Imagine a street where bicycles, cars, pedestrians, and yes, even motorized scooters all share the same space, with no markings such as sidewalks or bike paths to delineate where each should go.
Shared streets, as they’re often called, are popular in other countries, particularly in Europe. (The Dutch call them woonerfs, or “living streets.”)
Now, the city of Atlanta Department of City Planning is exploring transforming a section of Peachtree Street, its signature thoroughfare, into a shared street.
Why convert to shared streets?
The reason, according to supporters of the concept, is twofold: First, the streets are ultimately for everyone. As CityLab put it, “The basic idea is that once these controls are stripped away, everyone is forced to become more alert and ultimately more cooperative. Through less restraint comes greater focus.”
The second reason has to do with street life. Advocates credit shared streets with adding activity and vibrancy to commercial areas around the world. Lately, American cities like Seattle and Chicago have taken on the shared street challenge.
Peachtree as a Shared Street
“Peachtree may be Atlanta’s best-known street, but its current design leaves a lot to be desired. We can change that,” says Kevin Bacon, director of the Department’s Atlanta City Studio, which developed the concept’s design.
“This is about our public realm,” he said, “the space that we haven’t invested in or designed the way we should. But it’s not too late to change that if we want to compete with the other great cities of the world. And what better place to start than our very own main street?”
To help people envision what a shared Peachtree Street would look like, Atlanta City Studio unveiled renderings during last fall’s Atlanta Streets Alive, which closed traffic around Peachtree Center to cars. During the event, artists painted and sketched the street-life they saw.
These works of art, along with the renderings of Peachtree as a shared street, are on display at The Hub at Peachtree Center through April 3 and at the upcoming Atlanta Streets Alive Central on April 7. Also on view: a series of historical images of Peachtree Street, courtesy of The Atlanta History Center.
Bacon sees opportunities like Atlanta Streets Alive and the exhibit as opportunities to engage the public in debate and conversation early in the design process. After all, there’s still a lot to figure out in terms of things like pedestrian safety and traffic.
Through funding from the Atlanta Regional Commission, the Department of City Planning is set to conduct a feasibility study in the months to come to look into these and other issues.
Shared Streets — Global Designing Cities Initiative
What’s Next ATL, produced by the Atlanta Regional Commission, is a community resource that explores how metro Atlanta is growing and changing, and how the region is addressing its most pressing challenges.