Walkability, lingering auto-centric thinking and parking plans in Athens, Georgia.


From the Flagpole in Athens, Georgia, comes two articles about urban design and prospects for walkability, both prompted by Jeff Speck’s appearance in the city earlier in 2013. In the first piece, we get some fire, brimstone and a project reminiscent of  New Albany’s blessedly defunct River View development.

Downtown Athens Is at a Crossroads, comment by Melissa Link

While a downtown master plan is nearing completion, a recent visit from the acclaimed author of Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time, Jeff Speck, assured us that we’re “not that screwed up.” But we stand at a crossroads where we could very well take the road to screwed up soon enough. The public, as well as economic pragmatism, screams for walkability, yet those with big bucks and the ears of the powers-that-be are chained to a failing auto-centric past with a primary concern for maximum short-term personal profitability.

A related essay describing Speck’s visit to Athens contains a nugget for discussion on the topic of parking. I spoke briefly on Saturday with a resident of Bloomington, Indiana, who said that the recent re-installation of parking meters there is having a bad effect on downtown business. She conceded it had been a small period of sampling thus far. Parking’s usually a “wave the bloody shirt” sort of digression, but one thing is entirely certain to me: The “hands-off” approach instituted during the Malysz administration, in which parking (and other) rules are enforced in some parts of the city and not in others, needs to be changed. You simply can’t make a mockery of rule of law and then expect people to obey it.

Jeff Speck Tells Us the Era of Sprawl Is Over, “Athens Rising” column by Stella Smith

Counterintuitively, increasing parking rates increases the number of stores and, in turn, increases walkability. Higher parking rates encourage people to walk rather than drive; the cheaper the parking, the more likely people are to drive. Raising the cost of parking in front of shops and restaurants keeps people from parking in them all day and encourages people to park in them only while shopping or dining. Parking decks should be cheaper for those who have to park all day.