Community News

Published on March 7th, 2017 |

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Buckhead REdeFINED: Connectivity, Traffic and Affordable Housing is at the Heart of Buckhead plans

Buckhead REdeFINED, a plan to make greater Buckhead more vital, mobile and livable, was unveiled at a meeting of neighborhood activists, civic and business leaders and planners at the Atlanta International School. The plan outlines the area’s major challenges — transportation, livability, green space — and offered a “deep dive” into solutions such as parks, re-designed streets and highway exits and making the area available for those who aren’t in the privileged “one percent” income bracket.

The plan was the result of public input, surveys and studies, and is supported by the Buckhead CID, Livable Buckhead, Buckhead Coalition, Buckhead Business Association, the Buckhead Rotary Club, Kimley-Horn & Associates, TSW, Bleakly Advisory Group, Blue Zones, Stance and Rogers Partners as well as stakeholders such as the hotels, homeowners and Lenox Square.

“We have some challenges,” says Jim Durrett, executive director of the Buckhead Community Improvement District. “We have a thriving business district, a dense core, but there are streets with a connectivity issue. The Village is re-invented from a smaller collection of late-night bars into a different quality of shopping and the leftover parts of Buckhead are still trying to figure out what it wants to be.”

There are several challenges in transportation, including a network of streets that “don’t go anywhere,” as well as some 40,000 commuters coming in and out of the area twice a day with only one exit off Georgia 400. In addition, MARTA offers two rail stations and three buses, none of which fully or easily service the area. Adding to the congestion problem is a drop in single-family housing and a multi-family housing boom.

“There are 68,000 jobs in the core and job growth is outpacing residential development,” he says. “That’s 10.1 jobs for every person living in Buckhead. Ninety-eight percent of the people working in Buckhead commute on any of five roads that come into Buckhead,” he says. “Few are served by MARTA, so that is not a reasonable alternative. The question is: how do you convince all those people to either live in Buckhead or take transportation?”

The answers are complex and involve creating a network of walking and bike trails as well as adding another exit on Georgia 400, possibly at East Paces Ferry. Local streets need to be looked at for improvements that would create a better balance among vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists. While there has been significant visual and traffic improvement on Peachtree Road, and planned improvement on Peachtree south of Piedmont, the question is: what’s next — Lenox, Piedmont or Roswell?

In addition, several intersections need to be enhanced to improve traffic, especially turn lanes, as well as pedestrian safety. One example of what is planned for the future is the success of PATH400, a walking path between Lenox Road near Piedmont Road to Wieuca Road. Two more segments, including one to Lindbergh, are already on the books. A trail linking PATH400 to Lenox Square has been approved for this year.

“We have to help pedestrians and bikers be able to get around Buckhead,” says Eric Bosman, senior planner with Kimley-Horn & Associates. “Our roads are designed for cars, not people, and with all the commuters coming in, we have to find ways for people who live in Buckhead to be able to get around without cars. We need to complete the PATH 400 to Tower Place and work on more east-west access. Right now, it’s not safe to bike down the roads.”

He sees needed improvements in the functionality along Peachtree and Piedmont roads and a more walker-friendly Lenox Road.

Another challenge facing Buckhead is its livability, more specifically, its affordability. “We need more affordable housing,” he says simply. A large percentage of Buckhead workers make less than $40,000. “These are workers in hotels, hospitality and office workers who cannot live where they work because they can’t afford Buckhead prices. We need to look into employee assisted housing so more people can afford to live here, which also would reduce the traffic issue.”

Bill Tunnell, founding principal with TSW, advocated the need for more civic space, whether they are a “collection of smaller spaces” or larger areas such as the proposed park over Georgia 400. One proposed green space area may be near the Bank of America building at the Roswell-Peachtree Road split. “We could re-route the street and make it more usable. Another is the West Village where green space will help it retain its bohemian character.”

He also foresaw future infill development along Pharr Road with perhaps part or all of the space currently occupied by Hennessy Jaguar being set aside for a park. “Lenox Square isn’t going anywhere but there could be some lot infill, maybe townhouses that could address the housing imbalance.”

Woody Giles, community planner with TSW, noted the importance of green space as well as public spaces that can be used for people to gather. Crucial to the success of these spaces is art, he says, whether it be permanent, temporary, performance, or interactive public art.

“We have an opportunity to, in the short-term, create a street experience that involves retail infill, true mixed use projects, and serve as a town square,” he says.

Adds Bosman, “All of our efforts are aimed at creating Buckhead more livable. And, that involves housing, affordability, transit and commuter access, public safety and sustainability that hopefully will take us well into the future.”

By Mary Welch

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