Sembler grocery store plan for Lindbergh and Piedmont area hits a few major approval snags

From BuckheadView by John Schaffner

Those who read early in August that a large grocery store might be coming to near the intersection of Lindbergh Drive and Piedmont Road, and were anticipating their first shopping trip, might want to put those shopping bags back in the closet.
That grocery store, which was anticipated as part of a Sembler Co. commercial retail strip development on 10 acres bordered by Lindbergh, Morosgo and Adina drives has run into a heap of denials for land use changes and likely will be a long time in the future if it happens at all.
At its Aug. 2 board meeting, Neighborhood Planning Unit B approved unanimously two zoning ordinances, which amended the Piedmont commercial corridor regulations to remove a minimum residential requirement for the property. The NPU board recognized the need for a major grocery store to fill a huge void and provide a needed amenity in the area.
From the August NPU-B meeting to its September meeting, the support seemed to dramatically erode. When it came to deciding on whether or not to approve an amendment to the land use element of the 2011 Atlanta Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP) at the September meeting the NPU board questioned a number of factors.
First of all, while the NPU-B board had been envisioning a Public or Kroger grocery store as part of the development, the Sembler people had mentioned a Wal-Mart Super Store during discussions with the Design Review Committee. That was not acceptable to the NPU board.
Then board members asked to see a site plan for what Sembler was planning to build. They were told there was no site plan and would not be one until after all the approvals for the project. That too was unacceptable to the NPU board members.
The NPU-B board offered attorney Larry Dingle, who attended the September meeting representing Sembler, the opportunity to defer action on the land use amendment request until Sembler could present a site plan for the board to review along with assurances of what the grocery store would be.
The board even agreed to wait for a day or two to hear from Dingle if his client wanted that or wanted the NPU board to vote on a denial of the request. The board had agreed to do a formal vote by email after hearing from Sembler.
Dingle said there was no reason to wait, he knew his client would prefer for and up-or-down vote that night from the NPU on either approval or denial. The NPU board voted 25-9 for denial of Sembler’s request.
The request for the amendment then went before the city’s Zoning Review Board and Sembler asked for a deferment and received it.
The issue of the CDP amendment was up for a public hearing on Sept. 12 and NPU-B chairperson Sally Silver presented that the NPU board had voted 25-9 for denial of the amendment change for this proposed development. Silver told BuckheadView that the city’s staff also recommended denial.
On Sept. 13, the issue again went before the Design Review Committee, which decided it could take no action, according to Silver, because there was no site plan and no support of the proposal by the NPU or city staff.
The issue is destined to again come before the NPU-B Zoning Committee on Tuesday, Sept. 26, and Silver is sure the committee will vote for denial.
According to Silver, the issue is not necessarily dead in the water, but it certainly has been delayed at this point. She said she has placed a call to the Sembler people to see that they plan to do—proceed along the path they have chosen thus far, or make some changes and come back through the process—but she has not yet heard from them.
In August, Silver was one of the most excited over the prospect of having a grocery store in that area. “That is the big important thing that is going to make Lindbergh work,” she said at the time.

Report: Atlanta region ranked as the worst metro area for seniors’ access to transit

