There's no denying it: Buckhead is booming. And no one knows that better than Jim Durrett, who serves as the Executive Director of the Buckhead Community Improvement District (CID). We were curious: What does he perceive as Buckhead's biggest draw? What, in his opinion, does all of the development mean for the commercial heart of the area, generally along Peachtree Road from Buckhead Village to Lenox Square? Does he believe Traffic-ocalypse is imminent? The BCID represents just 2.5 square miles, but the magnitude of changes (and brewing proposals) in this particular area promises to impact the whole of Buckhead for decades to come.
Curbed Atlanta: Buckhead is experiencing explosive growth, with mixed-use projects, residential developments and office buildings rising along Peachtree Road between Buckhead Triangle and Lenox Square. How do you see Buckhead differentiating itself from development throughout the rest of the city, with Midtown and the north-end Perimeter, and what do you think is the biggest draw to the area?
Jim Durrett: Buckhead is well situated within the region to be accessed by vehicle from locations within the city of Atlanta and locations to the north along the GA 400 corridor and to the northeast along the I-85 corridor. With two MARTA transit stations (Buckhead and Lenox) located within Buckhead just one stop from the nexus of the Gold and Red rail lines at Lindbergh, Buckhead is well connected to the entire MARTA service area via train and bus. We are a significant urban center with substantial employment, retail, dining and entertainment opportunities and, thankfully, a growing residential base.
CA: Streetscaping has been an ongoing project throughout Buckhead, especially on the Peachtree Road corridor. While the streets are being beautified, how can the pedestrian and cycling experience be improved, both experientially and from a safety perspective?
JD: Streetscape work is not just about aesthetics, it is principally about form and function. With every foot of streetscape improvement we are making, we are increasing the walkability of the district. As sidewalks are improved and development and redevelopment continue, not only will sidewalks be improved, but the walk will become more interesting, more pleasant and more utilitarian. As far as making the area suitable for getting around on bicycles, we are working to increase opportunities, where appropriate, for on-street bicycle facilities. In addition, we are partnering with the PATH Foundation and Livable Buckhead to create a bike/ped trail, called PATH400, that will be over five miles in length, connecting people in Buckhead to the Atlanta Beltline and other trails near Piedmont and I-85. And when the City of Atlanta rolls out its bike share program later this year, Buckhead will get its fair share of stations and bicycles.
CA: With new development comes more vehicular traffic on roads which are already perpetually clogged. What planning is being done to ameliorate the conditions and prepare for even more cars on the road?
JD: We continue to study and plan, with the City of Atlanta and the Georgia DOT as our partners, to improve how our streets can handle automobile traffic. This involves road expansion where warranted and feasible, intersection improvements, and restriping of roads to provide center turn lanes. By removing turning vehicles from travel lanes and adding left turn arrows to traffic signals, we will have safer roads (protected left turns and reduced vehicle weaving) and more reliable trips. However, it is important for everybody to understand that there is only so much that can be done to optimize how our streets handle traffic. The next time you lament that you are stuck in traffic, consider that, in fact, you are traffic. That is why we need also to be creating viable options for getting around without use of an automobile and encouraging a healthy mix of office, residential and retail development. We need to examine the demand side of the transportation equation and, through our behaviors and choices, reduce the stress on our street network.
CA: And how does transit play a role in shaping this?
JD: Transit has, perhaps, the most important role to play. Two things need to happen before it plays as significant a role as it ought to play: First, people need to take full advantage of what is out there now and get on the bus; second, we need to fund MARTA to a greater extent than we do now so that more service can be added. A fifteen minute headway for the 110 along Peachtree is quite reasonable, but MARTA is in the process of reimagining its entire bus operation to provide context-appropriate bus service. As a MARTA board member, I can tell you that we are doing everything we can to optimize the service we can afford to provide, but you can't squeeze a dollar out of a dime.
CA: A side effect of new developments is the loss of tree cover and greenery in the area, as well as loss of historic buildings, which lent character to Buckhead. Are there any plans in place to prevent irreparable natural and historic loss while still allowing for growth?
JD: The growth that we are experiencing is vertical growth, and historic and natural resource loss is not much of a factor, in my opinion. We have two excellent zoning ordinances in place within the CID, with associated development review committees, that were the city's first form-based zoning codes.
CA: While Buckhead is rapidly becoming more dense, it's also one of the areas of the city with the least amount of open park space. Projects like PATH400 and Charlie Loudermilk Park area creating new and revitalized spaces, but will it be enough to provide Buckhead residents with outdoor gathering places?
JD: The initiation of PATH400 and the renovation of Charlie Loudermilk Park are harbingers of things to come. They are necessary components of a pallet of outdoor gathering places, but clearly not sufficient for this community. Several years ago we funded a greenspace planning effort that led to the creation of the Buckhead Collection, describing a collection of parks, trails and greenspaces to be pursued in creating the outdoor gathering places you ask about. We are well on the way to implementing this plan, and PATH400 is a direct result of this effort.
CA: And the proposal to cap Ga. 400 between Peachtree and Lenox has garnered a lot of attention, and many are very optimistic this transformative project could be realized. What are the chances of the project happening, and if so, what type of timeline should be expected realistically?
JD: It is premature to predict the chances of success for putting a park on top of Ga. 400, because we have only begun to examine the opportunity and generate the information upon which to make the decision to move forward to construction. We intend to do this right with a thoughtful process, to understand the opportunity, the costs, the benefits, the funding options. But this kind of project has been done before — Klyde Warren Park in Dallas is a model we are examining. If you force me to establish a timeline, once the feasibility is established and the funding model is picked, which I would think can be done in 2016, then, if the case is strong enough and attracts the necessary funding, we could have a park by 2025.