A Tale of Two Bridges: Infrastructure and Equity

Urbanists in Atlanta and around the country are tearing their hair out after discovering the Northside Drive pedestrian bridge at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium came with a $33 million price tag – a figure the City has since disputed. Coinciding with budget shortfalls in the Renew Atlanta bond program, this prioritization illustrates the disparity between public funding for flashy projects and basic city infrastructure like sidewalks and multimodal streets. The shiny new bridge, a twisting collection of concrete and metal meant to funnel walkers over a six-lane car sewer, appears to some as a beacon of progress. For us, it is a glaring reminder that the Atlanta is often not built to foster equity.

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Lessons from Market Street

Some will recognize the image above as a still from the film “A Trip Down Market Street”, shot in 1906 in San Francisco by Harry Miles. Notable for capturing images of San Francisco only days before much of the city was destroyed by earthquake and fire, the film also depicts the American streetscape as it was before the private automobile became the dominant form of transportation.

The freedom of travel and vibrant street life on display is a world apart from today’s urban streetscapes: streetcars, horsedrawn carriages, cars, pedestrians, and cyclists move across an open, shared streetscape, unconstrained by lanes, speed limits, or stoplights. It’s a snapshot of an urban streetscape before private cars became the dominant form of transportation. For today’s urbanists, the democratic design of Market Street contains a lesson that can, and should, be reincorporated into today’s cities: a streetscape that gave each mode of transportation equal claim to the public right of way.

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