Arranged on a Grid, Street Network Influences City’s Next Chapter on Transportation and Land Use
By Kevin Green, President and CEO, Midtown Alliance –
For inspiration, I’m looking out my office window to the north at 10th and Peachtree Streets. Although most everything I’m looking at has been built-in the last 20 years, I’m struck by how things change.
Atlanta is a pretty young city. A little more than 200 years ago, current day Peachtree Street was just a Creek Indian path that followed the ridgeline. The path was gradually upgraded to accommodate wagons in the early 1800’s. Fast-forward to the early 1900’s and Peachtree Street downtown had evolved into a wide, multi-use street accommodating people on foot, bicycles, streetcars, horses, wagons … and a few early-adopters in automobiles.
You might have even seen an Autoped or two – a gasoline-powered precursor to the modern day e-scooter.
We tend to think about transportation changing slowly and incrementally over decades, but over the last two years we’ve witnessed e-scooters and “micro-mobility” change the game almost overnight. Regardless of what happens with the various companies looking for “first-mover” advantage, it’s a safe bet that micro-mobility is here to stay, in one form or another.
To this end, a profound thank you to the City of Atlanta planners of 150 years ago that laid out our city’s street network.
Atlanta grew slowly until the mid-1900s on a gridded street network, then took off in the 1970’s, growing outward on a suburban street network to Buckhead, Perimeter and beyond. Today, Downtown and Midtown benefit greatly from their street grid which promotes walkability, accommodates a dense fabric of destinations and provides multiple options for dispersing traffic. This grid also opens up more options for using the space between the curbs for options other than the exclusive use of automobiles, swinging the pendulum back in a positive direction toward more balanced, multi-use streets.
For example, in one square mile of Midtown today, there are more than 70 linear miles of vehicle travel lanes. Many of these north-south corridors are one-way, wide and fast. In partnership with the City and GDOT, Midtown Alliance is looking to create two-way streets where possible, and to repurpose about 8% of these vehicle lane miles for a connected network of barrier separated bike or “light individual transport” (LIT) lanes. Construction to build such lanes on Piedmont Avenue and Juniper Street is anticipated to begin soon, and per the City’s September 25 announcement, Spring and West Peachtree Streets are slated for a “quick-build” solution starting early next year to add protected lanes.
There is more big news about transportation coming from City Hall with the creation of a new City of Atlanta Department of Transportation underway now to prioritize and streamline decisions and work that is currently done in multiple city departments. A national search is underway to find the Atlanta DOT commissioner, and this bodes well for our City.
As we see more people and dogs filling our sidewalks, especially in the evenings, it’s surprising that the number of residents in the City of Atlanta today is less than it was in 1970. This is in contrast to the population of the Atlanta region that has steadily grown about 4X since 1970. Fast-forward to today, and the number of City residents should surpass its 1970 levels in the next year or so, and continue a steep upward trajectory for the foreseeable future. Ditto with jobs: in the last 5 years, some 21,000 new jobs have been announced for a one square-mile area of Midtown, and new residents and jobs are growing in areas across our City. As was reported recently, the City of Atlanta led the region by a longshot in building permits over the last eight years, including one-third more building permits than second-place Gwinnett County (at roughly 4X the land area of the City of Atlanta) and Cobb County (roughly 3X the land area of the City).
These are exciting times in the heart of our city. Things are surely changing, and will continue to change. Every year in our City is another chapter in a book that never ends, and we all have important work to do to shape this narrative. We’ll look forward to exploring more issues that define our City in future installments in this space.
Meanwhile, if you are interested in learning more about what’s happening on the ground in Midtown, make plans to attend our Let’s Talk Midtown event from 5:30-7:30pm at Tech Square on Wednesday, October 23.