Atlanta’s great urbanism success of 2013: alternative transportation

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I was recently asked by Atlantic Cities to name what I considered to be the “best thing my city did this year.” As I thought about the coolest things happening around Atlanta, the answer came to me immediately. 2013 has been the year when this city really began to harness the power of alternative transportation in a post- ‘peak car use’ world.

That the nation’s driving habits have changed is not news anymore. Many articles have shown us that we’re driving less and that young people are waiting longer to become drivers. But for a place that has been particularly car-focused for the past few decades, its big news to read that Atlanta’s per-person driving miles are down nearly 12% since 2005.

Which makes it all the sweeter to see the city embracing a future with expanded alternative transportation options. It’s the right thing to do because it builds better cities, spurring new walkable development and connecting areas of density in a more sustainable way than can be done with car-dependency.

Here are some examples of what we’re doing right:

Atlanta Beltline

So far, the Beltline’s multi-use path and adjacent parks have brought in $1billion of new investment; and they’ve done so not by expanding road lanes but by offering a new way to move through our neighborhoods: human-powered transportation.

What a relief it is to see that alternative-transportation infrastructure can bring in so much development in a place that was, for a long time, considered a “car town” by many.

Atlanta Streetcar & adjacent bike lanes

The city is working to tweak zoning regulations in the Martin Luther King, Jr. historic district and the Sweet Auburn neighborhood, both of which are destinations for the in-construction streetcar line. This will allow (much needed) new development here while honoring the existing historic structures.

Hopefully, the streetcar project will be the thing that finally brings Sweet Auburn out of a decades-long slump. If so, it will happen alongside new streetcar tracks and also new bike lanes that will follow the route.

Turning MARTA parking lots into new development

In the recent State of MARTA address, CEO Keith Parker teased that some news may be coming in the near future regarding the agency’s effort to draw transit-oriented developments at stations like King Memorial, where surface parking lots now sit.

It’s way past time that these MARTA stations were converted from park-and-ride status to mixed-use projects with buildings that fit in with surrounding neighborhoods. My fingers are crossed that it happens sooner rather than later.

Bike lanes

Apart from the Beltline, we’ve also got a new two-way cycle track on 10th Street and new bike lanes on Ponce de Leon Avenue. And more is on the way as part of the city’s effort to invest $2.5 million into new bicycle infrastructure.

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With all of these projects underway, we’re setting Atlanta on a better course and giving it a chance to succeed in a world where transportation habits are changing and the ways we interact with our urban environment are evolving.

Photo of Atlanta bike lane by Flickr user Manuel Beers