Proposal aims to open more streets to be used by pedestrians and bike riders

Council member Amir Farokhi, center, introduced legislation to consider closing certain streets to car use in order to provide access to safe, public space for residents to exercise and socialize at a distance.

Legislation approved by the Council on Monday, May 18 aims to reduce access to streets for car use and open them to people walking and biking. With less traffic on the roads during the COVID-19 pandemic, the proposal seeks to give pedestrians and cyclists more room to properly distance for exercise and essential travel.

The legislation gives Neighborhood Planning Units (NPUs) the opportunity to weigh in on street closures in their jurisdiction and asks the commissioner of the Atlanta Department of Transportation (ADOT) to look for “long-term opportunities to repurpose streets and lanes” beyond the immediate crisis.

District 2 Council member Amir Farokhi, who introduced the proposal along with District 5 Council member Natalyn Archibong and District 6 Council member Jennifer Ide, noted that the pandemic presents an opportunity to reimagine how street space is allocated.

“The legislation doesn’t specify any streets. It really leaves it up to ADOT to start to look around the city. I’m sure there are plenty of suggestions that Council members can make, and residents can make as to which streets they think would be right for this kind of treatment,” Farokhi said. “But the legislation itself is simply kind of a call to action that urges ADOT to consider doing this.”

With cities around the world facing similar challenges because of the pandemic, travel patterns have been significantly altered. As a result, municipalities such as Oakland, Philadelphia, Boston, Minneapolis, and New York have instituted some form of an open streets plan to enable safer walking and cycling.

“The general underpinning is that in this COVID-19 pandemic, cities across the country, including Atlanta, have seen vehicle traffic go down and walking and biking go up, and oftentimes, people are walking and biking in the streets, because they need more space. They want to keep social distance,” Farokhi said. “I think this is a unique opportunity that many other cities both in the metro region and across the country and around the world have taken advantage of to repurpose those streets for cyclists and pedestrians.”

As the summer unfolds and warmer weather brings more people outside, space availability tends to shrink. Being physically active is considered one of the best ways to stay healthy and people often visit public spaces to stay active, relieve stress, get fresh air, and connect with others. Converting streets to create more space can potentially help reduce overcrowding at public places such as parks and trails, which public health officials have warned against. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists several recommendations for visiting parks and recreational facilities during the pandemic, which are available here.

As cities adapt to new guidelines and realities because of COVID-19, the legislation approved Monday seeks to provide residents with a greater ability to spend time outside, while also aiming to safely shift some of the underutilized infrastructure in the city and promote responsible use of the public right-of-way.

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Information from the Atlanta City Council

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