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Not all aboard with new philosophy of mobility in Downtown Atlanta

David Pendered
baker street Artwork tucked away in nooks at SunTrust Plaza can brighten a trip past the building located near the intersection of Baker and Peachtree streets. Credit: Kelly Jordan

By David Pendered

A new philosophy of mobility in Downtown Atlanta is to be ready for use in three years. Not everyone is on board. The Atlanta City Council on Monday issued a split decision, 11-4, in favor of the first phase of the concept – to convert part of Baker Street from a one-way to a two-way street.

baker street

Artwork tucked away in nooks at SunTrust Plaza can brighten a trip past the building located near the intersection of Baker and Peachtree streets. Credit: Kelly Jordan

One nay vote came from Atlanta City Councilmember Howard Shook. Shook said Wednesday the plan to reorganize traffic patterns in Downtown Atlanta may be great in theory, but may be less than great in reality.

“It’s a pristine planning theory in a vacuum tube,” Shook said.

The visioning document, Downtown Atlanta Transportation Plan, portrays the Downtown of the coming decade as a place as a place bustling with about 12,000 additional residents. These folks and others will opt out of a solo vehicular trip. Instead, they will choose to walk, ride a bike or hop on some form of transit to reach destinations such as work and grocery stores that are located in Downtown and beyond.

The document doesn’t appear to mention the near doubling of vehicles that’s created by Uber, Lyft and other such ride companies, as reported in a 2018 study.

These so-called transportation network companies added to, rather than reduced, the number of vehicles on the road. These ride services are favored by the types of higher income individuals who can afford a home in a central business district, according to the July 2018 report by Shaller Consulting that observes:

  • “Private ride TNC services (UberX, Lyft) put 2.8 new TNC vehicle miles on the road for each mile of personal driving removed, for an overall 180 percent increase in driving on city streets.
  • “Inclusion of shared services (UberPOOL, Lyft Line) results in marginally lower mileage increases – 2.6 new TNC miles for each mile in personal autos taken off the road. (This is based on the current rate of about 20 percent of TNC trips being shared.)
  • “Lyft’s recently announced goal of 50 percent of rides being shared by 2022 would produce 2.2 TNC miles being added to city streets for each personal auto mile taken off the road.”
Howard Shook

Howard Shook

Shook’s outlook on the new paradigm wasn’t warmed by the controversy that tailed the legislation right into the Council Chambers.

Residents and business owners came to the meeting to air opinions on the sort of governance issue that typically would have been resolved in previous meetings.

“It’s really distasteful for me to cram something down the throats of people who really don’t like it,” Shook said. “If the administration is going to insist on keeping on, their front-line people are going to have to do a much better job arranging communications and giving everyone an ample chance to be heard, to express their concerns and present different ideas.”

Atlanta City Councilmember Andre Dickens cited concerns similar to those voiced by Shook.

At last week’s meeting of the council’s Transportation Committee, which Dickens chairs, Dickens said he doesn’t want to repeat the level of discourse this proposal entailed as the administration brings forward other components of the mobility plan. The time to negotiate a major shift in public policy, such as Downtown mobility, isn’t at a committee meeting, Dickens indicated.

Dickens also read into the record a demand from council that the safety record of the street conversion is reported to the council. The following language was added to the title of the legislation:

  • “To submit crash and vehicle count data on a quarterly basis….”

Shook spoke Wednesday of what he called the reality of Downtown mobility. At some point, he said, the movement in and out of the central business district has to remain at the forefront of the traffic system. Otherwise, Downtown workers, conventioneers, and folks attending major events will be deterred in efforts to get to and from their destinations.

“There is something to be said for the reality of you have to get employees in and out efficiently,” Shook said. “That’s grim reality.”

The councilmembers who joined Shook in voting nay were Andrea Boone, Michael Julian Bond and Natalyn Archibong.

 

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David Pendered
David Pendered

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.

