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:
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.
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.
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
Atlantic Cities covers an new report from the MIT Center for Advanced Urbanism. It makes the bold claim that there is no verifiable health impact associated with sprawl — this comes amid other recent studies that show a relation between sprawl and obesity.
Closer to home, the MIT report questions the health benefits of the Atlanta Beltline:
MIT also skewers Atlanta’s BeltLine project for failing to consider the increased traffic pollution that people using its trails and parks would be exposed to. “In order for the BeltLine to function as a ‘green lung,’” the report concludes, “vast new green space will be needed around the old rail line. This is economically and politically unfeasible in an area of higher density and land locked real estate.”
Kind of an odd statement — I’m not sure how people already in Atlanta would be more exposed to air pollution on the Beltline than they would anywhere else in the city. And isn’t the Beltline’s potential for getting people out of their cars in itself a means of reducing air pollution?
The criticism also seems blind to the green spaces that are adjacent to the path (such as the one pictured above) and the many others that are planned. It’ll be interesting to read the reactions from urban writers to this report; from first glance, some of the conclusions drawn are questionable.
The full MIT “Report On the State of Health + Urbanism” can be downloaded here.
Beltline photo from Flickr user Atlanta Beltline