By Maria Saporta for

The Transportation for America, a coalition that promotes smarter transportation investment, has ranked Atlanta as the worst metro area in providing seniors access to mass transit.
Such a ranking is especially devastating for metro Atlanta — a region that is projecting a dramatic increase in senior citizens.
The report — “Aging in Place, Stuck without Options” — determined that the majority of the nation’s metro areas with a population of more than 1 million people provided seniors with poor access to transit.
The number of senior citizens with poor access to transit will continue to grow as the baby boom generation continues to get older.
“While some aging baby boomers and empty nesters have been moving from suburbs to downtowns, the vast majority of older Americans continue to reside in car-dependent suburban and rural communities,” the report stated.
“Inevitably, their ability to navigate these communities by vehicle will diminish or disappear over time, and millions of older adults will need transportation alternatives in order to maintain their independence,” the report continued.
The Urban Land Institute, in its Urban Land publication, reported on the Transportation for America’s ranking and determined that was a wide variation of metro areas providing seniors with access to transit.
The study defined seniors as people aged 65 to 79. And poor access was defined people having fewer than two bus, rail or ferry routes within walking distance of their home.
“Not surprisingly, the metros offering the best transit access for seniors are typically larger, coastal metropolises with larger transit systems, such as New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.,” the report stated.
“The worst metropolitan areas for seniors’ transit mobility tend to be more inland, with stagnant or shrinking bus systems,” the report continued. “Interestingly, the 11 worst metros include several places with rail systems, such as Atlanta, Charlotte, and Nashville, suggesting their systems may be too small.”
The finding of this report comes at a particularly significant time for metro Atlanta. Currently, the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable is considering a draft list of transportation projects that would be implemented if voters approve a one-cent regional sales tax next year.
The draft project list would invest 55 percent of the revenue in transit projects and 45 percent in road projects.
The Urban Land Institute said that the metro areas that rank the worst for seniors’ access to transit offers an opportunity for its members and real estate professionals. It stated that those metro areas could be “ripe” for senior housing projects that are part of a transit-oriented development with bus or rail stops.
The 11 worst metro areas for seniors’ having access to transit are:
1.     Atlanta. In 2015, it is projected that the region will have 503,543 people between the ages of 65 to 79. Ninety percent of that population would have “poor transit access” in 2015.
2.     Kansas City. Senior population in 2015: 230,023 with 88 percent with poor transit access.
3.     Oklahoma City. senior population: 136,571; poor transit access: 86 percent.
4.     Nashville. senior population: 151,995; poor transit access: 85 percent.
5.     Raleigh-Durham. senior population: 127,931; poor transit access: 80 percent.
6.     Indianapolis. 181,073; 79 percent.
7.     Charlotte. 170,815; 79 percent  (a tie).
8.     Jacksonville. 127,958; 77 percent.
9.     Virginia Beach-Norfolk. 147,285; 69 percent.
10. Rochester.  116,565; 69  percent (a tie).
11.  Riverside-San Bernardino.  278,305; 69 percent (a tie)

Atlanta Forward / Another View: A smart regional plan must prioritize transit

By  Burrell Ellis

At 5.5 million people, the Atlanta region makes up the 10th-largest  metropolitan area in the United States. Over the last 20 years, our region  has been one of the fastest-growing urban centers in the country. This is  largely the result of investments in infrastructure that have not only  created new jobs, but which have afforded us access to the global  marketplace. Our transportation investments, in particular, have kept us  economically competitive and enhanced our quality of life.

Traditionally, cities and counties have individually invested local tax  revenues in infrastructure and then leveraged those investments with  matching contributions from the state and federal governments.
As the federal government grapples with the deficit and the state government  deals with its own revenue reduction, the competition for matching funds has  become fierce. It is no longer Atlanta versus Cobb County, or DeKalb versus  Gwinnett.
With fewer federal funds available to disburse, our key competitors are other  metropolitan communities such as Charlotte, Dallas-Fort Worth, Phoenix and  Seattle. It is those regions that address their needs collaboratively and  smartly that are the most competitive, both in securing federal funds as  well as new industry.
That’s why a smart regional transportation plan … one that addresses the  transportation patterns of the people within the region irrespective of  which city or county they may reside in … is a necessity. A smart regional  plan is vital to our growth, economic prosperity and quality of life.
The most vibrant and sustainable metropolitan areas throughout the world have  regional transit systems. While a 1-cent sales tax cannot fund all of our  region’s transportation needs, a smart plan should prioritize a transit  system that is regionally funded … if that plan is expected to reasonably  reduce traffic congestion and gain the trust of the people it is designed to  serve.
Over the past several months, the Atlanta Regional Roundtable has put together  the framework for such a plan.
Over the next two months, there will be more opportunities for public input  before a final plan is put before the roundtable members for a vote.  Ultimately, the voters within the 10-county region will decide whether they  like the plan and are willing to fund it.
We have a tremendous opportunity to show that Atlanta has grown, not only in  size but also in progress. That will require shared sacrifice and regional  thinking.
Burrell Ellis is DeKalb County CEO.

