At the beginning of December the Atlanta City Council unanimously adopted the Connect Atlanta Plan, a long term transportation plan for the city. It's the first comprehensive transportation plan Atlanta has ever had, and in my opinion it lays out some amazing possibilities for this city. The plan has the potential to transform the city into a much more walkable, well-connected city while preserving the special character of Atlanta. To someone like me who has been dealing with the difficulties of walking, biking, or taking MARTA around this city since she was 12, the plan feels almost too good to be true.
I was lucky enough to snag some of former planning commissioner Steve Cover's time. He gave me a good overview of the plan and what's needed to carry it out. I'm going to address the plan in broad strokes, but you can download the whole thing, which is quite easy to understand, here: http://www.connectatlantaplan.
The plan focuses in on some problem areas, but it's comprehensive and looks at the entire city. It incorporates many other studies—the beltline, the Piedmont corridor study, the LCIs, and the Peachtree streetcar—and ties them all in. You can download maps of the entire plan on the website. Here's the piece that covers most of downtown. The major recommendations, which you can see on the maps, are:
- Increased transit, which is its major focus
- A new bicycle network (!)
- Better pedestrian facilities
- New streets to improve connectivity and efficiency
- Road widening to increase capacity and road diets in some cases
- One-way to Two-way street conversion
- Design guidelines for various street-types
- Reduced block sizes
- A series of recommended projects (check these out!)
- A focus on circulation within the city rather than in and out of it.
Imagine that! A city with a network of bike paths, sidewalks, and transit options! We all know these are great things to have--no shockers there--and the plan does a good job of integrating all of them and dealing with some real problem areas. But, I think there a couple of points on which the plan is tailored really well to Atlanta and shows a lot of originality. For one thing, I am excited about how the plan conceives of the city's urban structure: Connect Atlanta breaks the city into a network of nodes, which are major activity centers of varying density (downtown, Glenwood Park, etc.), corridors, which connect the dots (Dekalb Ave.), and districts, the areas between corridors that are primarily single family (Atlanta's neighborhoods).
Each of these components of Atlanta's urban structure has its own transportation priorities and needs. To me, this structure is perceptive and smart, because it allows for a good amount of flexibility and specificity within what is still a well defined, cohesive system. It strengthens what I love about this city; while Atlanta's specific configuration is part of what causes our transportation problems, the plan deals with that while celebrating the peculiarity instead of eliminating it.
Another one of the more original pieces of the plan is the way it proposes funding the recommendations because it allows the city to pay for the entire proposal without state or federal funding. The plan proposes a parking fee or tax; buildings with parking will incur a fee for it. They'll be offsetting the infrastructural costs that are currently unaccounted for, and they'll be supporting development around them which will ultimately help their business and the city as a whole. The report makes the point that the city, with all its free parking, is subsidizing really harmful practices. This tax will correct that, and it will raise $70-80 million a year.
So, what does this all mean for us and for the future of the city? The plan gives the city a document that can guide our development in the future, as well as some specific, realizable projects. The council's adoption of the plan means that they're signing off onto the principles and goals it lays out, but the components of it will still need to pass council individually. And that's where we come in: As we move closer to an election season, the plan's realization should be a major part of the platforms of the people we're voting for. If carrying out the Connect Atlanta plan isn't part of someone's campaign platform, that's a big problem. Make sure you support candidates who are explicit in their support of the Connect Atlanta plan.
The plan represents a major accomplishment by the Planning Department. Looking at it, we see that Atlanta will never be Manhattan, but I don't think we want it to be. What it will be, instead of the nightmare of traffic and sprawl that it has been threatening to become, is a denser, healthier, better-connected, and more legible version of the uniquely lush, historically complex city that it already is.