Mayor’s Office of Communications
55 Trinity Avenue, Suite 2500 • Atlanta, Georgia 30303
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 4, 2017
Mayor Kasim Reed Statement on the Northside Drive Pedestrian Bridge
ATLANTA – The new bridge over Northside Drive is an idea whose time has come, one that holds great promise for the City of Atlanta as a connector between downtown and our historic Westside communities.
On Election Day 2016, Atlanta voters overwhelmingly approved a large and historic expansion of MARTA and a major transportation infrastructure referendum that puts us at the forefront of American cities choosing to invest in their futures. In doing so, Atlanta residents affirmed their strong desire for more transit options and a safer, better-connected city. They also validated the decisions my administration has made to improve transportation and pedestrian landscapes all over the city.
In 21st Century America, a city’s connectivity and walkability are major factors in attracting and retaining young, skilled workers and the companies looking to hire them. The steady influx of businesses and new residents to the City of Atlanta in 2016 is directly related to this strategy. Moreover, this growth is strengthening our economy across all sectors, leading to lower unemployment and greater opportunities for our residents.
The new bridge over Northside Drive linking Westside neighborhoods to Downtown Atlanta is a major example of an essential infrastructure piece that will improve – and possibly save – residents’ lives.The bridge will offer a safe crossing of Northside Drive, which for years has been a dangerous barrier preventing easy passage from the Westside to Downtown’s economic and cultural opportunities.
At its best, however, it will facilitate a mutual exchange - a “two-way street” - that will help introduce tourists and residents to these historic Westside communities where so much of Atlanta’s leadership came of age and still lives. Imagine visitors to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights following up their experience with a short walk to the Herndon Home.
Some critics of the bridge fail to see the big picture, preferring to focus narrowly on its connection to Mercedes-Benz Stadium. They ignore the fact that the Falcons organization chose the current site of the stadium specifically because of its unmatched access to MARTA. It also has broad implications for our city’s future development and the impact felt on game days and during other special events. By making transit to the stadium a more pleasant and accessible experience, this bridge will ease the impact of more than 70,000 people and their cars coming into surrounding neighborhoods during stadium events.
Recent press coverage of the proposed bridge has also failed to mention the institutions we have established with private partners, in order to ensure that the money going to the community is being spent ethically and transparently. After the Georgia Dome was built, more than $100 million was deployed in grants to community groups on the Westside. More than 95 percent of those grants were defaulted on. One of those groups was led by the same man quoted in a recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution article for being opposed to this project. Things have changed this time around, and not in his favor.
When it comes to the Westside, the whole is greater than its parts. The Northside Drive pedestrian bridge is one component in a strategic portfolio of improvements that is moving the needle for residents of Vine City and English Avenue. Numerous private philanthropic efforts and public-private partnerships already show signs of success.
- The Westside Future Fund has established the Westside Action Plan after months of intensive community engagement and research.
- The YMCA of Metro Atlanta recently announced plans to build its new headquarters on the Morris Brown College campus, an investment of $20 million with dedicated resources and programs for neighborhood residents.
- The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation has marshalled extensive resources to fight displacement and foster economic development and job growth in Vine City and English Avenue, through programs such as Westside Works.
- This year we launched the City of Refuge Workforce Development Project, a joint job-training effort of The Coca Cola Company, Chick-fil-A and the City of Atlanta through Worksource Atlanta.
- The At Promise Youth Center will offer educational advancement and diversionary programs for teens in Zone 1, thanks to $2 million in philanthropic funds from Georgia Power, GE, Carter and the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.
Additionally, every department and agency within the City of Atlanta has been charged with identifying ways to support transformational change on the Westside:
- The City successfully pursued the $30 million HUD Choice Neighborhood grant, which will leverage an additional $350 million to support historically sensitive housing and economic-development efforts, such as the Scholars Landing senior residences.
- A $10 million federal TIGER grant is the centerpiece for the renovation of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. That corridor will realize $35 million investment, which will build connectivity, safety improvements and economic development along more than seven miles of this historic city street.