Cousins, Gables Start Construction on $250 Million Emory Point

(July 19, 2011) – Cousins Properties and Gables Residential have started construction on the $250 million Emory Point mixed-used development on Clifton Road. The development will be the first new retail project built in the trade area in 20 years; the largest private development start inside the Perimeter in more than three years; and the first partnership between Cousins and Gables – two Atlanta-based development companies.
“We’re very excited about Emory Point and are glad to see a development of this magnitude move forward,” said Larry Gellerstedt, Cousins President and CEO.  “This project represents an incredible infill opportunity in a supply constrained
submarket with high demand.  We’re fortunate to have an exceptional partner in Gables and are grateful for our strong relationship with Emory University, which trusted us with leading this opportunity.”
Located in the Clifton Corridor, adjacent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and in close proximity to Emory University and Emory Healthcare, Emory Point is a vertically integrated mixed-use development; Phase I will include more than 80,000 square feet of retail space and 443 luxury apartments.
Under the DeKalb County zoning plan for Emory Point, 25 acres of densely wooded land behind the development, approximately half of the site, will be protected as undevelopable under Emory’s land classification plan.  Prior to the rezoning, those woodlands were not protected. The development site is also registered for EarthCraft Communities certification, while the apartment component is registered for EarthCraft Multifamily certification. In addition, retail portions of the development have been designed to meet EarthCraft standards.
“Emory Point sets the new standard for the Emory community because it blends pedestrian-friendly retail with luxury apartment living, all while being an environmentally conscious development,” said David Fitch, Gables Residential President and CEO. “There is tremendous pent-up housing demand in this neighborhood, making Emory Point a bright spot in an otherwise challenging market.”
The $100+ million Phase I of the project began construction early this month and is expected to be complete by fall 2012. The second and third phases of the project will be developed according to market demand in an area. Emory University, which includes Emory Healthcare, is the largest employer in DeKalb County and the third largest employer in metro Atlanta.
“The proximity of Emory Point to our campus will enhance the social and intellectual vibrancy at Emory by providing housing, dining and retail venues for faculty, staff and students,” said Mike Mandl, Executive Vice President for Finance and
Administration, Emory University. “This type of mixed-use development was envisioned during the creation of the Clifton Community Partnership five years ago, and it is gratifying to see it coming to fruition.”

Livable Cities Don’t Have Freeways



England’s A3 tunnel will cost $402 million per mile, making it the most expensive project of its kind in the United Kingdom. Photo by Tom O’Donoghue

We recently wrote about Glasgow’s controversial and expensive road expansion—an elevated six-lane highway to complete Glasgow’s ring of motorways that will cost more than $200 million per mile. But despite the hefty price tag, the road is only the second most expensive project in the United Kingdom. This month the U.K. will witness a 1.2-mile tunnel project, the A3, in Surrey, a county in southeast England. The estimated cost of the project: $402 million per mile.
Once completed, the expensive yet short tunnel road will become the longest of its kind in the U.K. Although most people reading the prices of these projects may still be in sticker shock, Geoff French, the vice president of the Institution of Civil Engineers, does not find it surprising at all. “There’s a huge cost penalty when you put a road up in the sky or down in the ground,” he says.
According to Transport Scotland, the cost for a new three-lane highway on average is $47 million per mile. Based on these calculations, the 1.2-mile tunnel in Surrey will be 10 times the average cost of a new highway. Part of the reason for the high cost, at least in the case of Glasgow’s M74 extension, is that the construction project requires the compulsory purchasing of property. With the addition of the cost of planning consultation and public inquiries, the cost goes up—and that’s for an elevated road. “An underground road costs even more—roughly twice that of an elevated one,” BBC reports.
Going Underground
The higher cost makes sense. In addition to difficulties of actual construction, underground projects must deal with geology. The presence of rock, for example, is recorded as an ideal opportunity for underground space development, according to Australasian Tunnelling Society. Digging through soil is even better. However, running into granite during the construction process can become time-consuming and more expensive because it’s more difficult to blast and dig through.
Besides geological obstructions, a tunnel construction project must consider the excavated soil and rock: what to do with it, where to get rid of it and how to take it there. Another factor to consider is support for the dug up tunnel. The machine responsible for digging the tunnel is considerably smaller than the tunnel itself. Once the machine goes deeper in the path, the dug up tunnel must be supported with precast circular segments, to avoid the collapse of the earth. All of these details considerably add to the price of a tunnel project.
“But sometimes there is no alternative to going underground,” reports the BBC. “[The A3 tunnel] allows the road to expand to four lanes by digging up to 195ft (60m) under Hindhead Commons.” And according to Rob Fairbanks, director of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, “Building a dual carriageway on the surface would have caused great damage,” perhaps because the surface has significant landscape value.
Sir Peter Hall, a Barlett professor of planning at the University College London, explains that spending on such projects will be a rare occurrence in the future. “Indeed, road projects like the M74 extension and A3 tunnel may never be repeated,”  the BBC reports. “Nowadays, most city councils subscribe to the view that urban motorways fracture communities rather than aid economic development.”

