Why black community needs Complete Streets
My wife and I are over 60-years-old and we are avid tennis players, bikers, golfers, walkers and we practice yoga at least twice a week. We live on the westside of Atlanta where we have resided for more than 40 years. We welcome the new Complete Streets (CS) renovations underway on Martin Luther King Drive from Northside to I-285. We see them as the way to a healthier, safer, and more sustainable future.
Contrary to the belief by some of my friends from Cascade Heights and beyond, the improvements being made to MLK are the very ones they and other south-side neighborhoods should covet for the well-being of their residents. The idea that MLK is the poster child for what not to do in the black community is quite offensive and short-sighted. It is exactly what Cascade Rd, Metropolitan Parkway, Peyton Rd and other southside streets need. Perhaps city officials, including the leadership, have not done a good enough job educating the public and elevating its awareness of the treasure trove of benefits that come with CS.
Prior to street improvements on MLK, attempting to ride our bikes from our Washington Park neighborhood to the C.T. Martin Natatorium and Recreation Center was literally taking our lives into our own hands. Automobiles zipped pass honking angrily, and drivers clearly perceived our being on the road as a threat to their belief of a God-given right to rule the roads. These are streets that we, as taxpayers, collectively pay for whether we drive or not.
But now, due to CS that have been added, the trip is not as risky. My daughter can cross the street at MLK and Morris Brown and visit the newly renovated Fulton County library and face less risk crossing due to the new flower-populated median and traffic signal that digitally counts down, warning her of how much time she has to cross.
According to the US Department of Transportation, “Complete Streets are streets designed and operated to enable safe use and support mobility for all users. Those include people of all ages and abilities, regardless of whether they are travelling as drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, or public transportation riders.” CS often include dedicated bike lanes, streetscapes, median islands, and accessible pedestrian signals. Data show that these designs reduce vehicle-related crashes and injury to pedestrians. One study cited on the Transportation department website found that 43% of people using CS are more likely to meet current recommendations for regular physical activity than those reporting no place to walk.
Given these stats, then why are some residents in the city suggesting that the Complete Streets program is some kind of clandestine way of promoting gentrification? Do they really believe that the lives saved and the health benefits accrued should only be for whiter and wealthier residents? The notion that the black community dislikes (or does not deserve) these safety amenities and aesthetic accouterments is foolish at best and racial stereotyping at worst.
I understand there are multiple reasons some oppose CS. It seems to take forever to build them. The temporary disruption to travel bothers some. Also, CS are inconvenient to residents who have become overly dependent upon cars to get from point A to point B. And then there is the issue of trust. Many black residents just don’t trust that city hall cares enough about south and west-side neighborhoods to bring something of value for which they did not have to beg.
But reinvesting and rebuilding our infrastructure are not short-term projects. If our city is going to continue to thrive, we must embrace both the present and future. We are building a next generation infrastructure to take us forward 20 or 30 years. The last thing we would want to do is to waste hard earned taxpayer dollars building yesterday’s infrastructure. Smart, safe and sustainable infrastructure, like our environment, is a precious gift we pass on to our children and our children’s children.