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People, not cars, at center of Atlanta’s new transportation plan

rosie, dekalb avenue, bicyclist

Atlanta's new transportation manual provides guidance that's to create streets and sidewalks that are safer for bicyclists and pedestrians. It's part of the 'Atlanta City Design' project. Credit: Kelly Jordan

By David Pendered

With the adoption of an updated master transportation plan, Atlanta is taking another step toward establishing the “beloved community,” the city of the future envisioned in the guiding document, “Atlanta City Design.”


Atlanta’s streets will evolve, over time, into corridors that accommodate all modes of transportation, according to the guidelines contained in the new transportation plan. Credit: Kelly Jordan

The transportation plan isn’t a warm and fuzzy read, as was much of “Atlanta City Design.” But that’s not its purpose.

The purpose is to provide a scope and service document for future decisions regarding the infrastructure built to serve transit, transportation and overall mobility in the city. This is the document that determines, among other things, where bicycle lanes are located and how close sidewalks are built to streets – meaning the proximity of pedestrians to fast-moving vehicles.

The Atlanta City Council approved the transportation plan Monday.

After the vote, Councilmember J.P. Matzigkeit, who represents a portion of Buckhead, said “Atlanta City Design” envisions large increases of travel to parts of the city that have major destinations for work and play and already struggle with traffic congestion, including Buckhead, Midtown and Downtown.

Matzigkeit said he intends to introduce a non-binding resolution at the end of the meeting that will ask the state Department of Transportation to study ways to help these commuters by conducting a travel demand management analysis for these congested parts of the city. The council would consider the resolution in 2019.

Examples of the TDM system Matzigkeit mentioned include employers allowing flexibility in work location and hours, carpools, and routing, according to a report by the Federal Highway Administration.

The street manual the council approved describes itself as a blueprint:

  • “Street manuals, in effect, serve as the DNA for streets. As such, they help to determine how walkable and bicycle- friendly neighborhoods and communities are, how conducive cities are to transit use, and how livable communities become.”

The city’s new street manual shows how its authors translated “Atlanta City Design” from vision to reality. The vision was lofty – transportation was portrayed in terms of access. The task was to, “update our hub of transportation for a new generation while also building a sense of community and place.”

Starting with a vision to “prioritize people” and “consider the lives of people before cars,” the street manual takes up the issue of speed limits on city streets. The take-away is that 35 mph is the maximum recommended speed limit in the city.

Here’s the outlook that underpins the 35 mph recommendation:

  • “The application of design speed to create active, balanced and multi-modal streets is philosophically different than design for motor vehicle mobility. Traditionally, the approach for setting design speed is to use as high a design speed as practical. However, in accommodating an Atlanta designed for people, design speed should create a safer and more comfortable environment for bicyclists, motorists, and pedestrians.

“Consider the lives of people before cars” is a driving premise of Atlanta’s updated transportation plan. Credit: Kelly Jordan

Once the speed limit is reduced, vistas open for roadways to become transportation corridors accessible to modes of transportation in addition to vehicles. Walking is top of mind and addressed at length in the document, which notes pedestrians need consideration in addition to the basic tenet that they should not be endangered by street design:

  • “But designing for pedestrians should not focus primarily on avoiding crashes; the goal of roadway and intersection design should be to create an environment that is conducive to walking, where people can walk along and cross the road, where the roadside becomes a place where people want to be. The two most effective methods to achieve these goals are to minimize the footprint dedicated to motor vehicles and to reduce the operating speed of traffic. This approach allows the designer to use many features that enhance the walking environment, such as trees, curb extensions, and street furniture, which in turn slow traffic: a virtuous cycle.”

Bicycles are a major focus, as they have been for more than a decade as Atlanta has retooled streets to narrow vehicle lanes to provide bike lanes and bulb outs for pedestrians. The new manual observes:

  • “All surface roadways should be designed with the expectation that bicyclists will use them. This does not mean every roadway needs a dedicated bicycle facility, nor will every road accommodate all types of bicyclists. … Minimizing the footprint dedicated to motor vehicle traffic and slowing down the speed of moving traffic benefits bicyclists.”
rosie, dekalb avenue, bicyclist

Atlanta’s new transportation manual provides guidance that’s to create streets and sidewalks that are safer for bicyclists and pedestrians. It’s part of the ‘Atlanta City Design’ project. Credit: Kelly Jordan


Atlanta Streetcar, transportation plan

The needs of large transit vehicles, including those used by the Atlanta Streetcar, are factored into the guidelines of street design in Atlanta’s new transportation plan. Credit: Kelly Jordan

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.



  1. spencer60 December 5, 2018 8:33 am

    Hate to tell all you planer types, but streets ARE for cars. People use sidewalks.

    If Atlanta was serious about traffic there’s a few, un-sexy but effective things they could do.

    1) Regulate bus stops and create cut-outs so they don’t block traffic when pulled over.
    2) Enforce parking laws so lanes aren’t blocked illegally by trucks making deliveries or cops too lazy to park correctly (see 5 Points station for an example of that!).
    3) Get the traffic lights squared away. In this day and age there is no reason not to have ‘smart’ lights that control traffic flow based on actual volume.
    4) Enforce the ‘Don’t block the box’ laws!
    5) Get mass transit off the streets. Expand MARTA either underground or… wait for it… a monorail. OK, an elevated railway of some kind above major highways would make far for sense than the boondoggle of elevated express lanes, and be loads cheaper than. underground.
    6) A transit loop in the Beltline, maybe using dedicated-lane buses, or maybe a re purposed Streetcar. Or maybe that’s where the monorail lives!Report

  2. Sally Flocks December 10, 2018 1:59 pm

    I’m surprised and disappointed that Atlanta set 35 mph as the default speed limit. Section 40-6-181 of the Georgia Code establishes 30 mph as the maximum speed limit in “any urban or residential district.” https://bit.ly/2G8YeLb

    If a pedestrian is struck at 20 mph, the risk of death is 5%. If struck at 30 mph, the risk is 45%. And if struck at 40 mph, the risk of death is 85%. When someone drives at 30 mph or higher, it’s a lot more difficult to stop in time to avoid crashing.

    In 2016 Seattle lowered speed limits on residential streets to 20 mph. On all other streets, the default speed limit will be 25 mph. https://bit.ly/2Ed5cMK

    Walking adjacent to people driving 35 mph or higher is an unpleasant experience. By no means should this be the speed limit on Peachtree Street.and other places that generate a lot of foot traffic.Report


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