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Atlanta’s biggest urbanism stories of 2019

It was a busy year for anyone following news about the urbanism of Atlanta. Here are some of the highs and lows.

Cafe seating on sidewalks becomes legal

With this new ordinance, businesses can finally apply for use of public sidewalks for seating. This should add a lot of vibrancy and “eyes on the street” to the city – good stuff.

Spotlight gets put on all tax abatements as public scorn rises

Thanks to Invest Atlanta for challenging Fulton County on the disruptive tax incentives they’ve been handing out to developments in the city, and thanks for their lack of support for a $22.5 tax inventive for a BeltLine-adjacent development. This was the year that Atlanta stopped automatically giving a “yes” stamp to developers for their requests for tax abatements, and that’s a good thing. 

Atlanta got a transportation department & a commissioner for it

Shortly after establishing the city’s first ever Department of Transportation, Atlanta welcomed its first Transportation chief and also unveiled a new plan with good ideas. Our question: will we follow through on those ideas?

City bans nighttime use of shared e-scooters & e-bikes

Atlanta’s nighttime ban on dockless e-scooters and e-bikes in 2019 followed the deaths of several e-scooter riders in the late evening or early morning hours. It’s a serious issue to be sure, but ThreadATL is concerned that this ban doesn’t address the true safety needs.

Lowering speed limits becomes a possibility, alongside promise to build additional protected bike lanes

Atlanta took a serious look at lowering speed limits citywide to 25 MPH, and also promised to increase the number of protected bike lanes in the city — both measures are part of a safe streets initiative. We’re hopeful about both things happening, and plan to watch these projects closely for follow-through.

Losing a genuinely historic Downtown building through demolition for a Margaritaville Resort

Despite a long battle to save it, an old building in Downtown that served as a temporary studio for Okeh Records in the early days of recorded music was demolished for a Margaritaville resort hotel. It was a major loss for historic preservation to see the city lack the ability to get the developer to incorporate this building into the plan instead of knocking it down.

Some developments showcase the ability to add new buildings without adding new parking. 

A new commercial building in Glenwood Park, next to the future BeltLine path, is providing thousands of square feet of new office and retail space, across four floors, with *zero* new parking being added. That’s impressive.

And the newest entry in MARTA’s efforts to develop under-used spaces near rail stations will see the southwest entrance to Downtown’s Peachtree Center rail station get a multi-use development on top, with no new parking. Good stuff!

Christmas market in Downtown turns out to be the urbanism event we didn’t know we needed

Twitter account “@martarider” said it best: the Christkindl Market in Centennial Park was the unexpected urbanist highlight of the season, packed every time even during lousy weather. It shows there’s a real unmet demand for car-free civic space in this city. We need year-round examples of this kind of event in the city.

Mayor Bottoms and the Baker Street veto

Despite widespread support for converting one of Downtown’s one-way car sewers to a safer two-way street, Mayor Bottoms vetoed City Council and stopped the improvement from happening. Very frustrating. And so far, there’s no news about this needed redesign being revisited.

Team announces plans to redevelop West End Mall

Developers Ryan Gravel and Donray Von made a commitment to maintain the identity of the community and to act responsibly with their major re-do of this West End property, which is very refreshing to hear from developers — we have high hopes for this.

Gwinnett county MARTA referendum fails

Gwinnett County’s MARTA referendum was a chance for voters to finally expand transit after rejecting it 30 years ago, but it didn’t pass. It was a big disappointment for transit fans and everyone who wants to see the region become less dependent on cars.

Mayor announces plan for investing in affordable housing, but local housing expert says it doesn’t go far enough. 

The office of Mayor Bottoms released a Housing Affordability Action Plan this year, but housing expert and GSU professor Dan Immergluck says it falls far short of what Atlanta needs to do in order to truly address its growing housing affordability crisis, and we agree.