Demolition work on Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct started in February 2011, relieving the city from maintenance costs. Photo by Cliff.

Knocking Down Freeways
In the U.S., cities are tearing down freeways to avoid maintenance and replacement. Just this past March, NPR ran a story on freeway removal that highlights a contradictory trend to Europe’s expensive new roads. The freeways built in the ’50s and ’60s are deteriorating to a condition where they are no longer safe to use, so cities are choosing to dismantle them instead of repair them. “Milwaukee removed a freeway spur for $30 million,” according to NPR. “Officials estimated it would have cost between $50 million and $80 million to fix that roadway.”
Money is a big motivator for such a decision and it is by no means a localized issue. Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct, with the wear-and-tear of the years and the damage of a 2001 earthquake, was demolished in February 2011, making way for an underground tunnel in the region. But money is not the only motivator. Portland’s four-lane freeway, Harbor Drive, was shut down in the ’70s in a beautification effort of the west bank of the Wilamette River. The space is now occupied by a greenway and the current success of Portland’s downtown is credited mostly to the demolition of Harbor Drive.
San Francisco went through a similar transformation with its Embarcadero Freeway. Although the freeway’s actual demolition didn’t come to fruition until damage from a 1989 earthquake, the road was believed to be “the city’s worst planning mistake” and “denounced as an eyesore” that blocked the waterfront early in its lifetime, according to a New York Times article from 1990.
Today, a handful of U.S. cities are joining the movement. New Haven, for example, has been debating whether to convert a one-mile expressway corridor into a network of city streets. The Board of Alderman decided in December 2010 that it would accept a federal grant and pursue the demolition.
But perhaps the trend hasn’t gone national quite yet. Similar to Glasgow’s M74 or Surrey A3, Boston completed a $20-billion, 3.35-mile tunnel project that re-routes the city’s main highway. In early June, we reported on a new study by Smart Growth America that said, between 2004 and 2008, states spent $37.9 billion annually on repair and expansion projects for their roads and highways.
By the same token, “Anyone who follows infrastructure maintenance can tell you that this country has not been doing it’s job when it comes to maintaining roads,” as blogger James Sinclair wrote for Stop and Move, saying we face a potential future of “crumbling” highways and “structurally unsound” overpasses. It looks like we have a long way to go.
Outside of the U.S., cities have gained international recognition for tearing down unnecessary concrete. One recent high-profile example is Seoul, where city planners helped to restore the Cheonggyecheon river by removing three miles of elevated highway, which help cut air pollution and reduce air temperatures.

According to Patrick Condon, Vancouver owes its livability to its lack of freeways. Photo by Evan Leeson.

