond the 6 lanes it already has, which in addition to the State of Georgia’s continuing transportation funding crunch makes the addition of new travel lanes to Northside Drive below 14th Street a virtual complete impossibility.
           
          North of 14th Street, widening the road to 6 lanes might be slightly more of a possibility politically and physically as there is some right-of-way available to possibly widen the road, but the prospect of replacing the 2 railroad overpasses to do so adds a lot more cost to a potential widening between 14th Street and I-75 than the Georgia Department of Transportation might be willing or able to come up with at anytime in the foreseeable future with so many other pressing transportation needs around the state and in Metro Atlanta alone.Report

          Reply
  2. Burroughston Broch says:

    Concerns:
    1. Spend an average work day along Northside Drive during the rush hours and tell us how much more traffic can pass, particularly at the railroad underpass.
    2. Remember that Northside exits onto I-75, so all traffic wanting to go up I-85 will have to turn south toward the Brookwood Interchange and get across the full width of I-75.Report

    Reply

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