By Maria Saporta
Feet are taking over.
At least that’s what will be happening on Peachtree Street on May 19 during the third Atlanta Streets Alive from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. During that time, Peachtree Street will be totally closed off to cars between Ellis Street downtown to Pershing Point in north Midtown — a full 2.7 miles.
People will be able to take over the entire street to walk, stroll, run, skip, cycle or use whatever mode of human-powered transportation that choose.
“It’s going to continue to build each year,” said Atlanta City Councilman Aaron Watson at a panel discussion on May 3 at the monthly Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable at All Saints Church in Midtown. “Atlanta Streets Alive reminds us that the streets belong to all of us.”
Walking and cycling are gaining favor in Atlanta, step by step.
The Midtown Alliance recently conducted two surveys with the help of the Schapiro Group — one of 1,960 Midtown office workers, residents and visitors; and the other of 40 property owners and managers who contribute special fees to the Midtown Improvement District.
In the survey of the larger group, the question was asked on how much of a priority should be placed on the following transportation modes and projects — with a range of very high, high, low and not a priority at all.
The number one answer was walking with 64 percent of the respondents saying it was very high and 29 percent saying it was high — for a combined total of 93 percent. That was followed by bicycling, which had a combined score of 75 percent; and rail transit, which had a combined total of 74 percent.
Among property owners, the answers were not that different.
Asked how much of a priority should the following transportation modes be for the Midtown Improvement District, walking was also the No. 1 answer with 55 percent of the property owners saying it was a very high priority and 31 percent saying it was a high priority for a total of 86 percent.
That was followed by rail transit/streetcar, with a combined total of 70 percent. Cycling among property owners, however, ranked the lowest (after circulators/shuttles; buses; and cars) with only 56 percent saying bicycling was a very high or high priority.
But there is great consistency when talking about walking and pedestrian improvements. Property owners were asked what should be the highest priority for the Midtown Improvement District to invest its money.
The No. 1 answer was pedestrian projects, such as sidewalks, streetlights and crossings with 58 percent saying it was a very high priority and 36 percent saying it was a high priority for a combined total of 94 percent.
“It seems to me as though there is widespread acceptance from everybody that walkable, urban places are where people want to be and where they want to invest,” said Kevin Green, president and CEO of the Midtown Alliance.
Green credited the leadership of the organization over the past 20 to 30 years for having the foresight to design a community with the amenities that are “becoming more relevant” today. “It shows the immense wisdom of the leadership that they wanted to focus on walkability,” Green said.
Atlanta Streets Alive is hoping to expand its people taking over the streets experience to several times a year, according to Matthew Garbett, the organizer of Atlanta Streets Alive who works with the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition. The event on May 19 is expected to draw about 30,000 people.
Bogota, Colombia was one of the first cities in the world to create such an event. Andrea Torres, who works in the area of physical activity and health for the Centers of Disease Control and is from Bogota, said that the “Ciclovia” event has now become the “gold standard” in the world.
Every Sunday and holidays, 75 miles of streets are closed off to cars from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., and usually 600,000 to one million people participate in the festivities.
While it may take Atlanta decades to reach that point, Joshuah Mello, assistant director of planning – transportation with the City of Atlanta, said progress is being made.
“The next two years will be a huge turning point for the city,” Mello said. “ By 2016, we are going to be able to double our bicycle facilities and double our commute to work by bicycle. We will be a top 10 city for bicycle safety and for commute to work.”
The city also is exploring setting up a bicycle sharing program and eventually choosing a vendor.
To Midtown’s Kevin Green, it’s all about making a city a place where people want to live.
“We talk about making our city be more livable,” Green said. “But we also have to make our city more lovable.”