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Transportation priorities in Downtown Atlanta, 1908 versus 2016


This weeks’s Throwback Thursday from MARTA Guide has a great 1908 pic of Union Station in Downtown Atlanta.

This is roughly the location of the currently-in-the-news parking deck owned by the state. The city wants to get ownership of the deck from the state by swapping city-owned Memorial Park & Bobby Jones Golf Course for it.

Why? so that Underground Atlanta can have more parking. The parking is desired by developers who want to purchase Underground — which already has two massive parking decks — so they can provide easy car access to planned new retail.

This is very telling in terms of transportation priorities in 1908, when the city was served primarily by passenger rail and streetcars, versus 2016.

Underground Atlanta is next to a MARTA rail hub and bus lines, it’s near the Atlanta Streetcar, and it’s embedded in what WalkScore tells is one of the most pedestrian oriented places in the city. But even with all that, the city is eager to give in to developer demands for added car parking. Take a look at this preliminary plan for the redevelopment of Underground and notice all of the parking that would be available to the property:

underground-atlanta-plan 750xx1050-1400-104-0

That’s a lot of parking. We’re selling this site short — and undermining the potential for a more walkable, transit-friendly Atlanta — by allowing this level of parking capacity for the development and inducing car trips. What about the new 100 bikes that are coming to Downtown as part of the new bike-share program? Do we want to put more car trips on these streets at the same time that we’re encouraging transit and bicycle use?

A Downtown neighbor of mine, Kyle Kessler, studied the parking here and compared it to a similarly mixed-use development in Midtown. He writes: “The parking deck at Plaza Midtown, designed in 2004, has 881 parking spaces. If the same retail and residential parking ratios were used as what’s been proposed with the Underground Atlanta redevelopment, the parking deck would have more than 1,140 parking spaces. That’s 30% more parking.”

We’re going in the wrong direction if we’re allowing transit-adjacent projects in the Downtown core to have more parking capacity than what’s seen elsewhere in the city. How about something more innovative?

Downtown Austin, TX is adding a 30-story mixed-use tower without parking at all! A housing complex in San Francisco is reducing parking capacity byproviding Uber credits! These are the types of innovations befitting the downtown of a big city. Let’s get some of that kind of bold thinking in Atlanta.

Yes, this parking deck near Underground Atlanta already exists. This is not technically new capacity being created in the overall area. But obtaining it via a land swap (and losing ownership of green space in the process) in order to provide dedicated parking for new retail in the middle of transit-connected Downtown — that’s wrong. We need less parking for new developments in the city’s center so that we induce fewer car trips. We need these big, transformative projects to move Atlanta toward a better transportation future instead of being a reflection of the car-centric past.

The mayor and other Atlanta leaders have said some impressive, bold things about the city having a future based on transit rather than cars. So then why, when it comes to actual projects being developed, are we still seeing cars get such a priority?

Read more about the issue of parking with our principle #4: Rethink Parking.

Photo of Union Station, Downtown Atlanta, at top: from GSU website

UPDATE: on 06/06/2016, Atlanta City Council voted to trade Bobby Jones Golf Course for the state-owned parking deck in Downtown. In doing so, they’ve given up control of green space, and they’ve also saddled Downtown with a car-centric retail space next to the city’s transit nexus at Five Points Station. A double whammy of bad decisions. Better leadership is needed.