For the month of March, I gave up all solo trips in my automobile. It’s been a desire of mine to live car free and I wanted to try it again. Through the month, I posted my musings using #nocaratl on Instagram and Twitter - feel free to look them up.
My biggest fear going into this month was feeling stuck. The car appears to gives us “freedom” to go wherever we want when we want to. I envisioned myself at a Marta bus stop at 9pm waiting for a bus. That’s not what I found at all! The month offered a feast of small and interesting insights. I can’t share them all, but I wanted to highlight two observations and challenges I encountered over the month we need to think about.
#1 Neighborhoods with easier public transit are gentrifying faster.
If you take stock of which neighborhoods have gentrified in your city, notice what they have in common. Chances are, they are the ones that present multiple transportation options - walking, biking, bus, train, etc. More people moving to cities want those amenities and will seek out neighborhoods that offer them.
In and of itself, that pattern isn’t a problem. It can even be a good thing. The problem arises when those who cannot afford to live there anymore are pushed out to areas where transit access is less than desirable. The reality is - those moving into gentrifying neighborhoods are like me: they want the option of public transit but often still own cars - or at least can afford to. Those moving out often don’t own cars - or if they do, they’re not reliable.
Options shouldn’t be reserved for people of means. As the city changes and accepts new people we need to be extra careful about making space for those living with a lesser income. We need to think about whether we’re pushing them away from much-needed transit. Otherwise, we are going to create an environment where life is extremely challenging in regards to transportation for our lower income neighbors.
#2 What’s good for me as a pedestrian/transit user/biker is often viewed as a threat to drivers.
Fewer driving lanes, lower speeds, fewer curb cuts (driveways), bike lanes, more connections, and such make my life on foot more pleasant, and more importantly, more safe.
The challenge here is that these amenities weren’t built for a long time by transportation planners because they were seen as traffic-slowing. City planners didn’t want to slow traffic because they were prioritizing cars getting to their destinations as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, the goal of getting cars quickly to their destination leads to speeds that are lethal to me as a pedestrian. Over time, basic safety features can be seen as a threat to drivers accomplishing the task for which the road was built.
When these challenges combine, a historically lower-income neighborhood where residents rely on public transit faces a lot of risk and costs when getting around. Historic South Atlanta sits squarely in these crosshairs. We are an older neighborhood with pedestrian infrastructure that connects to other parts of the city. Our neighborhood has not gentrified yet - allowing close access to many city amenities to those living on a lower income. We also have major roads that serve commuters to the south of us that want the roads to be as fast as possible. So our major streets - Pryor Rd, Jonesboro Rd, and McDonough Blvd all have traffic going too fast for the pedestrians on our streets.
How we move forward from here will define both our neighborhood - and our city. Can we create a safe transportation network for all that allows for residents of any income to reside and enjoy the benefits of it? I think the question is an important one - and we’re not talking enough about it.