Livable Cities Don’t Have Freeways
Early this year, Vancouver was named the world’s most liveable city for the fifth consecutive time. Conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, Vancouver received high scores in terms of stability, health care, culture, environment, education and infrastructure—or the lack thereof. According to Patrick Condon, a visiting professor of livable environments at the University of British Columbia, the main reason behind Vancouver’s prestigious title is the city’s “determination in the 1970s and ‘80s to resist the lure of freeways as an easy answer to traffic problems.”
Instead of building freeways, Vancouver’s local councils gathered to draft a long-term plan for the city’s growth. “Central to the plan was investment in public transport, cycling and pedestrian measures—not freeways,” explains the Age. “The theory was that congestion, and the desire to avoid it, would drive commuters to alternatives: moving closer to their work and using the trains and bus system.” No freeways, no way to run off to the suburbs.
Interestingly enough, a study by Brown University found that a city’s population can decrease 18 percent because of the building of a major highway. In an interview with Planetizen, Nathaniel Baum-Snow, the economist behind the study, explains the reasoning:

“If suburb A builds a highway to connect to suburb B, that’s going to affect the distribution of commutes not only between those suburbs but also the commutes in the region as a whole. So there are going to be these externalities where someone in suburb C has a faster way to get to work, so they’re going to start using it and filling up this new highway. And a business downtown might say, hey, there’s this new infrastructure, let’s go locate out there and I can have a lot more space to work with. So anytime one part of a region changes something, it’s going to affect population and employment throughout the metropolitan area. So I think it’s important to engage at the regional level.”

Car Clash: Europe vs. the U.S.

Europeans are working hard to discourage drivers, cars and parking in their cities.  Why is American city planning different?
Ellen Dunham-Jones is a professor in the School of Architecture at the Georgia Institute of Technology.  She is a co-author, with June Williamson, of “Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs.”

Which automobile-dependent landscapes in the U.S. are the most forsaken? Where would the pedestrian-oriented European strategies seem most out of place and yet potentially have the greatest impact on increasing affordability, health and livability while reducing greenhouse gases and re-using existing infrastructure? Commercial strip corridors.

Top of the list of unloved, underperforming and ubiquitous places, they were engineered for the single purpose of swiftly moving cars. But overzoned for commercial uses, they are now clogged with cars on both local and through trips. They provide access to cheaper land and “drive till you qualify” affordable housing – but then eat up the savings as transportation costs have risen to 20 to 40 percent of household budgets. They are aging with little prospect of funding for maintenance. And their high vacancy rates just add to the dispiritedness of a failed public realm.

Can they be retrofitted into attractive, transit boulevards lined with trees, sidewalks and affordable housing and anchored by mixed-use centers with a public life to be proud of? June Williamson and I are tracking over 35 North American corridors that are being redesigned not to make driving miserable, but to recognize the multiple social, environmental, economic and transportation purposes that great streets serve. Their integration was highlighted in the grassroots-led temporary re-striping of Ross Avenue as “Ross Ramblas” in Dallas this week at Build a Better Boulevard. Participants employed several techniques of Tactical Urbanism, including pop-up shops, chairbombing and dumpster pools.

Every U.S. city once had street cars. Will Americans ever again support public investment in mass transit?

More typical is the ongoing 10-year revitalization of a five-mile stretch of Columbia Pike in Arlington County, Va. It exemplifies the intelligent use of tight form-based codes to grow from one-story strip buildings in parking lots to mid-rise mixed-use buildings fronting tree-lined sidewalks at nodes on major intersections. The site-specific code quickly tapers heights where the new development faces the existing neighborhoods and new bike lanes on the less busy streets. This strategy retains the existing affordable housing in between the nodes while the tax revenue from the new density goes toward supporting a streetcar.
Cambie Corridor in Vancouver is employing similar techniques but has upped the ante with some stunning modern mixed-use buildings and a highly efficient district energy system that balances out daytime commercial energy demands with the residential night-time peak loads.
Aiding these efforts is the new street design manual for walkable urban thoroughfares. It is the first officially recommended practice that does not refer to sidewalks as “vehicle recovery zones”! El Paso recently adopted the manual to connect its implementation of Bus Rapid Transit with redevelopment of outdated properties along five major corridors. Imagine if all 50 DOTs followed suit and revised their Level of Service Standards accordingly! We might see more transformations of urban highways to boulevards and Complete Streets.
Funding remains an obstacle and demand for Sustainable Communities Partnership federal planning grants far outstrips supply. Can private real estate developers fund streetcars as they did early in the 20th century? Can the public again support public sector investments in infrastructure, as it did mid-century? How else can we provide an alternative to our broken system of “drive till you qualify” affordable housing, accommodate changing demographics and markets and make our least sustainable landscapes into places worth caring more about?

