Streets Alive time-lapse Atlanta 2014

This is a cool time-lapse video from Chris Tilley. It shows what happened at Atlanta’s recent Streets Alive, when North Avenue was closed off to cars and filled with people on bikes, on foot and more.

Streets Alive is a regular event here that allows Atlantans a safe, car-free environment for interacting with the streets and neighborhoods while using human-powered transportation. For me, an occasional (and not very brave) cyclist, it’s been a good way to practice cycling on the streets — to get used to the terrain and the feel of this environment so that I’m not shocked into panic when I’m riding in mixed traffic.

(Source: youtube.com)

"Despite a dozen new bike lanes and the Atlanta BeltLine, we still have only about 60 miles of on-street bike lanes and 69 miles of trails. For comparison, let’s look at Austin. It currently has 192 miles of on-street bike lanes, along with 201 miles of multi-use path trails, and it has planned an additional 1,100 miles of bike lanes. Dallas has plans for almost 1,300 miles of bike lanes."

Investing 15 percent of bond package on bikeways a good way to make Atlanta a top 10 city for cycling | Saporta Report

A visit to Savannah Georgia

My family took a nice trip to Savannah this weekend to escape Downtown Atlanta’s crowd storm, with Garth Brooks concerts, the Hip Hop Fest (Woodruff Park) and the Outkast concerts.

The weather was overcast, but it was the perfect temperature for taking long walks on the marsh trail at nearby Skidaway Island and through the historic old part of Savannah, where even the parking decks are pretty (top left pic).

The large photo in the center is of the children’s museum, next to a train museum — all built into great old buildings, this one with no roof.

Savannah holds a special place in my heart. It was the first walkable city (of any considerable size) that I ever visited. Trips there as a kid and as a young adult left a big impression on me regarding the joy of interacting with a city on foot rather than in a car, and also the power of urban revitalization, since historic downtown Savannah experienced a decline  like many urban cores did.

Savannah was Georgia’s first planned city, laid out by founder James Oglethorpe (who later also founded Augusta, GA). It’s nice to see these great precedents for human-scale, compact, walkable cities in Georgia. These are the historical templates that can be used for growth in a post car-sprawl era. We don’t have to use northeastern cities as a pattern — we’ve got a home grown pattern to use.

On this trip, I was particularly happy to see a big boom in the number of people getting around on bicycles.

For those of us who’ve grown up in a world where historic Savannah has always looked nice, full of life and in good repair, it can be hard to believe that this area suffered the same disinvestment and decay as many other historic downtowns in the car-sprawl boom of the post WWII era. But it did, and it took a major preservation effort in the 1960s-70s to undo the damage.

Post World War II was not kind to many of this country’s urban cores, and Savannah was no different. As the automobile came into mass use and suburban sprawl became the public norm, our historic downtown withered. By the 1950s Savannah’s remarkable inventory of 19th century buildings and its renowned Oglethorpe Plan had fallen into neglect and decay. Hundreds of buildings were demolished or turned into slum tenements and three squares were demolished for a highway. Most new buildings failed to relate harmoniously to older buildings in terms of height, massing, scale and materials. Planning for the automobile took precedence over planning the human, and resulted in disinvestment and blight.

It’s crazy to think that we may have lost even more of this beautiful city than we did. We’re very lucky to have it in good shape as an example of what a well-planned Georgia city looks like.

Improvements for pedestrians: good models for cities exist, but what about sprawling suburbs?

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This graphic by Dhiru Thadani is so good. Many pro-pedestrian groups refer to crosswalk buttons disparagingly as “beg buttons,” and this shows the tables being turned: here pedestrians have the right of way by default and a car driver has to “beg” to move forward. It actually doesn’t look too ridiculous in the setting of urban density, where pedestrian improvements are constantly happening, It would be even funnier if the image was of a car driver in the sprawling suburbs, where change is happening more slowly, if at all.