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7 Comments

  1. Avatar
    jennifer brooks July 6, 2019 3:24 pm

    Thank you for mentioning the controversy surrounding the Downtown Atlanta Transportation Plan. I’ve been speaking out for years….hitting deaf ears. I felt I was the only one who noticed that ride-share was ADDING to the downtown traffic and that any plan that was born in 2003 could not possibly be worth pursuing in 2019. There has not been a downtown, comprehensive analysis of traffic, trends, infrastructure…converting Baker Street to 2-way is, at best, premature and in reality, a huge mistake that will cost businesses and put us all at greater risk. Turning left across oncoming traffic is never good and this project will cause more than 30 new left turning opportunities.
    I appreciate Honorable Council Members Shook, Bond, Boone and Archibong for voting against the ordinance and I hope they can further pressure City Hall to assure that Baker Street stays one way.Report

    Reply
  2. Avatar
    Jackson Faw July 7, 2019 9:29 am

    Jennifer would you please send me an email? Jacksonfaw@gmail.comReport

    Reply
  3. Avatar
    Jackson Faw July 7, 2019 9:35 am

    Jennifer thanks for the excellent points… especaily regarding implementing a plan that was conceived before Ubers were all over downtown.

    And there will be NO BIKE LANES! And where are the scooters going to go that the city says can’t be on the sidewalk? The most amazing thing is that John Portman Boulevard a block away is the perfect example of what we should be doing… a beautiful safe one way street with a dedicated bike lane protected by a curb.

    Almost as bad as the plan itself is the way it was rushed through in secrecy and lies.Report

    Reply
  4. Avatar
    H. Handley July 9, 2019 10:14 am

    I appreciate the sentiment of our elected officials supporting impacted residents – finally. I love this quote: “It’s really distasteful for me to cram something down the throats of people who really don’t like it,” Shook said. In Druid Hills, we have a Historic District and a university bike club persuaded DeKalb County (Rader and Gannon) to run a RFP & study to basically undo Olmsted’s design plan – new painting to significantly narrow the street, messing up the spatial relationships and eliminating resident parking… The residents don’t want it. Stop cramming things developed in a vacuum, with only one goal and population in mind, down the throats of people.Report

    Reply
  5. Avatar
    Edward Ganther July 9, 2019 11:30 am

    The Atlanta Downtown Transportation Plan acknowledges the simple fact of geometry:
    – 50 riders fit in one bus taking up the same area as two cars.
    – 50 pedestrians can walk in the area required for two cars.
    – 50 bicyclists or scooter riders take up the space of five cars.

    Cars require up to 25X more space than other modes to deliver the same number of people to their destinations. This isn’t socialism. This isn’t corporate plotting. It’s geometry.

    And then there’s the storage issue – millions of cubic feet of Atlanta real estate is devoted to babysitting automobiles. Bus riders and pedestrians don’t need parking; 10 bikes or scooters can be parked in place of one car.

    It’s a space thing. Cars hog it. No amount of hand wringing, begging, pounding the table, or swarming public meetings will stop geometry from stopping us. Please read the Atlanta Downtown Transportation Plan with an open mind, loosen the grip on your steering wheel, and help us build the resilient, successful Atlanta of tomorrow.Report

    Reply
  6. Avatar
    H. Hanldey July 10, 2019 11:58 am

    Well, the Mayor vetoed it. I don’t disagree about geometry, but you have to change people’s perceptions, and then, their habits. You have to change companies, to allow employees to work from home (I work in Tech and have worked from home since 2001). I will not put on some skivvies and cycle to the corporate office in Perimeter. I will drive, because I will wear a suit and my employer doesn’t have a gym/ shower facility for me. Not everyone will commute by bike. Why I wouldn’t take the bus, filth. Every time I ride MARTA is is dirty and many stations appear dark and unsafe for women. Even on the 4th of July – the one great day that so many people ride MARTA and their chance to ‘introduce’ the greatness of public transit to the masses who probably commute. The stations are dirty, the trains are slow, and people still drive to board them. So yes, cars are for convenience and take up more space. What we need to focus on is not building bike lanes for the 1%, but changing the perceptions of people who drive to TRY alternate modes. So, stop the whining about bike infrastructure generally designed for white men, and focus on the employers, make MARTA cleaner (maybe even update the technology and colors for the brand), improve the studies on the routes people take every day and address those with multiple options. Do you think the average commuter even knows their closest MARTA stop?
    There are lots of ideas and areas for improvement across Atlanta, but at the end of the day, the residential voices of the people who live there still matter. I for one, am thrilled that the mayor supported residents. So many “studies” occur that have not considered the residents. It’s time for that to stop.Report

    Reply

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