Northlake CID May Be Too Small to Energize

Tom Doolittle
“Northlake Station” blog editor, 8-year local writer, tennis coach
I’m not promoting a Northlake CID explicitly. Questions abound, but if we should have one, one aspect is worth discussing here: What size does it need to be to work – from recruitment to payoff.
The subject of a possible community improvement district (CID) came up at last week’s Northlake Overlay meeting (reported by Patch’s Ben Schnider, June 8). It has been assumed from the get-go that a CID if formed would be centered on Northlake Mall and would have essentially the same boundaries as the Overlay District. We appear hell-bent on affirming that the “Northlake” name must only be associated with the small area that converges on Lavista Road near the mall and I-285. That’s not a community, it’s a choke point.
A CID is an organization of commercial/institutional property owners that taxes each member to get things done collectively. No room for detail here, but if you’ve been to the area around Perimeter Mall, that’s a CID. The CID paid for the sidewalks, streetscape and lamps but also paid for feasibility studies, planning and reporting that keeps more work in the pipeline. You can multiply the amount of streetscape in Northlake by 20 and that’s just a start of what about 350 owners of high-end property can pay for. The Perimeter CID is up to about $5 million in collections per year, and it claims that every dollar can get matched 25:1 by local, state and federal government. The proof can be seen in the $50 million “fly-over” bridge that was just built over I-285. Do you see the painted highway guard rails near the manicured highway interchange at Ashford-Dunwoody? CID-paid. Need a powerful lobbyist for your area? A CID does that.
Perimeter CID is actually run as two CIDs – one DeKalb, one Fulton. However, their data is kept jointly. The district is about 40 percent larger than the Northlake Overlay (projected Northlake CID area). However, their property is worth at least 10 times that of the Northlake business area. My back-of-the-napkin calculations three years ago showed our overlay zone would generate about $750,000 a year contrasted with the Perimeter CID’s $4 million plus at the time.
Northlake’s lesser $0.75 million should beg reevaluation of our assumed CID area. The amount is enough to clean and secure the place and pay for some studies but a long way from what is needed to get help for roads and bridges. As envisioned, it’s not wrong; it can be the basis of a larger conversation. If you can call it Phase 1 of a more “complete” CID, the whole conversation changes. Of course, there are also many pros and cons to CIDs in general, so all stakeholders, businesses, residents and other partners could raise questions about CIDs in such a conversation too.
The Northlake Community Alliance website ( says they are working with the fellow who started three CIDs in Gwinnett: Emory Morsberger. However, Morsberger told me he’s been dissuaded by a lack of interest from some major players, most notably Simon Properties. Simon has ignored the CID idea here since at least 2004 when the mall manager at the time peppered them with requests. That hurt because Simon did get involved in Buckhead’s and Town Center’s CIDs.
A developer and visionary, Morsberger is also the guy behind the Brain Train commuter rail plan ( that would come through Northlake and Tucker (more on that another time). Morsberger understands how to shape and size CIDs. He formed them each on different concepts: one, a corridor along US-78; the next, Gwinnett Village (GVCID), which has business centers over a 15 square mile area; and lastly Gwinnett Place, a mall center like the Perimeter CID. In each case, he found a few leaders that paid for a full campaign to recruit the requisite members (51 percent of inventoried property owners). One, Vulcan Materials, a large quarry operation started GVCID. All of these have something which has power that can be overlooked in its influence – a specific jurisdiction that defines the community it serves.
See the GVCID map at:
In my view, a CID of this type–or partially of this type–could be the answer to Northlake’s limited revenue base and lack of institutional leadership.
A Northlake CID could include both sides of the railway where only the mall side is included in the overlay – important because of the value of rail for growth. It could extend further south on Northlake Parkway and Montreal Road to Lawrenceville Highway and include the entire medical center and whatever revitalization will be stimulated by the expanded I-285 interchange. (Coincidentally, Georgia Power’s DeKalb economic development office is or was located in the industrial park across the tracks from the overlay boundary.)  The CID could potentially move toward Shallowford Road and merge with the proposed I-85 CID coming up from North Druid Hills Road, Clairmont and Buford Highway.
Conversely, Northlake’s business center(s) could be added (piggy-backed) to other envisioned CIDs, given the lack of commercial property interest in the overlay district. Above all, looking at CID boundaries afresh can surface new corporate and institutional leadership. New enthusiasm from a different business community may pay for property inventories and tax digest studies under the rubric of throwing out old assumptions.
One thing is for sure: By expanding the base, you’ll have to rely less on Simon Properties’ Northlake Mall for leadership. I think all forms of our local stakeholders would find progress faster if we didn’t focus so much attention on the mall and its owners.
Looks like we need another overlay meeting, DeKalb.