When it comes to making cities like Atlanta more pedestrian friendly, transit-focused and bikeable, there are plenty of good ideas that can be implemented fairly quickly. All over the US, cities of a similar age as Atlanta, that boomed during the car era, have established patterns for success that we can follow. And with the Atlanta Beltline (among other great urban developments here), Atlanta has the best kind of pattern: examples of good urbanism in our own city that we can use as guidelines for creating better places.

But what about the suburban, car-dominated landscapes — particularly the older ones that have lost their luster — that are no experiencing the same amount of growth? When in comes to smart growth and good urban development, you have a hard time implementing best practices in a place that isn’t growing. In those places, given the lack of new investment to qualify infrastructure expenditures, the car-centric environment stagnates and has little chance for seeing positive change in the short term.

Kaid Benfield has an excellent, in-depth post about this that I highly recommend:
Americans Don’t Walk Much, and I Don’t Blame Them

He includes suburban Cobb County in the discussion, famous for its walkability challenges due to the tragic case of Raquel Nelson. Benfield points out that great ideas for improving the pedestrian experience and reducing car-dependency in cities, such as raising the price of parking, don’t translate to sprawling suburbs where people like Nelson continue to struggle in a pedestrian-hostile environment:

What the heck can putting a price on downtown parking do for people like Nelson in residential Cobb County or anyone in Woodbridge?  Can we have a walkable city where we don’t have a city in the first place?…as the economy allows new businesses and homes to be built in and around the bad stuff, we can gradually make the newer land uses better and more “walk-ready” over time, so that the place can function better for pedestrians when the good stuff reaches critical mass.

Developing better land use in suburban sprawl is a great goal and one that I wholeheartedly support. Ellen Dunham-Jones at Georgia Tech has some excellent thoughts on the matter in her Retrofitting Suburbia book.

But those are long-term goals that will be reached slowly unless there’s a boom of investment in affordable new development in the metro, where good urban places can be built in a new pedestrian-focused context. Could the affordable-housing component in the long-term plans for the Atlanta Beltline, if they come to fruition,  serve as a template for the region? Or will the county and city governments of the suburbs end up creating their own bold new plans that help create better places?

Like Benfield, I’m hopeful that positive change in pedestrian mobility will eventually come to Cobb County and other car-centric places in metro Atlanta. But time is a big variable. I can imagine struggling pedestrians hitting a beg button that requests good urbanism, and waiting and waiting.

Shadows and light at sunset, Atlanta

Shadows and light at sunset, Atlanta

Tags: atlanta

Luckie Street, Downtown Atlanta.
This dude w/ the guitar makes for a nice photo, but he is cluelessly crossing the street against the light in front of a taxi. Tempting doom. I sometimes wonder if high schools should teach Basic City Skills 101. A lot of suburban kids who’ve never navigated the city as a pedestrian end up in Downtown’s GSU campus (and other similar big-city campuses). Most of them do fine, but a decent percentage could use some coaching on basic urban survival.

Luckie Street, Downtown Atlanta.

This dude w/ the guitar makes for a nice photo, but he is cluelessly crossing the street against the light in front of a taxi. Tempting doom. I sometimes wonder if high schools should teach Basic City Skills 101. A lot of suburban kids who’ve never navigated the city as a pedestrian end up in Downtown’s GSU campus (and other similar big-city campuses). Most of them do fine, but a decent percentage could use some coaching on basic urban survival.

Tags: atlanta

The street where we live, Downtown Atlanta. 

Tonight: I rode the MARTA train in from work, walked less than a block from the train station to the Central Library to meet some people, met my family at the library where they were getting books & DVDs, then we walked two blocks to dinner at a restaurant and one block home. 

Downtown life.

The street where we live, Downtown Atlanta.

Tonight: I rode the MARTA train in from work, walked less than a block from the train station to the Central Library to meet some people, met my family at the library where they were getting books & DVDs, then we walked two blocks to dinner at a restaurant and one block home.

Downtown life.