Asking for pedestrian safety and getting a $13 million vanity bridge instead

Here’s a perfect example of the opportunity to save public money through the common sense of good urbanism:

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, in a recent news article, qualifies the ‘need’ for a $13 million pedestrian bridge over Northside Drive (near the stadium) by saying it could “possibly save residents’ lives.” He says it will “offer a safe crossing” over a road that’s “been a dangerous barrier” for pedestrians.

The $13 million gleaming tapeworm of a bridge that Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed thinks is necessary for conencting pedestrians to the new Mercedez-Benz Stadium.

Well the good news is that changing the design of a few blocks of the street, its sidewalks, and its crosswalks — that could all accomplish the same improvement in safety. We have people called “transportation planners” and they’re wicked smart about that stuff!

We could save millions. Sure, Mayor Reed may not be able to zoom through here in his blue-light mayormobile the same way he could if the pedestrians were lifted above the street. But think of how much less gasoline he’ll use at those lower speeds.

What’s the deal with this wacky, expensive bridge?

Yes, crossing (or even walking along) Northside Drive is not nice. It needs a fix. But does this bridge qualify as a “fix”? Not according to actual planning, it doesn’t.

Here’s what was recommended by a planning study of Northside Drive from a few years ago: a signalized intersection with good pedestrian crossings. A simple, relatively inexpensive, and common sense approach to connecting people on the west side of the road (which includes the Vine City MARTA Station) to the east side, where the new Falcons/Atlanta United stadium is replacing the Georgia Dome.

Instead of following these recommendations, Atlanta leaders ignored them in favor of building a $13 million gleaming tapeworm of a bridge that will curl over Northside Drive, making the crossing distance longer and on an incline. This is something recommended neither by the planners nor the community voices, but was demanded by the powerful, who will fund it with our public money and likely light it and maintain it with the same (and now it seems the the public cost will possibly double by the time construction begins).

Former Atlanta city planner Mike Dobbins has written an excellent piece about the folly of this bridge. It’s truly a must-read.

Bottom line: we need to prioritize strong neighborhoods

The sidewalks and pedestrian crossings around Northside Drive are in bad shape. This neighborhood needs to become a better place to walk on all levels, not just at this single point.

Atlanta’s leaders need to prioritize infrastructure that makes *whole neighborhoods* stronger, not just single destinations. They need to understand the importance of comprehensive walkability by funding complete-streets overhauls of Northside Drive and major roads that intersect with it.