Rethinking a crucial road

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

Brainstorming ways to relieve gridlock continues in the classroom and the conference room. Georgia Tech students are looking at ways to improve Northside Drive from I-20 to I-75, turning an eyesore into a grand boulevard for buses, bicycles and drivers looking to escape the Downtown Connector. A transportation official applauds the vision but points to the state’s own evolving and inclusive policies.

Commenting is open below Gerald Ross’ column.

By Michael Dobbins

You would think that a street that connects Cobb County to Atlantic Station, Georgia Tech, the Georgia World Congress Center, the Georgia Dome, the Atlanta University Center, West End and points south would get a little respect. But Northside Drive, the west frame of Atlanta’s downtown/Midtown core, is a ragtag, shabby and confusing street that fulfills neither its development potential nor adequately meets its transportation purpose. Though Despite the fact that it provides access to tens of thousands of people on a daily basis, you can’t even take a bus from one end to the other.

A lot is happening in the corridor. Cobb County’s locally preferred alternative transit link to the core would utilize bus rapid transit (BRT) coming down Northside. The State Road and Tollway Authority’s (SRTA’s) strategically located site at 17th Street is up for sale without conditions that would serve transit connectivity. Georgia Tech is seeking to establish better program and physical linkages with its west side neighborhoods. A new stadium is in play. The Multimodal Passenger Terminal (MMPT) is finally in a serious planning and development mode. The Atlanta University Center (AUC) is actively re-visioning its future. West End businesses are forming a community improvement district.

Wouldn’t now be a good time to plan comprehensively? We think so.

Our Georgia Tech city planning and civil engineering students are preparing a plan for the corridor as a whole and for the sites where decisions are pending. Questions we address include:

• How to incorporate transit to serve both through traffic and local access to increase capacity and provide a grand streetscape

• How to connect Cobb County’s BRT to MARTA, from Cumberland to Atlantic Station to the east and to the MMPT to the south, utilizing the SRTA site as a transfer location

• How to install local transit service up and down Northside and at its east-west crossings.

• How to reimagine the street as a grand boulevard — trees, lights, parking and traffic patterns that attract people, not repel them

• How to establish a positive, functional pedestrian environment along Northside Drive and across its forbidding divide, with a comparable plan for bicycles.

• How to shape the corridor’s considerable development potential, including hundreds of housing units built before the downturn.

• Finally, how to erase the divide that separates the business and institutional vitality on the east from the neighborhood isolation on the west — a divide that marks historic scars unworthy of a city looking forward.

We are pursuing two tracks of exploration. First, students have organized a comprehensive strategy for considering the technical, organizational, financial, cultural and political factors that come into play. Second, we are reaching out to people, organizations and interests that have a stake in Northside’s future.

Through both focused and general meetings with all concerned, we aim to develop and widely share information and ideas that come forth. Out of this, we hope to identify actions that can move the vision forward. Already, we have received and are incorporating most valuable feedback and ideas about how to focus our next steps.

Fortunately, the city is moving to designate Northside Drive as a “transit corridor” in its upcoming update of the Connect Atlanta Plan, which. This will provide the legitimacy to seek transit funding support from local and federal sources.

Next priorities include:

• Pushing for the SRTA property purchase process to provide for a transit hub in any development plan that includes Cobb County BRT, both across to the Arts Center MARTA station and down Northside Drive, and to the Amtrak station and a commuter rail station, as well as local transit connectivity.

• Connected MMPT and stadium planning that includes downtown’s “Greenline” plan, Centennial Olympic Park and the College Football Hall of Fame, that extends to and through a Northside gateway along MLK to the AUC campuses and supports preservation and revitalization goals of the west side neighborhoods

The ongoing planning work will soon be accessible through an interactive website for comment and critique. Come on board!

Michael Dobbins, former Atlanta planning commissioner, is a professor in the School of City and Regional Planning at Georgia Tech.

GDOT aims for more complete system

By Gerald Ross

The Georgia Tech School of City and Regional Planning class project is thoughtful. It highlights the intertwining of responsibilities — state, local, business community and citizens — in creating solutions. The project focus on an area with such proximity to key centers but still lacking development is a perfect example of how planning and design can work together to bring progress, jobs, housing and yes, even better transportation options, that ultimately can help decrease congestion and improve mobility.

For those of us who work at Georgia DOT, though — on the concepts, design, engineering and implementation of improvements to the state’s transportation infrastructure — the state Transportation Board’s decision to adopt the Complete Streets design policy was the formalization of a continuing evolution in our thinking and our work, a public declaration grounded not in buzzwords or overnight trends, but in the foundation of the department’s maturing, inclusive philosophy of transportation planning.

