Citylab has an interesting and kinda scary piece this week on the projected urbanization of southeastern US cities like Atlanta. Here’s a quote:
The South’s explosive population growth over the past 60 years can only be expected to continue, the researchers report. And more likely than not, so will its typical development pattern of sprawling, automobile-dependent suburbs. Planners and city leaders should start acting now to managing infrastructure and natural resources in the area.
The image above comes from a recent scholarly report titled The Southern Megalopolis: Using the Past to Predict the Future of Urban Sprawl in the Southeast U.S. It shows the projected urban land cover (red) in 2060 in contrast to the current land cover (yellow).
Let’s not let this projection come true. In addition to creating places that are more walkable and more easily served by multiple transportation options, urban infill within already-developed places is a much more environmentally sound idea than continued sprawl of our urban footprint.
There’s a longstanding eco-urban idea that lies at the heart of what makes me an urbanist — if you love nature, live apart from it. Compact growth leaves more room for our precious unbuilt land. A recent post at Better Institutions says it well:
We move from the city to the suburb or the rural town to be closer to nature, and to make it habitable (for us) we clear-cut it for new development, pave it over and turn woods and grasslands into manicured lawns, pollute it with our vehicles, etc. In our efforts to possess a small slice of “nature,” we change the meaning of the word, leaving us with something beautiful, perhaps, but far from natural.
Which is not to say that we shouldn’t have trees and parks in the city because, of course, that’s essential. Just don’t confuse those small, disconnected bits of green as true nature. That’s what exists beyond the asphalt and rooftops.
— Suburban sprawl and bad transit can crush opportunity for the poor | Vox, 7/23/14
The push back
Atlanta City Councilwoman Mary Norwood has decided to back a group of bike-lane-phobic residents who oppose adding a new bike lane on Peachtree Road in north Atlanta’s Buckhead area. Buckhead View has the story (great coverage, btw).
In a nutshell, a project to improve pedestrian safety via road diets (and more) and to add a bike lane in Buckhead’s Peachtree Road corridor — where there has been an incredible boom in offices and apartments in recent years — is now stalled due to neighborhood opposition.
Key quotes from the opposition:
- From a Buckhead resident: “It’s scary to put a 17-pound bicycle up against a 4,000-pound car.”
- From Mary Norwood (in Yoda-esque phrasing): “The idea of bicycle lanes and the road diet I am opposed to.”
- David Allman, chairman of the Buckhead CID board: “Our first and foremost priority is addressing existing and future automobile traffic.”
The push-back on these bike lanes shows a lack of vision for this section of Atlanta. Peachtree Road is Buckhead’s most promising artery for transformation into a functional, multi-modal ideal for a new generation of residents, workers, shoppers, visitor, students, etc.
Fighting the fears: bike lanes won’t hurt Buckhead
Fortunately for bicycle advocates, the data for adding a lane here is on our side.
As for real estate values, bike-friendly housing is in growing demand in the US.
And when it comes to traffic congestion, the effect of taking away a car lane and adding a bike lane might not be what you think. Earlier this year, a traffic expert named Rock Miller (what a name!) argued that recent successes in other cities prove that congestion could be relieved by removing a car lane on a busy road in Calgary and replacing it with a cycle track:
Miller says…he has seen similar cycle tracks installed in both New York and Chicago in very similar situations — on busy downtown streets with few alternative routes for cars, in cities that are much more dense than Calgary — and after the lanes were installed, traffic started to actually move faster down those roads.
Keeping an eye on the future: let progress happen
In 2002, a report from the Atlanta Regional Commission — the Buckhead Action Plan — outlined a great vision for Buckhead’s future that addressed transportation issues in a sustainable, forward-thinking way:
The vision for Buckhead includes a high-density, mixed-use core that forms a destination node surrounding the Buckhead MARTA Station and Peachtree Road. The high-density core ranges from Piedmont Road to Peachtree-Dunwoody with street front retail, landscaped pedestrian paths and dedicated bicycle routes.
It sounds just as good in 2014 as it did then. The pedestrian streetscape has been improved significantly here. In many key spots, Buckhead is a much nicer place to walk around than it was 10 years ago. Keep moving forward with this plan boldly! With an incredible amount of residential density building here via new apartments, this is no time to settle for a job half done.
Rather than prioritizing the movement of cars on Peachtree above all else and remaining stuck in the car-centric past, Buckhead would do well to remain committed to the established goal for for a greater diversity in transportation modes and tackle congestion by reducing the number of trips in single-occupancy cars. A bike lane on Peachtree would help.
Follow the money: cyclists spend it
And if “greater diversity in transportation modes” doesn’t rock your boat, how about money? Apparently, people on bikes spend it; and lanes bring them and their wallets into stores at a fast clip:
A recent report from the New York City Department of Transportation found significant evidence of the economic benefits of bike infrastructure…retail sales on Ninth Avenue are up 49 percent since the street’s protected bike lanes were installed – that’s 16 times the area growth rate.
My armchair-urbanist analysis of the situation: this project to put in a bike lane and pedestrian improvements on Peachtree Road in Buckhead could be a catalyst for creating public spaces there that are more vibrant and less car-dependent — more focused on serving people who are exploring the streets on foot & pedal rather than passing through them in a car. It would be sad to see this opportunity slip away.