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Debate over a block in Downtown Atlanta exposes a need for cooperation

For about two hours this week, City Council debated the Capitol Square legislation, which called for Atlanta to abandon a block of Mitchell Street that runs alongside the State Capitol so the State can have it.

But the debate was arguably a flexing of local political muscle rather than a thoughtful deliberation on public space as part of a coordinated effort between agencies and governments, and the ordinance that passed afterward reflects that problem.

The original ordinance to abandon the block (concerning in itself, since it further establishes the Capitol as a kind of compound that’s cut off from the city) was amended by Dustin Hillis to call for pedestrian safety improvements along Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway.

Joyce Sheperd got an amendment calling for improvements along Metropolitan Parkway. And Carla Smith added a call for pedestrian improvements BRT lanes. It ended up passing with those amendments.

The problem: City Council’s ability to get the state to agree to these things is in question.

A senior advisor to Mayor Bottoms told Council that Bottoms’ office is opposed to the measure and that they are unaware of any formal negotiations between the city and state on the issues.

And the mayor’s office has a point. We shouldn’t depend on City Council to negotiate infrastructure improvements from GDOT through legislation.

If Council members had been lobbying to get Atlanta’s own DOT into a position – with policies and funding and oversight – to partner with GDOT, that would be something positive.

This wasn’t that. Atlantans deserve better.

What happened this week showed the lack of communication and coordination between Council, the mayor, state representatives, GDOT, ADOT, and MARTA. City leaders need to be working with all of these groups on a long-term agenda for safer streets, better pedestrian infrastructure, and overall better use of public space.

The Capitol appears to be retreating from the built environment of Downtown in this effort to acquire the block and create a sort of compound, which has been many years in the making. This is not only bad for urbanism, it’s a metaphor for what the City needs to work against: entities retreating into their own domains, instead of working together for the good of public spaces.


Thanks much for the good feedback from City Council’s Matt Westmoreland and Dustin Hillis in the Facebook comments for this post. Here’s what they wrote — it’s an important addition to the conversation.

Matt Westmoreland: “Should we be depending on City Council to negotiate infrastructure improvements from GDOT through legislation? No, probably not. Are conversations over the last few weeks going to lead to $6 million in safety improvements on Hollowell Parkway, one of the most-dangerous streets in Atlanta? Yes they are. Appreciate Dustin Hillis for helping make that happen.”


Dustin Hillis: Yes, it would indeed be great if Council didn’t have to “negotiate” things like this that are so obviously needed, but I am, and have been, tired of waking up around three days each year for the past few years hearing about a pedestrian death on DLH. I spent the first two years in office continuing (I started when I went to work for then-CM Moore in 2015) to beg GDOT for pedestrian crossings on the 1-mile on DLH that had none. The first few attempts were futile, but things seemed to change in 2019 when J.J. was killed and the community came out with me to demand action. Very thankful for the three mid-block crossings approved due to those efforts, but we knew that wasn’t enough – which is what started the talks with GDOT and others about a much-needed road diet. Up until a few months ago, I thought that was years away, but here we are and here’s to hoping it comes much sooner…

No slight was intended to Dustin’s great work with GDOT on the current and planned pedestrian improvements to deadly Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway, and that should have been made clear.

Imperfectly, we were trying to start a conversation about a more encompassing issue: the lack of an ongoing public conversation among all government agencies that plan for public space and transportation.

For instance, we need the BRT line this interrupts to work really well (the Summerhill BRT route initially included this block and it has been re-routed), and we need a parking tax. And those kinds of things need a variety of state and local powers to align, and lining those up needs to be done in a way that the public can follow along with.

As we posted about at the time, the entire BRT line and its TIGER grant were a surprise to the general public even though a significant part of our local tax money is getting used for it. That’s one example of an unmet need for public conversation. The loss of this block and its affect to the efficiency of the BRT route is another.