Atlanta’s highways and the drug trade

atlanta highway

A new Forbes list names Atlanta the sixth most dangerous U.S. city with a population over 200,000. An article from 2009, also in Forbes, gives a clear reason for Atlanta’s high crime rate: it’s a major drug trafficking hub.

From the recent Forbes piece:

"Atlanta has become the East Coast distribution hub of the violent Mexican cartels that now dominate the drug trade…Consequently, the Atlanta area has started to see an increase in violent crimes…"

The US Justice Dept website has a detailed review of Atlanta’s prominence as a drug trafficking hub and the increase in street gangs because of it. Obviously, the city needs to renew its effort to fight drug trafficking here if we want to see the level of violent crime reduced.

One thing that comes up repeatedly in reports of Atlanta’s status as a hub for drugs is its network of highways. They offer easy routes for traffickers in and out of the city. Yet another downside to a transportation system focused so heavily on moving a high volume of cars.

Highway removal, anyone?

It sounds crazy, I know. But highway removal in city centers has become a hot topic among urbanists and there are examples of success with it. Removing one or more of the intown highways could do a lot of good, and not just with putting a dent in the drug trade. Instead of an infrastructure that prioritizes getting masses of cars in and out of the city, we could put a focus on the mobility needs of people within it.

The Department of Transportation, in its single-minded pursuit of traffic flow, has destroyed more American towns than General Sherman.
– Andres Duany

Photo by Flickr user bclinesmith

"When President Dwight Eisenhower…promoted highway building during his 1950s administration, he had the Cold War first and foremost in his mind. ‘It never occurred to anyone to run (highways) through cities; the idea was to connect cities to each for the purpose of commerce and to evacuate major urban areas…’"

Mat Edelson  (via lifeonfoot)

(via alexinsd)

Where’s the call for dumping Atlanta’s downtown connector?

ATL connector

I got very jealous reading this Christian Science Monitor article on efforts to remove downtown freeways. New Haven, CT is having its downtown highway demolished. The result will be a re-connection of the urban fabric that has been divided for decades — a division that has held back the potential for good urban development.

Here’s a quote:

Some people in New Haven have been waiting to see this for 40 years, ever since it became clear that a modern roadway slicing through the heart of downtown would not bring the hoped-for suburban shoppers and revitalization. That waiting list is long, it turns out, as cities across the United States look to erase some of the damage from urban highway construction of the 1950s and ’60s – tearing up or replacing the roadways and attempting to restitch bulldozed neighborhoods.

The article notes Milwaukee’s removal of its downtown highway has been a success and that Baltimore is currently removing theirs. Several other cities are thinking about doing this same thing.

What about Atlanta? Obviously, the daily traffic on our downtown 75/85 connector shows that it is a roadway that has found a significant use for metro residents. But the cost to the urban fabric of downtown Atlanta is huge — historic neighborhoods, such as the Sweet Auburn birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr., have seen their development potential and walkability stunted for decades while the outer ‘burbs have prospered.

I think there’s a good conversation to be had about the possible improvements to intown Atlanta if the downtown connector was removed. Why even have a bypass highway (the 285 ring) and a heavy rail system if we’re just going to leave this space-hogging, city-dividing highway plowing through the middle of the city?

Photo of Atlanta downtown connector taken from the Flickr stream of FLC