Reviewing the City of Atlanta Tactical Urbanism Guide

In August, we blogged about the City’s anticipated tactical urbanism permit program with examples of tactical urbanism (also known as popup or demonstration projects) and opportunities for community groups to design and implement low-cost improvements to roadways and other public spaces. We’ve pushed for an expedited approval process to allow neighborhoods to safely, efficiently, and legally implement these projects for years, most recently through our 2020 Legislative Policy Agenda

In October, the Atlanta Departments of City Planning and Transportation released the Atlanta Tactical Urbanism Guide, which includes a list of eligible projects, design standards, and materials palette. The guide also describes the process for approval, with a list of required documents.

We’re excited to see the City support local efforts to make small but incremental changes in Atlanta neighborhoods, and we believe these temporary projects can harness our community’s creative talent to make a lasting impact on the safety and vibrancy of our streets!

What follows here is a brief review of the Tactical Urbanism guide and the submission process: what we like, what we would like to see added, and key changes to make the process smooth and accessible for all residents. These suggestions will be sent to the City, and we will keep you updated. We are also planning to participate in a small tactical project with a neighborhood to provide additional feedback.

What we like

  • The permitting process is organizationally inclusive, allowing many groups to apply such as Neighborhood Planning Units (NPUs), neighborhood associations, local businesses, and nonprofits.
  • The layout of the guide makes it easy to find the required materials.
  • The design requirements for each project type are generally reasonable and consider basic street design principles. 
  • The guide includes Equity Priority Areas and maps communities of concern, where projects may be eligible to use Atlanta Department of Transportation (ATL DOT) supplies free of charge. This is a good step and can kickstart the conversation for additional incentives to ensure equitable distribution of popup projects across Atlanta.

5 key items we would like to see added or changed

1. Organize and add project types to the eligible list; clarify project descriptions

  • Some of the popup project types we want to see added: bike lanes, popup crosswalks, traffic circles, vertical bike lane separators, bus stop improvements. 
  • One project type in need of clarification is slow streets. We recommend an approach like Boston’s slow streets that emphasize traffic calming instead of “local traffic only” for reasons articulated here. Georgia’s recent increases in fatality crashes during COVID-19 traffic reductions show that fewer cars don’t always mean more safety.

2. Provide a section that briefly outlines how a community might determine what types of popup projects are needed, and how they can be successful

It’s important to emphasize that successful popup projects:

  • Fill a critical need.
  • Engage the community throughout the process.
  • Are aesthetically pleasing and make use of creative talent.
  • Have a greater impact when activated by events or festivals (with the caveat that this is not advisable during a pandemic and is not a necessary element).

3. Clarify how an individual or community group might initiate the design process and provide assistance for communities of concern

  • This may include providing advice to applicants on reaching out to vendors and/or providing a list of local non-profits that can assist. 
  • We suggest the City provide in-house design services or financial support for communities of concern if they do not have the resources or time to design the project themselves. 

4. Outline a strategy by ATL DOT to build on successful popups to develop long-term projects

  • The purpose of these projects is to fill a temporary need that ultimately requires a long-term solution. Currently, the guide does not outline a strategy by the City for transforming successful temporary projects into permanent ones.

5. Simplify the application process and tailor the required documents based on the project type

  • While CIDs and non-profits may be able to devote time and resources to successfully navigate the application process, it is likely too cumbersome for most local business associations and neighborhood groups. 
  • Some project types are simple while others are more complicated, so the documents required should match the level of complexity of the project. For instance, the community engagement requirements for someone deciding to implement a parklet in an on-street parking space in front of their business should be simpler than the requirements for a popup bike lane through a neighborhood. 
  • Request feedback from organizations most likely to submit a permit application on the insurance and bonding requirements. 

We have seen considerable demand among community and transportation groups for simple safety enhancements on both neighborhood and commercial streets. The release of this guide is encouraging news for advocates that we hope can be made better with a few substantive but necessary changes. 

If you have additional suggestions and feedback, please reach out to us! We look forward to seeing what you all come up with to make Atlanta more friendly for people who walk, ride, and roll!