West End and southwest Atlanta: Tweaking Northside Drive could spur growth in areas skipped by last boom

By David Pendered

The Georgia Tech study of Northside Drive offers some interesting prospects for the next chapter of Atlanta’s West End and other neighborhoods south of I-20.

The West End commercial area has attracted retailers and is served by MARTA buses and trains. Credit: David Pendered

The West End commercial area has attracted retailers and is served by MARTA buses and trains. Credit: David Pendered

The study offers a solution that it contends is a relatively easy way to reconnect West End with downtown Atlanta via Northside Drive. The solution resolves the impasse created by I-20.

The proposal is significant because, if implemented, it could prime southwest Atlanta for the next wave of intown redevelopment. Fort McPherson’s planned conversion to civilian uses could benefit from the improved access, as well.

Tech’s study suggests tinkering with the streets that jam together as they wind south from downtown, trying to feed either onto I-20 or south of I-20.

As the roadways now function, a collection of Y-shaped intersections result in unwary drivers being surprised at where they may emerge south of the highway. Fixing that isn’t a big deal, according to Michael Dobbins, a professor of practice at Georgia Tech who’s leading the study.

“To get to the West End business district from downtown Atlanta, as well as getting on I-20, proves to be not too hard a project,” Dobbins said.

This gateway to West End from downtown Atlanta could be easily reconfigured, according to a Georgia Tech study of Northside Drive. Credit: David Pendered

This gateway to West End from downtown Atlanta could be easily reconfigured, according to a Georgia Tech study of Northside Drive. Credit: David Pendered

“The bending of Northside Drive into Peters Street, into west Whitehall … completely eliminates the transit and transportation disconnect that exists on Northside Drive at its intersection with I-20,” Dobbins said. “That makes Northside a rational link to I-20, based on the frontage road. And it supports the idea of strengthening the multimodal concept at the West End MARTA station, to be a link to Cobb Community Transit.”

This connectivity is just what West End advocates were hoping for when they supported construction of I-20 along the northern fringe of their neighborhood. They backed construction of MARTA’s West End Station for the same reasons, according to West End’s application to the city for historic designation. The city granted the request in 1991.

The improved access did not translate to an economic bonanza for West End.

Now, West End civic leaders are working again to bolster the area.

The way Kay Wallace, a community organizer, describes the effort, all of southwest Atlanta would benefit from an improved West End – because West End is the gateway from southwest areas to the city proper.

The homes and sidewalks along Peeples Street in West End have been refurbished. Credit: David Pendered

The homes and sidewalks along Peeples Street in West End have been refurbished. Credit: David Pendered

“I call this area the nexus of Atlanta because of all the things that connect in West End [and] all the initiatives that could come together here,” Wallace said. “With some forward thinking, some urban planning, and a way of looking at the community not as rooftops and solely as Census data … there’s the perfect opportunity for the mayor, for Invest Atlanta, and for the current commercial property owners to get innovative and change the landscape.”

One project nearing completion is the formation of a community improvement district. CIDs enable property owners to agree to pay higher property taxes, and allocate the extra money for any number of improvements such as streetscapes, transit, green space, or security. The West End CID is to be the first CID in south Atlanta.

In another development, Mayor Kasim Reed told the West End Merchants Coalition in November that Atlanta will restore emergency service in the area. Fire Station No. 7 will not reopen as a full service fire station, but will provide emergency services to the community and I-20. The facility will provide meeting rooms for community groups.

Westside landmarks

Several amenities along the western border of Atlanta would benefit from proposed improvements along Northside Drive, according to the Georgia Tech study of Northside Drive. Click on the map to see a larger version. Credit: David Pendered, Google Earth

 

The Georgia Tech suggests a relatively low-cost solution for improving connectivity at the junction of Northside Drive and I-20. Credit: Georgia Tech

The Georgia Tech study of Northside Drive suggests a relatively simple realignment of Northside and adjoining roads to improve connections to I-20 and roads leading into West End and southwest Atlanta. Click on the map to see a larger version. Credit: Georgia Tech

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.

