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Inman Park intersection needs pedestrian-safety fix; could shared-street work?

It’s time for Atlanta to have more than just de-facto shared streets. In instances where it makes sense, let’s make it legal and intentional, with a street designed for safe sharing between cars, bikes and pedestrians. 

Someone contacted me on Twitter recently with this question about problems at heavily-trafficked intersection near the Atlanta Beltline in Inman Park:

“Have you ever seen the design of Highland Ave near Inman Qtr @ Elizabeth St? Totally inadequate for the # of peds/bikers. it’s amazing no one has been killed. Tons of per/bike traffic from beltline. Few crosswalks and poorly marked.”

It is pretty awful for pedestrians crossing this intersection. It feels unsafe when you have to negotiate with all the car drivers who are already negotiating with each other at the 4-way stop, and the sidewalks north of Elizabeth Street are kind of narrow. A redesign is definitely needed.

But something else could stand some attention in this spot. The section of Elizabeth just west of North Highland is vexing for pedestrians because a piece of sidewalk there simply disappears and becomes car parking. See the photo at the top (view full photo here) for a look at how awkward this is. Can anything be done to help?

Safer crossings have been recommended by a transportation study

First, let’s address that crossing. Fortunately, the RenewATL website lists Inman Park improvements for streets within this area, including where Elizabeth and North Highland meet. The image below shows the recommendations from the “2013 Krog-Lake-Elizabeth-North Highland Transportation Study” referenced in the RenewATL page. The plan looks good in terms of pedestrian improvements. It suggests enhanced crossing and refuge islands as well as rapid-flash beacons nearby for safe pedestrian crossing. You can see the full study here.

North Highland Study
Image from the 2013 Krog-Lake-Elizabeth-North Highland Transportation Study

One unanswered question is this: are all the study’s recommendations going to be implemented? It’s not clear from the info on the RenewATL site. I’ve sent an email to some folks at the city asking about it, and I’ll update this post when I get a reply.

How about a shared-street designation for Elizabeth, west of North Highland?

The sidewalks on Elizabeth Street between North Highland and the Beltline aren’t just narrow, as mentioned above,  they’re nonexistent on one side. You could put in a sidewalk in the section where it disappears, but without preventing use of the existing parking spaces it would likely just be a really wide curb cut, and not that helpful. Here’s an aerial view of the intersection, showing the parking spaces along Elizabeth in the center:

Aerial view N Highland and Elizabeth
Aerial view North Highland and Elizabeth

Thankfully this section of Elizabeth is narrow enough that the street essentially functions as a shared space. But could the city make this an official shared space instead of just a de facto one? Could the  full width of the street be designed for safe use by drivers, pedestrians and cyclists alike? It seems like it would be better from a safety standpoint if we could commit to that status and fund paving textures (cobblestones, etc.) here to keep speeds low, and to incentivize the shared nature of this heavy pedestrian/cyclist area.

What does a good shared space look like?

You may be familiar with the concept of pedestrians and cars using the same space from seeing it in action in european cities. But just because those cities are older and were largely built before the automobile era, that doesn’t mean these designs can’t work here. Project for Public Spaces has a post on the topic and concludes that: “it is perfectly clear that from the engineering perspective, there is no reason why successful Shared Spaces cannot be created in America.”

That post lists some places in the U.S. that have already created shared streets. Here’s a look at one that isn’t included in the list but that’s a little closer to Atlanta. Pictured below is Wall Street in Asheville, NC. It’s an officially-designated shared street with a design that allows all transportation modes to safely co-exist.

Wall Street in Asheville
A shared street in Asheville. NC. Photo from Flickr.

This little stretch of Elizabeth Street between North Highland Avenue and the Beltline looks like a natural fit for a city-designated shared space — one that could set a precedent for establishing others elsewhere in Atlanta. It’s time for Atlanta to have more than just de-facto shared streets. In instances where it makes sense, let’s make it legal and intentional, with a street designed for safe sharing between cars, bikes and pedestrians.