Monday, January 19, 2009

Connect Atlanta

My friend Aria, an Urban Design student at Georgia Tech, was kind enough to take a look at the city's new transportation plan for me. Indulge your inner urban planning geek below. That's part of why you read this blog, isn't it? - bk

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.com/.


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.

9 comments:

  1. Any idea how this fits in with the newly-created Transit Implementation Board's Concept 3 plan? (http://tpb.ga.gov/Documents/TPB/Aug08/Attachment%202%20_AgendaItem%20IV_Concept%203%20map.pdf)

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  2. 3 cheers for "4.13 Georgia 400 and Interstate 85 Interchange"

    "4.17 Cheshire Bridge Corridor" very interesting too. Strange but in my 40 years of driving both ends of Cheshire - with all that has happened - traffic is pretty much the same.

    "4.18 Virginia/10th/Monroe Intersection Realignment" I don't know, can they save Woody's?

    Too exhausted to read about the parking taxes.

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  3. I don't know much about the Concept 3 plan, but it looks like it incorporates Connect Atlanta, or maybe vice versa?

    Sorry to bore with the tax talk but don't let it put you to sleep! It's cool! Basically, we tax parking to pay for walking. And what's not good about that?

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  4. This is what I'll look into when I'm rested up: "buildings with parking will incur a fee for it" I'm sure I don't understand. Do parking lots without buildings pay the tax?

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  5. Oh right, my bad. OK, once you've had some coffee read this. It doesn't necessarily answer your question, but here:

    "We examined two methods of generating revenue from parking related activities. The first version is akin to a surcharge; in effect, the city would impose an additional fee daily for every parking space within the city.
    Some of the more important features include a 15-space exclusion for small businesses and keeping the surcharge indexed with inflation. We estimated that the city of Atlanta had 200,000 spaces that would be susceptible to an initial surcharge of one dollar. It is clear that implementing such a plan would require a great deal of effort however, the estimates of revenue that it would create are also sizeable. In 2008 and 2009 this design would net a conservative estimate of $75 million and $79 million respectively. By the year 2015 the amount the city would receive through such a funding plan would be greater than $100 million for each year.

    The second version, which is considerably easier to implement though less profitable, involves taxing the monthly charge for commercial parking spaces. In this version a 10% tax rate is applied to a monthly charge of $90. Furthermore, because the 10% tax rate is fixed, the monthly charge is adjusted yearly to account for inflation. Our estimates indicate that such a model would generate $5.6 million in 2008 and $5.8 million in 2009. By the year 2015 the city would receive greater than 7.4 million dollars every year."

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  6. Thanks for a great, informative post.

    Two things immediately catch my eye: the phrases "more walkable" and "well-connected." Why would anyone be opposed to these two concepts?!

    Secondly I think the financing mechanism is very interesting. I always think all businesses should want more development around them so soliciting a tax from businesses with ample parking could be a win-win solution.

    One of the most quixotic sights in downtown Atlanta is the huge amount of surface parking. Uh, folks, it's a city! Let's leave the surface parking in the suburbs, which were created with more space in mind.

    Thanks again.

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  7. One of the difficulties with all the surface parking downtown is that it generates a decent amount of revenue, so buying the land isn't as cheap as you might think in areas like that surrounding the Garnett Street MARTA station. Also, most of the landowners have inflated opinions about the value of their land and are holding out for larger sums before they'll sell. Because they can get a decent return as-is with the surface parking, they are in no hurry.

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  8. Fair enough B King.

    I guess what baffles me is that looking around Atlanta, I have the sensation that at some point a whole bunch of people (developers, city officials, residents etc) launched a campaign to de-urbanize the city.

    Look at all the retail developments in Midtown, arguably one of the most urban parts of the city (I'm thinking of Amsterdam Walk, the Virginia/10th/Monroe Intersection that Terry mentions, etc).

    Of course there was no campaign but all of these complexes detract from the city's urbanness, as though little by little we could make the city go away.

    The weird thing is clearly a lot of people stood by while these retail districts were proposed and then built.

    Anyway I see the parking lots as part of this whole problem. I am not an architect and know nothing about architecture, except that an architect once told me that if you unleashed a ball in a city, it should continue to bounce along, bouncing off buildings and parks and anything that's development in the broadest sense.

    But when the ball came to a surface parking lot or an abandoned lot, it would cease to bounce, destroy the momentum of the city.

    I think I am preaching to the choir here so I will stop!

    Thanks for a great discussion.

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  9. I am in full support of the Connect Atlanta Plan. The part that most caught my eye was converting Piedmont, Spring, and West Peactree St.'s in midtown to 2 way traffic. That would do so much to enhance the walkability and business viability in this area! Please let us know when you identify those supportive politicians!

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