Why Building Roads Creates Traffic

Posted on Monday June 6th by Eric Jaffe for The Infrastructurist – Ameica Under Construction
In the transportation world our intuition can lead us astray. On first thought, no one would suspect that removing a major road can improve traffic flow — yet that’s exactly what it does (or would do) in some cases. The flipside of this contrarian coin is that building a brand new highway often fails to alleviate the congestion that inspired its construction in the first place. Economists Gilles Duranton and Matthew Turner of the University of Toronto offer an impressive and empirical explanation for this concept in an upcoming issue of the American Economic Review (full paper via Google Docs).
Duranton and Turner analyzed loads of data on traffic, infrastructure, and travel behavior from metropolitan regions across the United States and found that “vehicle-kilometers traveled … increases proportionately to roadway lane kilometers for interstate highways.” For those who don’t care for either academic abstracts or the metric system, the authors then parse their conclusion in pithier terms: “roads cause traffic.” The basis for this confusing reality, write Duranton and Turner, is a three-pronged “fundamental law of highway congestion” that explains why road construction can never keep pace with road congestion:

people drive more when the stock of roads in their city increases; commercial driving and trucking increase with a city’s stock of roads; people migrate to cities which are relatively well provided with roads.

As compelling as the evidence in this study may be, it doesn’t tell perceptive urban planners anything they haven’t known for decades. Duranton and Turner trace the “fundamental law of highway congestion” to a study published by road researcher Anthony Downs in 1962. In an issue of Traffic Quarterly, Downs reported his law of “peak-hour” congestion: “This Law states that on urban commuter expressways, peak-hour traffic congestion rises to meet maximum capacity.”
Before Downs, social critic Lewis Mumford recognized the properties of this law in the behavior of drivers in and around New York City. Mumford was well ahead of his contemporaries when it came to recognizing the perils of road construction; Jane Jacobs is often remembered as the foil of road-builder Robert Moses, but at the time many would have cast Mumford in that role. While researching my history of transportation in the Northeast, I came across an illuminating four-part series Mumford wrote for the New Yorker in 1955 called “The Roaring Traffic’s Boom.” In the second article, Mumford provides a commentary that anticipates Duranton and Turner half a century ago:

[O]ur one-eyed specialists continue to concoct grandiose plans for highway development, as if motor transportation existed in a social vacuum. … Instead of curing congestion, they widen chaos. …
All the current plans for dealing with congestion are based on the assumption that it is a matter of highway engineering, not of comprehensive city and regional planning, and that the private motorcar has priority over every other means of transportation, no matter how expensive it is in comparison with public transportation, or how devastating its by-products.

Prescient as he was, Mumford had little impact on the policies of his day, partly because his suggested solutions — carefully planned communities, population limits, and a fully balanced transportation network — were even more objectionable than curtailing road construction. (And you thought raising the gas tax was politically unpalatable.)
Likewise the findings of Duranton and Turner are the type that should, but probably will not, inform good social policy. This is not a blatant call for more public transportation funding; in fact, the Toronto researchers found that adding transit does nothing to ease highway congestion. When one driver leaves the road, another simply takes his or her place, as Turner explained to Streetsblog DC. (That finding will be misappropriated by road-building enthusiasts to argue for more highways under the fundamental “if nothing helps, then who cares?” error.)
The only solution endorsed by Duranton and Turner is congestion pricing. In April 1955, Mumford predicted that Manhattan would soon have to “banish private wheeled traffic” in midtown during the day. This extreme version of congestion control did not come soon, and when Mayor Bloomberg did introduce a pricing plan recently, it was roundly beaten. “People, it seems, find it hard to believe that the cure for congestion is not more facilities for congestion,” Mumford wrote. Some beliefs are hard to change.

