Project for bike lanes on Peachtree Rd. stalled by opposition in Buckhead

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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.

For one thing, arguments that a bike lane might hurt business are wrong. Not only do bike lanes not hurt retail stores, studies show that cyclists actually spend more money than drivers.

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.

1888 map of Atlanta

Flickr user thornydalemapco posts this 1888 map of Atlanta, showing city limits (in darker yellow) that radiate in a circle from the city center. Click here or on the above image to see a much, much larger version.

It’s interesting to note that it wasn’t until 1904 that the City of Atlanta incorporated most of what is now Midtown; and Buckhead didn’t join the city until 1952. Read more about Atlanta’s annexations here.

On the top, right of the map you’ll see a section for Ponce de Leon Springs. You can read a very interesting history of that park here. It was a major destination for decades in the late 19th, early 20th centuries and was located near the current Ponce City Market.

Is this what transit-oriented development looks like?

Nope. This is not what transit-oriented development looks like. And yet this plan for a new Walmart, complete with an enormous surface parking lot, has been proposed for a piece of land one block away from Atlanta’s Lindbergh MARTA station.

Thomas Wheatley reports on the project today in a post that includes some very encouraging remarks from the Neighborhood Planning Unit for this area:

Sally Silver, who chairs NPU B, says she and many residents have high hopes for the area. According to the long-range plan, the area would be served by an improved grid system, new streetscapes, and a park - all features that, when coupled with the nearby transit stop, residents think would attract more residents and improve the area’s walkability.

I particularly liked this quote since I’m not a Walmart hater in general but a specific hater of suburban-style, carcentric shopping malls in the city:

"It could be a vibrant area and more like the long-range plan we wanted it to be, with parkspace, active street life, people living there, shops," says Silver. "There are better ways to do it without a sea of parking lots."

Here’s me hoping that this plan gets either shot down or majorly re-tooled so that there’s not yet another sea of surface parking needlessly located next to a MARTA station. Also, I really like Silver’s plan for the area! Park space, street grids and walkability are exactly what this part of Atlanta’s Buckhead area needs.

EDITED TO ADD:

Blogger Cityhaul has some good comments in a re-post of this, focusing on the question of what happens to the low-income people currently living in the apartments in this spot. A quote:

Even in the somewhat unlikely event that the units are planned as mixed income, the current residents have to live somewhere between the time they’re forced to move out for the demolition and when the new project is finished.

…Forgotten in all of that are many of the people who are already here - people for whom being able to walk to a transit station isn’t part of some car-free/car-lite lifestyle fantasy. It’s the only way they can get by.