The image above compares Florence Italy with Metro Atlanta’s Interstate I-75/I-285 interchange. It’s a few years old, but it’s making the rounds on the web again thanks to some recent exposure. The line usually accompanying it claims that “entire city of Florence could fit inside Atlanta interchange” or similar.
It’s instructive in that it shows how much land space we waste on car infrastructure and how it could be better used (don’t get fooled by the lush green spot on the west corner of the interchange image — that’s about to become the new Cobb County Braves stadium). But it’s also a bit of a lie. It’s even in scale, but the Florence image shows only a portion of the historic center of that city.
Contrasting these two places has merit as a kind of fun exercise in land use. But when it comes to Atlanta’s land and the amount we devote to cars, I’m more interested in two specific, very real things.
1.) The land within our neighborhoods wasted on car infrastructure
There are many Atlanta neighborhoods I could use for this comparison of properties developed for humans versus those for cars, but to be gallant I’ll allow my own home — the Fairlie-Poplar district — to take the heat.
Below is an image I’ve made that shows, in blue, the amount of land in Fairlie-Poplar that’s devoted entirely to car storage in the form of either surface lots or parking decks (in fairness, I just realized I missed one, so it’s even worse than it looks here). The headline I’d give this is “entire human-inhabited portion of FP could fit inside the land devoted to parking.” Basically, if you developed all the parking structures, you could build a second neighborhood inside itself.
Because of the parking built for people visiting the large event facilities in Downtown, this is a more dramatic example than you’ll find elsewhere, but most every neighborhood has its unfair share of car-centric land use — space that is sitting empty much of the time and not offering the value it should to a potentially more livable neighborhoods.
2.) We’re still building these interchanges in Metro Atlanta and elsewhere
This week the Atlanta newspaper published a piece titled Big plans for Ga. 400/I-285 interchange just got bigger, about another interchange that’s only a few miles east of the I-75/I-285 one that was compared to Florence.
The State of Georgia is planning to add miles of lanes to those highways in an attempt to relieve congestion for car commuters. This, despite the overwhelming evidence that adding lanes on a congested highway can create more traffic via induced demand.
According to the news piece:
At an estimated cost of $950 million, it would be the most expensive road project in state history, paid for by going at least $130 million into debt, not counting interest costs. It would take three years of heavy construction to build.
This is exactly the kind of project that a growing metro, already struggling with sprawl damage, needs to avoid. Instead of affordable infill housing in a format that encourages alternative transportation options, this highway-building project is the sort of thing that enables further sprawl and car dependency.
Now is the time to learn from our mistakes in road building, not repeat them. We should build better neighborhoods, not bigger highways.