Due to rising construction costs and lower-than-expected tax revenue, there was less money for Renew Atlanta Bond/ TSPLOST roadway improvements than projected. To reevaluate the project list, the City of Atlanta recently lead an open discussion about the future of the program.
Several well-informed groups, including Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, Councilmember Howard Shook and the Buckhead Community, West End Newsletter, lobbied for their preferred projects. Meanwhile, I find myself wanting to fight for something that’s been entirely lost in the restructuring: the forgotten and largely-unknown Neighborhood Greenways.
The Neighborhood Greenways proposed in the original TSPLOST list were spread all across Atlanta: 8th Street/Peachtree Place, Myrtle Street, J.P. Brawley Drive, State Street, AUC Greenway, Oglethorpe Avenue, Oakview Road, Reynoldstown Greenway, Rocky Ford Road, Piedmont Heights/Sherwood Forest Greenway, Larchwood Street/Willis Mill Road, Oakdale Road/Whitefoord Avenue, Hunter Hills Greenway, Baker Road/North Avenue,and McDaniel Street.
What would greenways have meant for those streets?
Neighborhood Greenways (NGs) are powerful, but also simple and inexpensive. They’re a type of infrastructure that slows down vehicle speeds, making it easier to bike and walk on neighborhood streets. Those included in the original list would have turned many community streets into safer, slower, greener public spaces.
Let’s break down the elements of NGs so that we understand what we’re missing out on.
Basics of Neighborhood Greenways
NGs are connected, slow, safe neighborhood streets. A network of them allows people to avoid busier roads and ensures that they’ll get where they’re going safely and comfortably.
Across the country they’ve been labeled with names like Bicycle Boulevards, and Low Stress Streets. Due to the limited number of them in the U.S., there is no universal name. The TSPLOST list adopted “Neighborhood Greenways,” so we’ll stick with that.
Getting the following main elements right is the key to creating great NGs: roadway and route conditions, signage, safe crossings, and traffic calming.
Roadway and Route Conditions
At the core of a good NG network, there must be less than 2,000 cars/day and speeds under 20 mph (for reference stake, you can check approximate car counts on select Atlanta streets here: http://geocounts.com/gdot/). Also, the network can’t be too circuitous or out-of-the-way.
Below you can see two routes I can bike to my German language school from my Berlin apartment. The blue route is made up of large main streets in the Mitte district of Berlin — they have high traffic and streetcar tracks, and they can be quite intimidating to bike. The green route represents the designated Fahrradstraßen (Bike Streets) or Neighborhood Greenways.
The two routes are nearly parallel, ensuring that people biking or walking do not need to go out of their way to be able to travel on calm and quieter streets.
Signage and Pavement Markings
Great NGs must have clear and effective signage and pavement markings with a focus on wayfinding. The signage should include route identification, warnings to drivers, speed limits, and orientation signage.
The creation of the wayfinding signage is a great opportunity to engage neighbors and local businesses in identifying key destinations in the community. The City of Atlanta right now has very little destination signage, so NGs could provide an opportunity to install wayfinding. But the design should not include too many signs, which can detract from the beauty of the streets.
Pavement Markings can serve as a warning to drivers to slow down, while also explaining that people who are not in cars have priority, and that they can walk/bike in the center of the street. The photo below shows a typical shared-lane marking. Speed limit notices, along with community murals and other creative designs, can be considered as well.
As we can see from the original TSPLOST list, Atlanta has many neighborhood streets that could fit in well as part of a strong network of NGs. One main hurdle, though: there are too many cars. That’s where diverters come in.
A traffic diverter allows direct passage for people biking and walking, while sending cars on a different route. These need very careful considered, though, since car traffic that gets reduced on one street will get pushed to neighboring ones in potentially problematic ways.
There are many examples of traffic diverters being well-used on Atlanta streets today. For example there’s Woodward Avenue in Grant Park. Rawson-Washington Park acts as a traffic diverter, as Woodward dead-ends for cars at the park, but people walking and biking can travel through.
Below is a beautiful traffic diverter on my route to school in Berlin. Not only does the diverter ensure lower vehicle traffic, it also creates a pedestrian plaza and community space.
Another important element of NGs is that every intersection should prioritize safety and people over speed and cars. Safe crossings can include pedestrian signals with short wait times and pedestrian island refuge areas. And it should go without saying, pedestrian bridges are not the answer. (Looking at you Mercedes Benz Ped Bridge…)
Slow Speeds and Traffic Calming
And finally, NGs need to have slow speeds. Traffic calming is in high-demand in Atlanta. Councilmembers currently field constant requests from citizens about getting new four-way stops and speed humps put in place. And speed is one of the main determinants in fatal traffic crashes.
By building a network of NGs, the City of Atlanta could address community desires with robust and green infrastructure. I believe that neighbors demand speed humps because it’s the only type of traffic calming that exist in the city that has a clear(ish) bureaucratic process. But there are many tools to slow traffic.
In the photo below you can see some popular traffic calming measures: back-in angled parking, and trees in bulb-outs. NGs can help local streets increase the number of on-street car parking and increase tree coverage at the same time. Bike infrastructure and parking do not always have to be in conflict! This roadway cross-section could be perfect on many of Atlanta’s 40-foot-wide streets.
Atlanta: it’s time to embrace greenways
I can’t help but think that keeping a few of the Neighborhood Greenways on the Renew Atlanta/TSPLOST project list would have been transformative in a very positive way. The greenways address many concerns of Atlantans: slower speeds, safe places to walk/bike and neighborhood parking.
They’re also lower in cost than a protected bike lane, while providing just as much access and safety to riders. TSPLOST funding could install the first greenway in the City of Atlanta, expanding the options and minds of communities. This is a challenge to advocate for infrastructure that does not even exist in Atlanta yet.
Having experienced the goodness of Neighborhood Greenways in Berlin — and in many US cities — I have high hopes that Atlanta will leverage their power soon.