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Lady Celeste

Traffic in Buckhead

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[begin gripe]

Yesterday I had the "pleasure" of being in Buckhead around about 5pmish. I had guest in town from Philadelphia and after much pressing, we decided to first go look at housing along Peachtree Dunwoody and then on to dinner at Fogo de Chao. Not my choice, theirs....TMI and not necessary for my post...anyway, we made the turn from Peachtree Dunwoody to Peachtree Rd.

Before we get to the light at Wieuca, the red lights begin. I figured that maybe it was people trying to trying to make the turn onto Lenox Rd heading to GA400 or 85. So I proceed. I must say, you get a great look at Phipps Plaza and the nicely manicured young men working the valet. In other words we were not moving fast at all. There were two women "strolling" along Peachtree Rd and they were getting to their destinations faster than we were. There was also a guy with shopping bags in his hands but his stride was more brisk as it was very cold yesterday. We knew he would be home before we were seated to eat. By this time you start to get the "mommy, how long before we get there?" questions. No amount of movies playing is going to quiet down hungry children. It was like utter gridlock.

We finally make it to the light at Lenox Rd. The red lights continued down Peachtree Rd. Now we were joined by the sea of white lights heading toward us. Me, thinking I can find a faster way to get to Piedmont, I decide that I will get to Piedmont Rd the backway and head southbound from Lenox Rd so I make the turn right onto Lenox Rd. Big mistake. No soon as we get to Phipps Blvd do we see yet another sea of red lights. At this point my guest are starting to question me. "This is a major American city, why don't people take transit?" "Why does everyone here drive to everywhere they need to go?" "Why does Atlanta not have more transit options?" Blah blah blah blah blah.

To change the subject, I start talking about all the wonderful highrises going up in the immediate area. When you are in gridlock, you get to really look at the place were you idle. We had made it to the intersection with GA400. GA400 southbound was literally NOT moving. This was causing the entrance ramps to back up onto Lenox Rd. It's like you ooze your way from GA400 to Piedmont Rd. At several of the intersections there were Atlanta police officers having to literally keep people from blocking the intersections which was causing all the gridlock. It was utter madness. I must say though that 3344 Peachtree is starting to make it's impression on the Buckhead Skyline. You can also see the crane for the Mansion as well. The skyline of Buckhead will be quite attractive.

Then it hit me. Terminus and 3344 Peachtree will add even more workers to this clearly stressed area of Buckhead. Then you have 3344 Peachtree, the Realm, Terminus, the Parc at Buckhead and the nine 40 story tall Related Group condo towers to add to the frey. Where and how are all these people going to get to their destinations? It would be literally better to walk than to drive in the area.

To finish my story, we finally make it to Lenox at Piedmont. By this time the trip computer is saying that we have been in this mess for a little under 45 minutes. From Peachtree Rd at Peachtree Dunwoody to Lenox Rd at Piedmont. When we get on Piedmont at heading southbound, I see that the traffic is just as bad heading south and northbound on Piedmont. If I was to live in one of this towers, could I do this every day potentially? Buckhead is an exciting place and would make for an exciting place to live I am sure.

We did finally make it to dinner. Which was great as most eateries in Buckhead are. it just took us what seemed like a million years to get there.

My question to the board is....

What can be done to alleviate the traffic mess in the Buckhead business district? Buildings are sprouting up in the area faster than kudzu. These are not the proposals but actual buildings under construction. Related has said it is moving forward with it's development at CityPlace at Buckhead. Something will have to be done...but what? The area is served by two MARTA stations. There is also the BUC. The roads cannot grow more than what they already are. How can this area be retrofitted to be more pedestrian friendly? Will Atlantans ever embrace public transportation? How much gridlock will it take before something is done?

BTW, my guest did say that Atlanta has a "pretty" collection of skyscrapers. They were shocked by the lack of public transportation. They say the growth is amazing. They say the traffic here is horrible.

[end gripe]

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Celeste, I live off Wieuca and am intimately familiar with the situation here.

It's a difficult problem to evaluate. All the major projects have to go through the DRI process, of course, and the traffic engineers and the ARC assure everyone there's plenty of capacity.

However, from the standpoint of someone who's lived here for a number of years and deals with the circumstances daily, I'll offer the following observations:

(1) For one thing, I'm afraid you hit December traffic, which is notoriously worse than it is the rest of the year.

