The first ever Streets Alive event in Atlanta was held today in downtown Atlanta. Streets were closed to automobile traffic from 1pm to 6pm today and were opened to pedestrians, cyclists, in-line skaters and performers. The event was modeled on the Ciclovia event in Bogota, Columbia that essentially shuts down the main streets all over the city to motorized traffic every Sunday. This type of event has gained popularity in the states and all over the world by cities looking to move away from car dependency and encourage other forms of transportation as well as other ways to enjoy the cities.
I decided to go down to see what it was all about today. The weather was nice (just a little hot) and it turned out to be an interesting event. The city agreed to close about a 1 mile stretch of Edgewood Avenue west of Peachtree as well as a shorter stretch of Auburn Avenue. If I have any complaints about the event, it would be the location and the lack of understanding of the event.
If you are familiar with that part of the city, you know that it has rapidly gentrified over the past 10 years and it has a very rich history. However, even but it still has a little way to go in the areas of security and aesthetics. It was interesting to see the older architecture illustrating the historic element of the area It is rich in history and there were some interesting businesses and stops along the route such at the Sweet Auburn Curbside Market. The area overall just doesn't have a very welcoming feel to it. The storefront below pictured below didn't make us feel welcome at all.
While we were there, it seemed that the people, other than the cyclists, didn't really know what to do. There were a lot of people off on the sidewalk and in the side parks but not as many were actually in the streets. I'm sure that over time these types of events will become more popular and we will start to see people understand what they are all about.
I really think the main problem here (if there was one) was one of location. I think one of the main reasons for this type of event is to showcase the power of the local community and make people aware of alternative possibilities. i.e. What else can we do with our roads? That area of downtown does have a long standing community and a number of residential areas but it just didn't seem like the community was a big presence. On the other hand, if the purpose of the location was to present a part of the city that was hindered by the movement of designing cities for the car rather than for people that began in the mid 20th century, they picked a good place. You have an area that has been decimated by the freeway cutting right through it and many traffic policies that just don't work well for pedestrian life. When I think about this event though, I wonder if putting the negative issues on display is more important than having a successful event where people feel welcome. If you were looking to make people feel happy, I'd look at VaHi, Inman Park, Midtown (10th Street?), West Midtown or maybe even a section of Peachtree Street.
Now, how do I tie this back to Roswell? If you have attended any of the Alive After Five events, you will know that we have our own little 'street' party here in Roswell. It's not quite a Streets Alive but it may be getting close. At the last event, the amount of traffic congestion on Canton Street was overwhelming. The business owners love the traffic but I think they would benefit more from safer foot traffic. My suggestion would be to shut down a really short stretch of Canton Street from Norcross Street south to the Atlanta Street intersection. This wouldn't impact a significant number of commutes and it would make the entire scene safer and more fun.