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.Read more
Tactical Urbanism permits--coming soon to Atlanta--will allow residents, community groups, and businesses to contribute to safe streets for people
The ongoing pandemic exposed just how critical safe, convenient, and affordable transportation options are for people, especially those whose jobs can’t be done remotely or who need to access essential services.
As infection rates fluctuate, more people are biking, walking, and scooting to get where they need to go. That means demand for safe streets with decent options for all kinds of movement is on the rise.
Through our 2020 policy agenda and recent essential transportation campaign, we called on the City of Atlanta to empower communities to creatively improve safety on their streets through small, interim projects by establishing a city approval process--or tactical urbanism permit.
This post is meant to explain the concept of tactical urbanism, provide an update on advocacy for a tactical urbanism permit for Atlanta, and ask for your continued support for equitable transportation options.Read more
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the critical importance for people working essential jobs and getting to essential services to have safe, convenient, and affordable transportation options. Yet cuts to transit service mean options are even more limited than before the pandemic.
More and more Atlantans are turning to biking and walking to get where they need to go. Unfortunately, our city lacks a safe and connected network of spaces for these essential forms of transportation.
In May and June of 2020, you joined us in calling on the City of Atlanta to fully fund and rapidly build already-planned projects with community support and to prioritize first- and last-mile connections for those who continue to rely on transit, especially frontline and essential workers, who are disproportionately people of color and women. Atlanta’s April 2020 adoption of Vision Zero shows the City is committed to getting to the goal of zero traffic deaths--these investments would be a strong immediate step in that direction.
Read more for initial results from this campaign.
1. We called on the City to quickly install 80-100 miles of infrastructure for light individual transportation (LIT: includes scooters and bikes) from pre-existing plans already vetted through community engagement, such as the Quick-Build projects of 2017, the Action Plan for Safer Streets, Cycle Atlanta 1.0 & 2.0, Renew Atlanta, TSPLOST, etc. We said this would mean ensuring that the new Atlanta Department of Transportation (ATL DOT) has sufficient funding through the FY2021 budget to do this work in-house using City of Atlanta staff, not expensive contractors, using methods and materials that are fast and cost-effective.
- Accelerate timeline of Mayor’s Action Plan for Safer Streets: the official announcement from 2019 stated projects would be complete by the end of 2021, yet the ATL DOT budget narrative says three years from now--2023.
- Fund 80-100 miles of LIT lanes and sidewalk repairs to meet the needs of essential workers and trips and provide a timeline.
Address where the 3.5% of the General Fund set aside for infrastructure maintenance per ordinance 14-O-1513 appears. Designate those funds for safe space for walking & wheelchair use.
- Designate Tuskegee Airmen Academy (TAG) as the City’s pilot Safe Routes to School program and allocate $450,000 for safety improvements to facilitate safe walking and biking to school
- Spend the remaining Council District Renew Atlanta funds on tactical sidewalks.
Results so far: Several projects from the Action Plan for Safer Streets are in final design stages. The new Atlanta Department of Transportation draft budget is listed as $44 million (650-page City of Atlanta draft budget is here). We believe the initial budget outlay was increased to $48 Million but are still waiting on the final budget book. For comparison, the Office of Transportation formerly housed in the Public Works Dept. had an FY2018 budget of $46 million according to the ATL DOT Feasibility Study. That office is just one of three units being combined into the ATL DOT, the others being the Office of Mobility Planning and Renew Atlanta/TSPLOST.
2. We called on the City to provide urgently-needed safe spaces for people walking or using wheelchairs, starting with any gaps in the sidewalk network along remaining MARTA bus routes and on streets accessing those bus routes, and Safe Routes to School so children can walk and bike safely when schools do reopen. Since it can take years to get sidewalks built, consider "tactical sidewalks" using less expensive materials to provide some protection now.
Results so far: Mayor Bottoms directed the Chief Operating Officer to work with the Atlanta Department of Transportation to "develop a plan for Atlanta’s streets. This plan recognizes the role of the City in the economic recovery of local businesses and the ability to use public space to support quality of life during the reopening." The plan was to include creating “tactical sidewalks” to improve mobility in communities to essential services. In addition, sidewalk improvements seem to be gaining prominence within the new ATL DOT, which often posts about sidewalk projects on #SidewalkWednesdays.
3. We called on the City to empower communities to creatively improve safety on their streets through their own interim projects by establishing a city approval process, or tactical urbanism permit. Additionally, create a small grants fund so under-resourced neighborhoods have equitable access to the process.
Results so far: The City has a tactical urbanism permit in draft stage; expected by October 2020
There are communities in the city of Atlanta with almost no sidewalks at all. Often, these are the same neighborhoods that have been most harmed by transportation projects such as highways splitting their neighborhoods in half. This is partly due to redlining policies that imposed structural racism on neighborhood development. Communities with lower sidewalk coverage also have higher rates of walking and riding transit, are disproportionately located within the High Injury Network, and have a larger share of Black residents. These neighborhoods are also home to many people with essential jobs who rely on transit.
Picture it: you rely on transit, the bus route that is three blocks from your house is cut, you are now walking further to catch the bus, maybe carrying groceries or with your young child or both.. As you are walking, the sidewalk suddenly ends. You are now in the street, sharing the road with vehicles that were not anticipating you being there. Your essential trip to the grocery store or work has become more dangerous than fellow Atlantans who can count on sidewalks to reach their destinations.