(2) What's going on with GA 400 is complex. In the evening, it's usually the southbound traffic which backs up the worst. Typically the majority of the traffic is not people getting off at the Buckhead Loop (although that sometimes backs up, too, especially in December), but people who are heading to I-85 and destinations south of Buckhead. It's my impression that the majority of traffic through Buckhead and downtown Atlanta consists of commuters going from one suburb to another.

Here's a photo of GA 400 at the Buckhead Loop which shows typical evening rush hour traffic. As you will note, there's virtually no traffic on the exit or entrance ramps, and nearly all the cars are heading toward I-85 and points south. I often walk across this bridge and observe this phenomenon.

GA%20400%20Ramps.jpg

As to the Loop interchange itself, I think some of the delays are due to folks who try to squeeze through the lights and wind up getting caught in the middle of the intersection. A pox on their houses!!

(3) The surface street traffic is unpredictable. Most of the time it's not an issue, but other times it locks down (like it did during your visit) for no apparent reason. Last week I had to go to 3 separate evening meetings on Peachtree in Buckhead, two of which were in the exact same location and another which was very nearby. On two occasions, traffic was minimal and moved smoothly. I got to these meetings in 10 minutes. On the third occasion, traffic was totally locked down and it took nearly 40 minutes. Everyone was late, and no one could figure out where the traffic had become blocked.

(4) MARTA helps to some degree, but it has a lot of limitations. It doesn't directly aid navigation within Buckhead, since you'd have to change trains to ride from the Lenox station to the Buckhead station. It doesn't help people like you, since y'all would have to drive to the station nearest you, take the train to Buckhead, and then transfer to a bus to get to Piedmont. You could walk, but that's pretty difficult with kids and when the weather is cold. Clearly some commuters and shoppers ride the trains and buses to and from Buckhead, so that does lessen vehicle traffic to an extent.

(5) Local folks are, of course, pushing hard for more options. Fortunately the Buc was saved recently, and I'd really like to see it expanded. As a circulator system, it has great potential. We've also had some limited relief in terms of sidewalks and bike lanes, and everyone is clamoring for developers to make their projects walkable and accessible. Hopefully projects like the Peachtree Boulevard will help a little, and similar improvements are in the works for Piedmont. Nonetheless we're in for construction delays for years to come, and as you point out there are many more very large projects coming online.

But the fact is that pedestrian improvements really benefit mainly Buckhead residents. Most of the traffic comes from commuters and visitors who simply don't want to use public transportation and are committed to auto travel.

I think the locals will just have to grin and bear it. As I say, most of the time traffic moves pretty smoothly. A lot of us simply stay off the roads at rush hour. But this is Atlanta, and commuters are going to use their cars, especially the many who have to come from far away. I got snarled in a traffic jam in Midtown the other day, and spent half an hour staring at the Varsity parking lot. Compared to areas like Perimeter Mall and Holcombe Bridge and 400 north of 285, Buckhead is still a breeze, so I guess we can take some solace in that.

I would add that one of the major issues has to do with the use (or misuse, depending on your point of view) of impact fees. All the developments in Buckhead require the payment of transportation impact fees, and in the case of large developments these are quite substantial. However, rather than using these funds for the areas actually impacted, the city has taken the position that the money belongs to the whole city and it can therefore use these funds wherever it wants. Thus, even though a large project in Buckhead may generate big transportation impact fees which are designed to alleviate problems in Buckhead, the city often winds up spending the money for sidewalks and street improvements in other parts of town.

The allocation of impact fees from Buckhead to other areas of town has generated a good bit of frustration. It's compounded by the fact that a major portion of the city's property taxes already comes from Buckhead. Many of the city's cultural attractions (the Aquarium, the High Museum, the Arts Center, the Zoo, etc.) are funded by Buckhead residents as well. So in a sense it's analogous to the feelings which resulted in the formation of new cities in north Fulton and the Milton County movement. Some people feel like they are not getting a fair return on their taxes, development fees, and other investments in the city.

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Just a follow up to the photo above showing the evening rush hour. That photo was taken about 6:20 p.m.

Here's one of today's Monday morning rush hour. As you will note, there are very few vehicles on either the entrance or exit ramps at GA 400 and the Buckhead Loop. The vast majority of the traffic is just passing through on the way to or from other destinations. This is at about 7:45 a.m. I was on the surface streets shortly afterwards and there was no significant congestion. There were a number of vehicles on the streets, but no delays and people were traveling at the speed limit.