7 replies
  1. Grayson Daughters says:

    David, who will be organizing the West End CID? Come to think about it… how are CIDs organized/birthed? Curious. Any follow up kind of story on how CIDs come together would be great, if you/SR can do something like that.Report

    Reply
    • David Pendered
      David Pendered says:

      The effort to create a CID involves a number of local residents and organizations. One of them is the West End Merchants Coalition.
      CIDs are formed only with strong local support – a significant majority of owners of commercial properties in the proposed district must agree to the higher tax rate that pays for improvements within that district.
      Please watch our page for future stories about West End’s proposed CID, the potential for remaking the commercial area around MARTA’s West End Station, and other community-building efforts in southwest Atlanta.
      To read more right away about West End’s proposed CID, please go to westendcid.org.
      – DavidReport

      Reply
  2. Nice Sketches, But... says:

    I hope there’s more to the redevelopment of West End and Northside Drive than a drawing a few cute little trees. Have the people suggesting these changes even been to these neighborhoods? Some of these designs would mean bulldozing homes and businesses that already exist there. They should study up on what’s in those areas, not just where the streets are on a map.Report

    Reply
    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      @Nice Sketches, But…, March 12, 2013 at 1:04 pm-

      Good points, though it does not appear that the proposal to realign the current “Y”-like junction of Peters St., Chapel St., Westview Dr. and W. Whitehall St. into a simple 4-point cross intersection that helps continue the Northside Drive name south past that point to beyond the I-20 overpass does not involve any proposals to demolish existing homes or businesses in the area in question.

      The proposal only involves simply realigning Peters St. into Westview Dr. at Chapel St. and W. Whitehall St. into what is currently Chapel Dr. so that one can drive directly from Westview Dr. onto Peters St. and from W. Whitehall St. onto Northside Dr. and vice-versa without having to turn-off like drivers currently do through the series of “Y”-shaped intersections through the junction.Report

      Reply
  3. Clayton Sparrow says:

    These plans could be tied to the development of the new Falcons stadium, which is just a few blocks north of this proposed roadway change, and might even support alternative access to the stadium, as well as community development in the area.Report

    Reply
  4. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    The proposal to realign West Whitehall Street into Northside Drive could conceivably serve as somewhat of a minimal start to spurring growth in the West End and near Southwest Atlanta area.

    Though, the effects of such a realignment the junction in question would likely only be minimal at best overall.

    What will likely spur growth in the West End and near-Southwest Atlanta over the long run is if and/or when land and real estate prices on the Northside of the city get so ridiculously high after the build-out of areas like Midtown, Buckhead, Cumberland/Galleria, Dunwoody/Perimeter, etc that real estate consumers have no choice but to start looking south of Five Points for more affordable and available real estate options.

    Something else that could likely spur growth in the West End and Southwest Atlanta are upgrades to MARTA heavy rail service and the addition of regional commuter rail service between Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Int’l Airport and Downtown, Midtown, Buckhead and points beyond on the more heavily-populated and more heavily-in-demand Northside.

    A focus on continuing to improve public safety in the area over the long-run would also help to spur increased development in the West End and near-Southwest Atlanta area which does have an advantage of being located relatively much more closely to the airport by way of heavy rail mass transit than are the much-more popular areas of Downtown, Midtown, Buckhead, Perimeter/Dunwoody or Cumberland/Galleria.Report

    Reply
  5. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    Something else that will very-likely help the West End and near-Southwest Atlanta areas over the long-run is burying the elevated MARTA heavy rail transit line and the surface NS/CSX freight rail line underground where possible between Downtown Atlanta and the Lakewood MARTA Station.

    Burying the elevated MARTA heavy rail and the surface NS/CSX freight rail line underground will open-up redevelopment opportunities along the corridor for the development of a wide grand boulevard-like greenspace on the surface where the elevated heavy rail transit line and the surface freight rail line now lies.

    The redevelopment of that rail right-of-way into greenspace by burying those rail lines would allow the surface land that is currently occupied by the West End, Oakland City and Lakewood-Fort MacPherson MARTA stations to be redeveloped into high-density transit-oriented development (TOD) on top of replacement passenger rail transit-anchored multimodal stations buried underground.

    The burying of the rail lines underground and the replacement of the current above-ground/elevated transit stations would attract more high-density transit-oriented development, especially after upgrades to the region’s passenger rail transit service has trains running through the area every 1-5 minutes around-the-clock as opposed to the current 15-20 minute headways.

    It is in a vastly-upgraded regional passenger rail-anchored transit scheme where the West End and near-Southwest Atlanta’s relatively very-close location to the airport could work to their advantages over the long-run.

    Logistical and asthetical improvements in the form of the tunneling of the current elevated and surface rail lines, the redevelopment of the rail right-of-ways into greenspace and transit-oriented development and vast upgrades of quality and quantity of passenger rail service also fit right into VERY long-term plans that have been bandied about by the City of Atlanta to eventually extend the Peachtree Street name and the proposed Peachtree Streetcar south of Five Points from Downtown Atlanta to the Lakewood-MacPherson MARTA Station.Report

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

What are your thoughts?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.