The good and bad of 1970s planning for Downtown Atlanta

People Movers and wide roads — the plan for Downtown Atlanta in 1976

One of the many fascinating documents at the Planning Atlanta site is the Downtown Neighborhood Plan 1976–1977, prepared by Central Atlanta Progress for inclusion in a Comprehensive Development Plan for the City of Atlanta. Looking at it today shows us what people once thought a city center should be, and also answers some questions about how we’ve ended up with what’s in Downtown today.

Much of the plan consists of the sort of unfortunate ideas for downtowns that ended up marring many U.S. cities — widening roads to increase car capacity, turning the area into an “entertainment district” filled with “pedestrian malls” that completely lack any kind of residential use. Basically creating the mobility and livability challenges that we’ve been stuck with since.

Also in the mix was a string of “people movers” to get folks around Downtown streets, possibly as a way of making up for pedestrian safety being compromised by those widened roads. CAP was hardly alone in making those types of recommendations in the 1970s.

In the 1970s, people movers were a popular concept. Taking people off the sidewalk and directly to their destination.

But there are also some really great things in there as well. Here are a few excerpts:

“The City should investigate the possibility of constructing a City museum in the Downtown area close to a MARTA station. Land should be acquired now, possibly in the Garnett Street Station Area and “land banked” for future museum use.”
“The City of Atlanta should work towards the development of a Bikeway Master Plan which would link Downtown with nearby residential neighborhoods and tie into a regional bikeway system.”
“The City should study the possibility of developing bikeway systems along the railroad rights-of-way as well as along the linear parks which will be created through MARTA construction.”

Imagine a series of bike paths all through Downtown in the 1970s onward! How different things might have been. And having a museum next to Garnett Station, instead of a sea of parking lots, would have been awesome.

Looks like city leaders just took the bad ideas and implemented those, while leaving the good ones untouched. Those wide roads are a real pain for both pedestrian safety and general urbanism.

The dead zone created by a very uninviting Courtland Street in Downtown Atlanta

But all these years later, we’re finally getting a nice series of bike lanes in Downtown, along with a bike share system.

Cycle Track on Peachtree Center Avenue
This cycle track is under construction and will intersect with the completed Peachtree Center Ave. bike track

No movement on that museum, though. The area around Garnett Station needs some serious love and attention.

Garnett MARTA Station, amid parking lots

Pretty much anything over those parking lots would be an improvement.