Why it occasionally locks down, I do not know. Wrecks, construction, Christmas shoppers at the malls?

GA%20400%20Ramps%202.jpg

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Traffic in Buckhead has made me cry---literally. Back when Buckhead was a giant frat party on the weekend, I made the mistake of going down Peachtree to get to the northside (just to be different)---two hours I spent on that street (and I'd just drank a lot at Turner Field and I wasn't in the best mood).

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Where and how are all these people going to get to their destinations? It would be literally better to walk than to drive in the area.

My question to the board is.... What can be done to alleviate the traffic mess in the Buckhead business district? Buildings are sprouting up in the area faster than kudzu. These are not the proposals but actual buildings under construction. Related has said it is moving forward with it's development at CityPlace at Buckhead. Something will have to be done...but what? The area is served by two MARTA stations. There is also the BUC. The roads cannot grow more than what they already are. How can this area be retrofitted to be more pedestrian friendly? Will Atlantans ever embrace public transportation? How much gridlock will it take before something is done?

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There are a few solutions that exist right now. Among those:

  • Carpooling (HOV lanes where they exist)

  • MARTA Buses

  • Where it exists, MARTA trains

  • Make the streets more pedestrian friendly

People could try this when it's availiable. Basically, we just need to improve on this. We might also want to try our hand at light rail and/or streetcars (unless we consider them to be "light rail", which I guess they are). Yes, I know expanding MARTA is a pipe dream (pun intended), but it was worth the suggestion.

If we could make the streets in Buckhead look as good as the tree-lined streets we see in renderings of the area we could definitely make an improvement.

Oh, and, as others have mentioned, you might have just gotten involved in the dreaded December traffic--which is not to take away from the horrors of traffic during the rest of the year, which is bad enough.

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While transit is an admirable goal, I'm not sure there is an effective way to add dedicated ROW transit to the area.

I'm not usually a proponent of roads, but the simple truth is the area has WAY too few roads to support the amount of development. There is almost as much office space there as downtown Charlotte, which is on a full grid, with 1 interstate, 2 non-interstate expressways, about 10 major thoroughfares, and plenty of smaller streets. In buckhead, there is 1 expressway, and 4 thoroughfares, and that's it. Considering most of the people who work in Buckhead don't live anywhere near there, it is a huge challenge to move those people.

No offense Andrea, but I think the single-family homes around the mall need to be bought up, and the area redeveloped with grid-like connections.....looking at an aerial, its easy to see all the mixed connection opportunities, or road that don't connect because its obvious the neighborhoods opposed it.

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^ Yes there is. Underground. MARTA can expend there...

Realisticly, I can see MARTA rail expanding, but it probably wouldn't be in the Buckhead area at all. Marietta and Gwinnett are more probably expansion areas. My personal preference is to not give any more lanes or other preferential treatment to cars. Atlanta has the major destinations that are so popular that people will find a way to get there if cars are impractical. Atlantans just need to realize this fact and adjustments to the urban environment to reinforce that idea.

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No offense Andrea, but I think the single-family homes around the mall need to be bought up, and the area redeveloped with grid-like connections.....

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Many friends of mine who live out that way tell me a one hour commute is a good day, and that it's often more like 1 1/2 to 2 hours. How do folks survive that?

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Unfortunately I think this will become one of the limiting factors to future development in Buckhead. With sooo much development in the pipeline, traffic is only going to get worse.

I do think that with the improvements to Peachtree (and subsequently other streets) and simply out of necessity, walking and transit will become more popular.

The other is creating pedestrian & bike friendly areas. I read that the Georgia DOT wants to enhance Peachtree St with wider sidewalks and bikelanes through Buckhead. This will be a huge help, but people have to start walking and biking, and setting themselves free from cars. Ultimately it will take people like you to help start a new trend of automobile independance. The locals should find alternate ways to get around to make their lives easier, and let the visitors deal with the congestion.

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Well, I'd be the first to say that Buckhead (and the rest of the city) needs to make transportation a very high priority. Fortunately, it's still not like the utterly mindboggling traffic you encounter outside the Perimeter but it will get worse if steps are not taken. The Streetcar may help, although some argue that it will make Atlanta's traffic even worse. In any event, that appears to be many years off.

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Well, I'd be the first to say that Buckhead (and the rest of the city) needs to make transportation a very high priority. Fortunately, it's still not like the utterly mindboggling traffic you encounter outside the Perimeter but it will get worse if steps are not taken. The Streetcar may help, although some argue that it will make Atlanta's traffic even worse. In any event, that appears to be many years off.

