Thanks much to Janet for sending these great and thoroughly depressing photos. I posted a while ago about the plan to demolish two buildings on Ellis Street in Downtown Atlanta to make way for new surface parking spaces for the Atlanta Legal Aid Society.
The demolition has started and now we can see that the new surface lot will have a central location inside a ring of — parking decks.
Here’s a side photo showing the demolition with two enormous decks in the background (in light blue).
And here’s the jaw-dropping view from above. I’ve shaded the Legal Aid Society building in pink but I didn’t bother to shade the parking infrastructure because, from this view, that’s all you can see.
To be clear: in the photo below, everything but the Legal Aid Society building is either a parking deck, surface parking or car lanes. Auto parkalypse 2014 in Atlanta.
Normally, new parking lots aren’t allowed here, but the city granted a variance to allow this one by request, for the use of employees of the Legal Aid Society. Even though, as can clearly be seen in the above photo taken in the middle of a weekday afternoon, there is plenty of unused parking capacity all around. And two MARTA station entrances are a stone’s throw away.
There are some truly good ideas in the recently-released report on public parking Downtown, with recommendations for reducing single-car use and making good use of existing public lots. But when it comes to private parking lots like this, Atlanta is in need of clear goals moving forward — ones that fall in line with best practices in good urban design, with pedestrian, transit and cycling mobility given a more prominent place.
Non-profit organizations, bloggers, advocates — we can only do so much by ourselves. We need the decision makers in office to be on our side. From where I stand, it looks like city government needs better leadership when it comes to creating sustainable, livable urban places. This is a shameful situation.
Central Atlanta Progress, a nonprofit corporation of Atlanta business leaders, has released the documents from a recent assessment of Downtown Atlanta parking. They include reports on the existing parking situation and recommendations for “improving the customer parking experience in Downtown Atlanta.”
As someone who has railed against the amount of land space taken by parking infrastructure Downtown and the car-centric built environments that brought the lots and decks into existence, I knew that reading these reports could be hazardous to my mental health. But I felt compelled.
It wasn’t as painful as it could have been. The first sting was felt when I read this nugget from the report:
A person’s first and last impression of a city begins and ends with parking.
Ouch! I beg to differ.
But there are also passages that promote a reduction in single-occupancy car use, which made me happy. Here’s one:
Parking management strategies recognize that providing more parking is not the only way to ensure that spaces are available. One of the most effective ways of managing parking supply is to decrease demand.
Reduced vehicle ownership can lower requirements for residential parking and prompt businesses to lease fewer parking spaces. Moreover, the data suggests that car sharing reduces vehicle miles traveled, thereby alleviating traffic congestion and improving air quality.
Sweet! Car sharing reduces solo trips. Other ways to reduce them include… also…wait. There is no ‘also’. No mention of boosting public transportation use or cycling is in the report. Mmm hmm. Reducing solo car trips starts and ends with other kinds of car use, apparently.
Obviously, the set of documents from the parking assessment has the sole aim of improving the experience of parking for drivers. In it’s place, that’s a valid pursuit (though it still doesn’t excuse the bizarre “A person’s first and last impression of a city begins and ends with parking”).
My complaint is that the assessment seems to be happening in a silo. Judging purely from the text within these reports, I’m not sensing an overall plan that includes sensible goals for Downtown such as:
- Encouraging new housing stock that accommodates use of alternative transportation
- Reducing the truly soul-crushing amount of land devoted to parking here
- Establishing the primary importance of improving the experience of walking, cycling and using transit here
Goals such as these should be front and center in the thoughts and actions of city government leaders, taking precedence over concerns about improved parking and strongly informing any initiative regarding automobile use. That they are not present in the recommendations of this report is telling.
The entire report seems to accept the continuation of the status quo of parking infrastructure Downtown as a given. It exists in a silo, set apart from concerns for boosting transit usage and cycling, improving pedestrian safety and reducing our vastly overbuilt parking infrastructure (the report even contains numbers that show how use is far below parking capacity Downtown).
The parking craters that mar Downtown’s urban fabric are problems to be corrected, not assets to be embraced, and local urbanists and neighborhood leaders have been calling the city out on this problem for years. Why are city government leaders absent in this conversation? Their voices should be strongly calling for reuse of parking-only parcels and greater use of transit and cycling.
What Atlanta lacks — and this is becoming a problem of increasing severity — is the kind of leadership that we’ve seen in LA with it’s last couple of mayors and in NYC under former transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, where you have a drive on the part city administration to create a more pedestrian and cycling focused urban environment that enhances urban livability.
Atlanta needs to work harder at being a city of strong neighborhoods that embrace the tools of good urban placemaking, with Downtown among them; accepting the status quo of parking infrastructure here and focusing primarily on the needs of motorists isn’t going to cut it, and neither is a leadership that often appears clueless on best practices in good urbanism.
EDIT: Dan Williams left a series of great comments on my Facebook post about this. I’m pasting part of one here to provide another point of view on these reports:
it is useful to make the distinctions between CAP’s [Central Atlanta Progress] work or that of other nonprofits and local gov’t— as these entities efforts are often confused for one another’s. In sum, this study just wasn’t intended to be a manifesto on best practices for use of parking facilities as it relates to urban design and development (again, those issues are obviously broader than this scope). It’s really just an attempt figure out and begin the process of addressing the concerns of the public that seems to believe that parking is biggest deterrent to spending time downtown.
— Atlanta’s Popular BeltLine Trail Still Has Miles to Go | WSJ, 8/1/2014
The nice people at WABE asked me to appear in a short segment for their City Cafe radio series recently. It aired this week and you can stream it online here:
The talk is based on a post I wrote about the confusing reports we’ve seen regarding Atlanta’s sprawl this year. In a nutshell: though metro Atlanta is the king of existing low-density sprawl among large US metros due to past expansion, it is no longer sprawling like it did. It is, in fact, doing quite a good job at urban infill these days, thanks very much.
The post on WABE’s site contains an interesting graphic that they found. It shows how metro Atlanta’s land mass, which contains 5.5 million people, could easily house eight world cities with a combined population of well over 100 million.
This is not to say that metro Atlanta needs to shoot for that level of density, but it’s interesting to note what an inefficient use we’re making of this sprawled-out area — and to think about how this low density figures into our public transportation struggles. More on that in an upcoming post.