MARTA’s bunker-busting plans for developing air rights over rail stations

The top image above is of MARTA’s current bunker-like Midtown Station. Atlanta has a few stations like this, where the area above the underground platforms is occupied by a layer of concrete walls and little else. They’re not the most attractive things, and they certainly aren’t the most efficient way to use land above a rail stop that was built for high-capacity service.

That bottom image shows a brighter future that could be in store for four bunker stations — Creative Loafing has the story:

Some MARTA rail stations in the middle of Atlanta’s most dense areas might finally see developments built on top of them. Transit officials today officially announced that MARTA was gauging interest in developing above the Arts Center, Lenox, Midtown, and North Avenue stations

I can’t help but think of Thomas Wheatley’s call for a city design director given all the recent proposals for TODs at MARTA stations — we do need to make sure we champion excellence in the built environment and best practices for livability in the face of all this new construction that could be coming our way.

But in the meantime, I’m super excited about the possibilities of seeing greater density around Atlanta’s rail stations. Consider: this city was built on freight rail and has significant history of passenger rail and streetcars as well. Building the city up around rail lines is part of our heritage. After a decades-long break, wherein development was centered around cars, even intown, it’s nice to see history repeating itself in a good way.

Daytime and nighttime colors in the city. Pics from a cloudy Sunday, Downtown Atlanta.

Tags: atlanta

Freaky morning weather: a strange but beautiful mix of bright sunrise and heavy fog this morning in Atlanta.

Freaky morning weather: a strange but beautiful mix of bright sunrise and heavy fog this morning in Atlanta.

Tags: atlanta

Curb Market, Atlanta — then and now. 

These great photos come from the Grindhouse Killer Burgers Facebook page. The top is the GKB booth at the Curb Market in Downtown Atlanta modern day. The bottom is the same space as it was in, I’m guessing, the 1940s. 

The Atlanta Municipal Market is a city owned building that was built as a market space in 1924. The market is currently operated by the Sweet Auburn Curb Market organization.

Curb Market, Atlanta — then and now.

These great photos come from the Grindhouse Killer Burgers Facebook page. The top is the GKB booth at the Curb Market in Downtown Atlanta modern day. The bottom is the same space as it was in, I’m guessing, the 1940s.

The Atlanta Municipal Market is a city owned building that was built as a market space in 1924. The market is currently operated by the Sweet Auburn Curb Market organization.

Tags: atlanta

Underground Atlanta, before it was underground

This is a must-see collection of photos. Thanks to a collaboration between the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System and GSU, 100 images of Atlanta from 1927-1928 have been digitized from glass-plate negatives and put online:

Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System Glass Plate Negatives Digital Collection

The photos were taken as part of a project to capture the store fronts and street life on the ground level Alabama and Pryor Streets, just before they became covered up by the enormous viaducts that would create a new street level one story above, burying these stores. What an incredible look these provide at the street activity that used to exist in this part of Downtown in the pre-viaduct sunlight.

A shadow of things to come, the viaducts were built to relieve traffic congestion downtown. It was the start of a trend that would put a primary focus on car infrastructure and parking in the district, while eventually leaving storefronts, small businesses and street life itself struggling by the end of the century.

The blocks of businesses in these photos were abandoned underground for decades before being turned into the Underground Atlanta entertainment district during the late 1960s.

Owned by the city and leased to a company that runs the current retail lineup, Underground Atlanta had a couple of bright eras of success, but it’s decline in popularity has produced a financial drain on the city for many years now. Earlier this year, it was announced that it would be sold for redevelopment.

Coincidentally, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed just a few days ago announced that Underground Atlanta’s new fate will be as a mixed-use complex that includes high-end residential. More details should be announced by year’s end. And while this is interesting news that could possible translate to a Downtown renaissance in residential and commercial activity, I can’t help but worry about these beautiful store fronts. I hope they are preserved and used well in the future.

From this morning’s train commute: three levels (out of four) inside the Five Points MARTA station, Downtown Atlanta.

From this morning’s train commute: three levels (out of four) inside the Five Points MARTA station, Downtown Atlanta.

Tags: Atlanta

Biking on paths & mixed streets in Atlanta: a culture shock

I took a nice 8-mile bike ride through the city this weekend. That’s not terribly far for hardcore cyclists, I know. But for an out-of-shape guy on a small-wheeled folding bike with only one speed, it’s a haul — particularly on hilly terrain and in the heat and humidity of summer weather that’s overstaying its welcome

I got a chance to experience various degrees of bike infrastructure during the ride. There were streets with wide sharrow lanes, ones with proper bike lanes, ones with no bike lanes but quiet enough to travel safely, and ones without any level of cycling safety — where I cowardly rode on the sidewalk (as long as no pedestrians were on it) to avoid a pedaling panic attack. 

And then there were the ped/bike paths: the Atlanta Beltline and the PATH trail. With no cars in the mix, these are safe places to ride and walk. And though a I appreciate them greatly, particularly in the way that they allow new cyclists to practice riding in a danger-free zone, there’s a significant culture-shock type of experience that comes from shifting between these paths and mixed-traffic streets. 

The path experience is a calm, peaceful ride (slightly less so during the weekend-afternoon crush) that lets you take in the view. Above, notice the serene setting of the Northeast Beltline, top, and the tree-lined entrance to the PATH at Boulevard, bottom left. The other pic shows a new access point between Edgewood Avenue and an in-construction extension of the Beltline below. 

As soon as you exit a path and hit the street, though, your brain is on high alert, watching for fast cars and always thinking of the next move a few yards ahead. Dangers present themselves constantly in the form of cars entering the road from driveways and parking lots, and from doors opening on parallel-parked cars. And with the regular presence of cars illegally parked in the new bike lanes on Auburn & Edgewood Avenues, high alert mode pays off. 

Could it be possible to correct the disadvantaged status of bikes on Atlanta’s streets a bit? Perhaps by removing some of the advantages given to cars?

In an excellent piece on the relationship between cheap automobile parking and alternative transit use, Matthew Garbett recently wrote: “parking lots and the built environment they create…will not simply disappear because the BeltLine is completed and transit in the city is expanded.”

This is true. Cycling activity is working its way into intown streets that are often dominated by cars, even when the neighborhoods have all the hallmarks of a walkable urban place. Most of those cars zooming by are on their way to easy parking, making the mobility choice an easy one for drivers.

Think about the proposed transit-oriented, mixed-use developments that will be adjacent to MARTA stations. The developers of these TODs are mandated by law to construct (at great expense) the same number of automobile parking spaces necessary for similar projects in transit-lacking neighborhoods on the fringes — significantly undercutting the potential for these to be havens of transit and cycling mobility.

This is the world we’re cycling into. And though those safe paths make for a smooth ride part of the way, eventually we’ll need to make the connecting, mixed-traffic streets significantly more inviting for cyclists, and that will require making it harder to provide those easy parking spots for the cars that are blocking progress.