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One idea...

Atlanta's sales tax rate is scheduled to drop back to 7% this March or May (I can't remember) due to the expiration of a 1% SPLOST for Atlanta Public School Construction. If I were King, which unfortunately I'm not, we would keep the 8% rate currently in place and dedicate that expiring 1% to transit. There would be more then enough to cover the PeachCar (I just made that up) and quite a bit left over to look at the construction of another streetcar line. Possibly connecting Midtown to the Highlands using either Ponce or 10 St/ Virginia Ave.

The ideas batted around so far include a tax on parking (that's right parkinbg in MT/DT would get even more expensive) or a hotel/motel tax.

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No offense, but I find it interesting that your guest was complaining about nobody else using transit while you were in your vehicle. I bet that 90% of Atlantans think that transit is a great option for everyone else. I think that the attitude of "this is Atlanta" is far too common, and people have to start doing things differently there.

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Celeste, you hit an evening that was really bizarre. Nobody knows what happened but some of my neighbors are still complaining. I wonder if there was a wreck or a busted pipe somewhere?

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Celeste, you hit an evening that was really bizarre. Nobody knows what happened but some of my neighbors are still complaining. I wonder if there was a wreck or a busted pipe somewhere?

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It must have been. It was also leading up to the holiday season so that could have had something to dow ith it. I have been back since and I notice that at almost every intersection there are APD officers directing traffic. People must block the intersections?

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The homes are fabulous but there are literally no yard. If it was just my husband and I, this would be great. Most of the homes have very usable outside living spaces. Who knows, maybe one day I can stomach the $2,000,000+ price tags for homes with no yards.

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Expanding on what Andrea said about older homes, I think you will find that the front yards often hide the actual size of the lot. This is especially true in the streetcar suburbs like Inman Park. Back when they were built, houses were put close to the street because the public realm was valued back then. People would sit on their porches and interact with neighbors walking down the street. So the front yard is small but often the back yard is huge and extends back much further than you'd expect. Remember that back in those days that most people needed space for hanging out laundry to dry and often had gardens. Sometimes you'll even find that a home has a second back yard behind the yard you step into out the backdoor.

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^ Very true, especially in Grant Park. My house is less than 10 feet away from the sidewalk, but the yard is in total a respectable .1 acre. This is the big difference between the pre war & post war Wright influenced ranch style yards where the house typically sits over half the distance in the yard. Not to mention the zoning codes dictated in most cases 30' + distance setback.

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I don't know Andrea. My girlfriend's family lives up there and you would think Atlanta proper was in another state the way they talk about things. I mean just getting to 400 from their house is a nightmare, and they don't live more than 5-6 miles away from the exit. Seriously, it takes me longer to get across Alpharetta than it does to drive across Augusta. I'm not kidding. The northern suburbs of Atlanta are beautiful with the natural scenery and I see why people are attracted to those areas, but the traffic is a nightmare.

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Everyone always blames GA400 and with good reason. The highway is YEARS BEHIND in capacity and proper upgrades. They're just now widening it when it truly needed it about 8+ years ago, haha.

However, regardless of 400's troubles, the Atlanta area's biggest mistake has always been not supporting better and MORE transit options. I would hop on a train or a bus in a minute if it were near me or took me where I needed to go.

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The only thing that widening GA400 "8+" years ago would have acomplished is the acceleration of development in N Fulton. Study after study has conclusivly demonstrated that increased road capacity does nothing more then induce higher demand. No city on earth has ever been able to pave it's way out of congestion. Reducing demand is the only responsible way to alleviate congestion and the resulting pollution.

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While transit is an admirable goal, I'm not sure there is an effective way to add dedicated ROW transit to the area.

I'm not usually a proponent of roads, but the simple truth is the area has WAY too few roads to support the amount of development. There is almost as much office space there as downtown Charlotte, which is on a full grid, with 1 interstate, 2 non-interstate expressways, about 10 major thoroughfares, and plenty of smaller streets. In buckhead, there is 1 expressway, and 4 thoroughfares, and that's it. Considering most of the people who work in Buckhead don't live anywhere near there, it is a huge challenge to move those people.

No offense Andrea, but I think the single-family homes around the mall need to be bought up, and the area redeveloped with grid-like connections.....looking at an aerial, its easy to see all the mixed connection opportunities, or road that don't connect because its obvious the neighborhoods opposed it.

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