Controversial effort to convert downtown’s Baker Street to a two-way not dead (yet)

July 15, 2019 Sean Keenan

Baker Street, just east of Centennial Olympic Park, as seen last December. Baker Street, just east of Centennial Olympic Park, as seen last December. | Google Maps

Proponents say the mayor’s recent veto clashes with goals of the city’s new transportation plan

It appears the controversial effort to convert six blocks of downtown’s Baker Street from a one-way to a two-way is not quite dead.

Last week, in a move that stunned activists and other observers, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms vetoed legislation that would have paved the way for the westward one-way, running from Piedmont Avenue to Centennial Olympic Park, to be re-striped as a two-directional road.

The veto raised eyebrows for many reasons. Chief among them was that the city’s planning head, Tim Keane, had endorsed the two-way conversion, calling it “a win in every way.”

But it seems Bottoms’s veto might not have been the death blow.

According to a Twitter thread by WABE’s Emil Moffatt, Bottoms said Thursday that city officials simply needed more time to flesh out the pros and cons of making the change to Baker Street.

“We are continuing to get concerns from the business community and our residents,” Bottoms said, per the thread. “I thought it was really an opportunity for us to take a step back and make sure that we’ve done our due diligence; that we have all of the input that we need and that everything will be in place to make sure if this transition happens that it’s as safe as possible.”

a picture of baker streetGoogle Maps
Baker Street.

In a statement Bottoms’s office sent to Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore and the councilmembers, the mayor added:

It is critical that the City of Atlanta take a more inclusive look at how major transportation investments, such as the Baker Street two-way conversion, tie together mobility, zoning conversation, preservation, and affordable housing. Accordingly, and because my administration is committed to ensuring that major transportation investments are accountable, transparent, and are reached through an informed decision making process, the proposed Baker Street two-way conversion investment will be the subject of a comprehensive evaluation and a priority project of the newly created Department of Transportation.

Interestingly, though, the Atlanta City Council had already delayed a vote on the matter back in June so officials could take more time to study implications of the conversion.

Supporters of the vetoed legislation contend the change would make the street safer for pedestrians and cyclists, a belief backed by the Congress for the New Urbanism.

According to the legislation, the proposal would also curb congestion on Ivan Allen, Jr. Boulevard and would “improve east-west mobility between the activity centers surrounding Centennial Olympic Park, Peachtree Street, and their connections to/from the downtown I-75/85 Connector to the east.”

Naysayers, however, believe the two-way conversion would create dozens of new opportunities for motorists to make left turns across oncoming traffic, as well as create choke points where delivery trucks stopped on either side of the road.

Transportation-focused activist groups, such as the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition and ThreadATL, assert that Bottoms’s opposition to the Baker Street proposal clashes with the city’s newly adopted transportation plan. The plan aims to steer Atlanta from its car-centric focus to one that better caters to cyclists, pedestrians, and public transit users.

The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition said Bottoms’s veto “elevates property interests over the safety of people,” according to a Saturday blog post encouraging people to sign a Change.org petition lobbying for the two-way conversion.

A post by ThreadATL made in response to the veto echoes the Coalition’s sentiment. It reads that Bottoms is “casting a shadow over Atlanta’s ability to commit to becoming a less car-oriented city—and she’s doing it exactly when we need to be attracting a good Department of Transportation candidate from a national pool.”

ThreadATL continued: “Local urbanists and advocates are still reeling from the city’s lack of follow-through on complete street plans, and from the city’s milquetoast response to pushback on the good DeKalb Avenue redesign. Vetoing the Baker Street conversion is another brick in that same wall, but the wall doesn’t have to remain standing.”

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