Published on September 2nd, 2015 |8
NPU-B votes no to city Complete Streets, Cycle Atlanta initiatives
The votes against those proposed ordinances related to the city’s Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP) were 11 for and 7 against denying passage of the Complete Streets ordinance and 9
against, 8 in favor and 1 abstention for passage of the Cycle Atlanta Study ordinance.
The NPU-B board did approve the city’s proposed changes to the Transportation Oriented Development ordinance by a vote of 10 in favor and 8 against. And, at its meeting the previous month, it also approved an ordinance for a citywide freight study, called Cargo Atlanta.
But, getting to the votes Tuesday night was not easy or quick.
First of all, the room was too small for the audience and the noise of the air conditioning unit made it impossible for the mostly elderly crowd to hear the board’s discussion. So the room had to be totally reorganized to allow the audience to move into the U shape of the board seating.
Despite NPU-B chair Andrea Bennett’s instructions to the audience that the discussion was not about the state transportation officials’ consideration of redrawing the lanes of Peachtree Road through Buckhead to add bicycle lanes south of Peachtree Battle Avenue, that remained the focus of the audience and its comments.
“I think Peachtree is just one of those roads where cycling is a bad idea,” said one female resident who attended the meeting.
But resident Mike McLeod defended bike lanes. “It’s a perfect opportunity to have a bike network throughout Buckhead,” he said. “You can get people out of their cars. There’s data that shows
traffic flow will improve. I know it’s difficult to believe, but if you take away lanes for cars, you can improve traffic flow.”
He was in the minority with his comments.
The NPU board discussion, however, centered more on whether the ordinances as written were too open-ended and vague so as to turn over to city planners the right to expand bike lanes and other complete streets strategies on their own to any area of the city—including Buckhead.
Board member Kim Shorter told her colleagues, “The city has short-changed us with this document. There is no tie to action standards.” She feels city planners can set their own standards. She said the document is “too open-ended and gives planners too much latitude.”
At-Large City Councilwoman Mary Norwood, who was in the audience, was asked by a board member how these ordinances were being viewed by members of the Atlanta City Council, who will ultimately vote to either approve or disapprove of these changes to the wording of the Comprehensive Development Plan.
Norwood told the board and audience, “You have a very different city outside of Buckhead.” Midtown Atlanta has a grid street system and south side Atlanta has virtually no density, she explained. Neither condition is true of Buckhead.
While NPU-B chair suggested the board should first discuss the Move Atlanta Complete Streets ordinance because she felt it would likely be the least controversial, board secretary Jim Cosgrove said, “I think this is the most dangerous of all three.”
Cosgrove repeated the points made by Norwood and told the board, “this can damage our single-family neighborhoods in many ways. The only way to widen Peachtree Road is to condemn high-rise buildings” in order to gain more right-of-way.
“All of these ordinances are so broad that we are giving enabling legislation to the (city) planning department,” he added.
Other board members, however, felt the legislation was merely intended to clarify existing legislation and an attempt to take a city planning department, which has been reactive for years and make it more proactive. “They are planners,” said board member Jason Kendall.
Board member Amy Hillman, who has been a zoning attorney for about 20 years in the city, added, “What the intentions are is irrelevant. The only important thing is what is actually written into the ordinances.” Her remarks were supported by applause from the audience.
With that, the NPU board proceeded to cast votes on the three ordinances.
The message was clearly a rejection of bike lanes in Buckhead for the time being, but more precisely a rejection of handing over to the city planning department open-ended latitude in interpretation of standards for development and transportation priorities in Buckhead.