- The City of Atlanta’s economic development efforts were essential in securing the new UPS sorting facility, announced earlier this month for Southwest Atlanta, a $400 million investment that will provide 1,250 jobs.
- Invest Atlanta has also established a grant fund to assist existing and new businesses along Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, and it supports working families and young people in purchasing homes in Westside neighborhoods.
- The City’s bicycle share program, Relay, will be headquartered on the Westside. We have hired Bike Share Champions to focus on outreach and education specifically in Westside neighborhoods. This affordable and convenient program provides residents with greater access to job and economic opportunities.
- The Department of Parks and Recreation implemented my campaign pledge to re-open all our recreation centers and swimming pools in the city, leading to the restoration of the Maddox Park Pool and Reverend James Orange Pool.
- We also have established ten Centers of Hope, where 1,700 kids a week get a hot meal and access to tutoring, mentoring and character-building programs.
- We are building and restoring parks in order to mitigate flooding and enhance neighborhoods’ quality of life and economic development, including Vine City Park and Lindsay Street Park.
- The City is currently working toward construction and completion of two of the most important and exciting parks projects in our history with Westside Reservoir Park and the Proctor Creek Greenway.
- The successful passage of the TSPLOST referendum enables the City to purchase the remaining right of way for the Atlanta BeltLine, building on the work on the Westside Trail, the second and largest portion of the BeltLine. The Westside Trail construction is funded in part by a $17 million TIGER grant and through generous support of private donors.
- The TSPLOST will also fund Complete Streets, multi-use paths and greenway trails.
- Renew Atlanta Infrastructure Bond projects include the resurfacing of streets; sidewalk improvements; and traffic-signal upgrades specifically in Vine City and English Avenue.
- MARTA’s expansion will provide more vigorous and efficient bus access throughout our neighborhoods.
Westside residents also deserve to live in safe neighborhoods:
- The Atlanta Police Department has partnered with the Atlanta Police Foundation and PulteGroup Homes to establish up to 25 new homes for officers to live in the communities they serve.
- New police cameras were integrated into the Video Integration Center at key points, serving as a crime deterrent – part of the City’s five-year goal to install 10,000 cameras.
- The Department of Corrections’ “Clean and Close” program has cleaned up and closed more than 216 blighted properties since its launch, saving hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.
- The City renewed efforts to force owners to register vacant properties and to prosecute slumlords and code-enforcement violators.
- The Atlanta Police Department joined county and federal partners to systematically dismantle drug dealing networks, which drove violent crime and crowded out neighborhood rehabilitation efforts.
These projects speak volumes about the overall promise and sense of purpose on the Westside. They represent tremendous, groundbreaking investment by the City of Atlanta, local agencies and the philanthropic sector in addressing the breadth and depth of the challenges faced by these neighborhoods.
Yet some criticize the cost of the Northside Drive pedestrian bridge.
The Atlanta City Council has authorized up to $12.8 million for design and construction of the bridge. The total cost has not yet been finalized. Any costs over this amount will be subject to Council review and approval. They are not guaranteed.
But the money we propose to spend on the bridge will be well within reason when you consider the ecosystem of positive change being engineered on the Westside.
I am confident that we will build an aesthetically pleasing bridge worthy of connection to the re-imagined MLK Drive corridor – a bridge that is symbolic of some of the most treasured neighborhoods in the City of Atlanta.
I believe that we have an obligation to build an architectural statement that represents the legacy of these working-class communities which mean so much to our city.
Beauty ought to matter. We get one chance to do this right. If we choose to add the amenities that guarantee a truly iconic structure, we will make our case for additional funds to the City Council, openly and transparently.
I am convinced that the Northside Drive bridge will be a vital and beautiful lifeline whose impact extends far beyond Mercedes-Benz Stadium on one side of the road and beyond the Vine City MARTA station on the other. It will provide our residents and visitors with a path to opportunity and unprecedented reach deep into the heart and soul of Atlanta.
For more information about the City of Atlanta, please visit http://www.atlantaga.gov or watch City Channel 26. Follow the City of Atlanta on Facebook and Twitter @CityofAtlanta. Follow Mayor Reed on Facebook and Twitter @Kasim Reed