Complete Streets is a growing national initiative to improve the design and operation of roadways, particularly those in urban and suburban settings, to accommodate and encourage safe access for all users – motorists, transit riders, cyclists and pedestrians. We worked with a broad array of local governments, our transportation partner agencies, and pedestrian and cycling advocacy groups to develop Georgia DOT’s policy — now formalized in some 30 pages of definitions, standards and guidelines in our design manual.

Complete Streets is more than pages in a manual, however. It is confirmation of an ever-changing culture, an acknowledgement that our transportation system can be more — should be more — than its least common denominator, and a recognition that the straightest route between two points may not be everyone’s desired route. Complete Streets is a state of mind. GDOTThe Georgia Department of Transportation is the proud keeper of a 20,000-mile highway system considered among the nation’s best. But we know it can be more. More inviting. More accommodating. More holistic. Complete Streets is the Department’s commitment to make it more, or perhaps better stated, to continue making it more.

Many of the goals and precepts of Complete Streets already are keystones of existing Georgia DOT initiatives. Our emphasis on context sensitive designs, our financial underwriting of the Clean Air Campaign and community transit programs, our Scenic Byways, Transportation Enhancement and Safe Routes to Schools programs, our aggressive Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Action Plan, our support of the Atlanta Beltline, and our involvement with the Livable Communities Initiative — all of these represent our commitment to Georgia’s citizens.

Complete Streets is not an aspiration for the Georgia DOT; it is the way we go about our business every day. For the foreseeable future, that business likely will remain centered around the highway system. Ten million Georgians depend on it. But it can be a more complete system. And we are a different, wiser department now. We no longer see our mission as highways always; rather, as highways all ways.

Gerald Ross is Chief Engineer at the Georgia Department of Transportation.

7 comments Add your comment

Stephen

November 6th, 2012
8:10 pm

Robert, Georgia’s total time of having a larger population will be recorded in history as being from the 2000 census to about 2013 or 2014. North Carolina is now within about 100,000 from retaking its historical number #1 status for population. The US Census projects NC to be the 7th most populous state by 2030. Georgia is the largest state east of the Mississippi which makes its primitive (albeit smooth) (i.e. nothing new since the 1970’s) highway system even more lacking and inadequate.

Robert

November 6th, 2012
6:38 pm

Stephen…if you don’t like Georgia, move out! Last I checked, Georgia exceeded North Carolina in land area and population.

Robert

November 6th, 2012
6:37 pm

Is this just another excuse for another money-wasting DOT jobs project? Northside Drive has several logistical challenges. It goes under a railroad bridge with little/ no room for expansion. Just south of the bridge, the east side of the road is against a rock cliff face, which would require dynamiting. There’s also trees along the side of the road which “may have to be removed”. Further, the Northside Circle street has only one outlet…Northside Drive…and, despite backing to two apartment complexes, there is no light…so residents have to use the turn lane to get across the road. The last thing we need is some faux beautification project that sacrifices functionality (i.e., the ability to turn). A simple road paving and perhaps a sidewalk on the west side may work (where there is none). South of 17th street, there’s a water treatment plant which again makes expansion difficult, and another bridge. I’m sure the DOT could squeeze a lot of money (and do a lot of damage) in the name of “beautification”.

Stephen

November 6th, 2012
5:47 pm

” the proud keeper of a 20,000-mile highway system considered among the nation’s best.” LOL! North Carolina’s DOT (NCDOT) maintains over 80,000 miles of highways and has built THOUSANDS of miles of BRAND NEW interstate-quality highways in the last 25 years. Georgia has built practically NONE! Complete Streets is being used by many states, not just Georgia, the DO-NOTHING state.

Out by the Pond

November 6th, 2012
5:26 pm

41highway….when I lived in East Cobb and attended St. Joseph High on Cortland Street, 41 was the only road into town. It would be great to bring vitality back to my favorite highway. But Atlanta, we have a serious problem. Where does the money come from? TSLOST would not have helped, I285 on the “other” side of town is falling apart and there is no money to repair it. Bike Lanes, medians, dedicated transit lanes wide sidewalks are all great sounding but implementation takes money. Let the students do their planning let’s see what they come up with and how much it will cost. Plan across the county line, make it a regional project.

Road Scholar

November 6th, 2012
3:15 pm

Dust off the study done on this corridor about 10 years ago. The concept was for adequate laneage to address congestion, esp events at the GWCC and Dome, bike lanes, medians, wide sidewalks,landscaping and lighting…everything included in a complete streets design. While no roundabouts were planned they are not exactly ped friendly. Many points along the corridor had restricted R/W, but the area north of the GWCC (closed housing project) hass been cleared.

SAWB

November 6th, 2012
2:31 pm

So, is the area in question organized into a Community Improvement District or CID? It would seem the first step should be to organize these folks so they can begin to invest in the improvements themselves. Also, a CID would have greater visibility and a political voice with the various groups that could offer assistance.