Safe Streets for All means all types of safety for all types of users in all of Atlanta. The built environment can reinforce a sense of belonging and provide a way to protect vulnerable road users. Yes, protect those who walk, bike, or use a wheelchair. But also protect Black and Brown people, women, and transgender residents that face varying safety concerns while walking and biking that are not a reality for others. Having neighborhood sidewalks as an Atlanta resident should not be among their concerns. Let’s build sidewalks that will create neighborhoods that can sustain growth, development, aging in place, and the inclusion of many different types of users.
As we have said before, the time is overdue to prioritize safety and ease of movement for our community members who have been denied safe and complete streets for decades.
AARP Georgia, Helping Georgians aged 50 and above live their best lives.
American Heart Association of Metro Atlanta, a relentless force for longer, healthier lives in our community.
PEDS, dedicated to making streets and communities in Georgia, safe, inviting, and accessible to all pedestrians.
Georgia STAND-UP, a Think and ACT Tank for Working Communities, organizes and educates communities about issues related to labor unions, transit equity, affordable housing, & economic development.
TransFormation Alliance, a broad partnership of organizations from the private, public and nonprofit sectors dedicated to creating thriving, mixed-income communities anchored by transit and linked to all the opportunities and amenities that make Atlanta great.
ThreadATL, a non-profit that aims to influence Atlanta’s planning and design decisions toward a greater focus on good urbanism
How to stay involved
Sign up for updates so we can call on you to support the campaign’s next steps--because this is just the beginning!
The City has an opportunity to show its commitment to #VisionZero by accelerating safety projects, so no one dies trying to get somewhere. Help us hold the City of Atlanta accountable for following through on its plans. #EssentialTransportation
Slow streets & physical distancing lanes during COVID-19
Cities such as Oakland, San Francisco, and others have received attention for their decision to prioritize certain streets as “slow streets” to better accommodate physically distanced recreation. While these policies have been widely advertised as street closures, they’re not full closures but efforts to slow down cars. We’ve been working to slow down Atlanta’s streets to 25 mph (the lowest currently allowed speed limit in Georgia) for the past year and just reached a major milestone for this campaign on April 20th.
The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition and PEDS remain committed to safer speeds as a critical policy for all types of mobility--both active transportation and outdoor recreation--we began pursuing this long before COVID-19, and we’ll continue to do so during and after the pandemic.
When we first heard talk of making long-sought changes to our streets, we got excited. Opening streets as part of a cultural shift toward active transportation is one of Atlanta Bicycle Coalition’s long-term goals, as evidenced by our Atlanta Streets Alive demonstrations, pop-up bike lanes, and advocacy for a tactical urbanism permit. However, making these changes to streets during a pandemic that is creating major challenges to people’s health and ability to support their families has raised equity concerns.
We recognize and appreciate the range of viewpoints on this topic, and understand why there might be an expectation that we’d take a stand for Atlanta to set aside more street space for people to take walks, go on runs, and ride bikes during COVID-19. We get it--those who bike or walk to essential jobs need safe streets, and those of us working from home want to maintain physical distance when getting exercise or enjoying a walk.
However, we had to ensure we took time to thoroughly consider this complex issue and how it could affect all people, which led us to the choice to support the City’s decision not to pursue extra physical distancing lanes / slow streets during the pandemic at this time.
Open streets will continue to be a critical advocacy area --this spring the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition will (virtually) celebrate Atlanta Streets Alive’s 10th anniversary, and one of our 2020 priorities is to align support for more frequent open streets activations through the program.
PEDS is currently using its resources to shine a light on safety in underserved communities where people are more likely to walk and take transit. There continues to be an increasing epidemic of pedestrian fatalities in lower-income communities because of fewer safe intersections, lack of sidewalks, fewer crosswalks, poor lighting, and dangerous routes to public transportation.
In applying the Untokening Collective’s Mobility Justice and COVID-19 guiding principles, we’ve identified a key difference between our long-term advocacy for open streets and the call for physical distancing lanes during the COVID-19 outbreak. Seeing equitable and safe active transportation become a reality for all is our top priority. So we had to ask ourselves: is this an equitable policy, and how could it be implemented fairly and in a manner that doesn't further endanger people? Utilizing the Untokening’s Mobility Justice and COVID-19 framework and listening to diverse voices helped us answer that question.
First, we must prioritize reliable transit for our frontline workers--those of us operating MARTA, working in hospitals, stocking grocery stores, and doing so many levels of essential work are most vulnerable during this pandemic. Prioritizing our essential workers means removing barriers for MARTA buses to operate with ease before making more physical activity space for those of us with more mobility options and more freedom to change our schedules.
Once workplaces start to re-open, we need infrastructure like bus lanes in order to reduce the duration of exposure for people who need transit. Atlanta Bicycle Coalition is also prioritizing workers making essential trips through our focused Virtual City Cycling classes and #BikeMatch program to get people bikes who need them. It is critical that we uphold those in our community who do not have the privilege of working from home.
Secondly, closing public streets to cars right now could result in unwelcome enforcement for Black and Brown people, who already face higher risk of negative police interaction. Lastly, since this moment makes equitable public input very difficult, moving forward with physical distancing lanes could overlook input from the very voices we seek to engage.
We encourage everyone who’d like to think more on the topic to view the full Untokening resource here.
These concerns and conversations with the City of Atlanta led both Atlanta Bicycle Coalition and PEDS to conclude that installing temporary physical distancing lanes during quarantine would not be an equitable course of action for Atlanta right now. The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition’s vision is of “an Atlanta where everyone moves safely, easily, and sustainably throughout the city.” We will only get there if we acutely prioritize safety and ease of movement for our community members who have been denied safe and complete streets for decades.