Northlake Overlay Plan Meeting

“Northlake Station” blog editor, 8-year local writer, tennis coach
Holy Moly–
We have a shot at making another impression on the Simon Malls people. Next Tuesday (June 7) evening (6:30 to 8:00), hopefully hundreds of people will choose to hear DeKalb County.
The meeting is at the new “One DeKalb” government resource center on the bottom floor of Northlake Mall. Was anyone aware that the office is there? I hope they have a lot of seats.
Planners talk about their way of accomplishing a walkable community in the Northlake business core. They see this happening via creative zoning–a “zoning overlay”–in other words, taking existing zoning and layering more specifics regarding exterior architecture, planned compatibility among building heights all the way down to street furniture and bike racks. They call it a “compatible use” overlay because it doesn’t completely remove the “character” of the regional business center that it once was.
Anyway–this meeting will be wonderful if we get YOUR ideas across and get to add stuff to the agenda–like how to promote a commuter rail stop so we can get to Emory and downtown when gas is $10 a gallon. It’s either that or bicycles folks.
Then there’s the mall property. I like to call it the mall PROPERTY because I firmly believe it won’t be a mall in the future–indeed malls are antiquated. No–not a mall, but what…and what would have to happen to Simon to jar the company loose from the property?
Hey–do you suppose a Simon decision maker from Columbus, OH, will make this county tutorial next week?
(That’s two questions here for feedback folks, and I know darn well this mall area is a subject of ill-repute around here. I can’t walk on my street before I hear someone taling about it.)
The Northlake Overlay
Tuesday, June 7
6:30 PM – 8:00 PM
One DeKalb Resource Center
Northlake Mall
(lower level next to Macy’s)

A 72 Hour Challenge Will Make a Dallas Street into a Grand Boulevard, Shared by All

by Alex Davies for Treehugger –
Images Courtesy of Better Block
TreeHugger spends a good deal of time bemoaning the arch-rivals of good urban design in America: suburban sprawl and cities that are designed around cars, not people.
Agreeing that things need to change, a Texas-based group called Better Block has been busy in the last two years transforming ordinary, car-dominated streets into what they call “complete streets” : spaces shared by pedestrians, cyclists and drivers, where people gather and a sense of community is fostered.

Building “Complete Streets”
Better Block calls itself a “planning tool for the urban retrofit,” and has pulled off projects to temporarily redesign city streets in a bunch of cities in the Texas area. The idea is that when people see that their streets do not need to be dominated by cars, that they can be safe, communal spaces, they will be inspired to take action. To change local ordinances and ways of thinking, and make the Better Block installation a permanent reality.
In April 2010, the group hit Dallas’ Oak Cliff community: they cut a street’s three car lanes down to one, installed a bike lane, and enlarged the sidewalk into a wide patio. They installed pop-up businesses and cafes, set up a kids’ art studio and brought in local musicians. The amazing thing? They did it in one day, for less than $1,000.
Check out the results:
The Challenge
Now, Better Block is setting its sights on a bigger project: a 72 hour challenge to give Dallas its own, albeit temporary, grand boulevard. The goal is to remake 11 blocks of Ross Avenue to include a market, an art gallery, a music venue, a food court and a transit plaza.
Those interested are invited to sign up in teams and make their contribution. The “Build a Better Boulevard” challenge is set for June 24-26 and will coincide with Dallas’  Summer Streets program. It’s unclear whether and how a winner of the challenge will be designated, but it’s a sure bet that competitors and visitors to the “grand boulevard” will go home happy.
Interested in building a Better Block in your city? Check out their how to.
For more stories like this, follow me on Twitter.
More urban transformations:
Ritzy Parisian Boulevard Goes Rural as French Farmers (and Their Cows) Take Over Champs-Elysees
Spectacular Urban Transformation in Student Green Roof Design Competition
Parking Day NYC Isn’t Activism, It’s Unintentional Performance Art