Atlanta May Convert Main Drag into a Dutch ‘Woonerf’

A rendering of a redesigned Peachtree Street that gives pedestrians free roam. Image:  Atlanta City Studio
A rendering of a redesigned Peachtree Street that gives pedestrians free roam. Image: Atlanta City Studio

Want to reimagine a historic Main Street as a lively, people-centered place again? Maybe the secret is to remove the curbs.

That’s Atlanta’s plan for a two-mile stretch of Peachtree Street in downtown, which may be turned into a European-style “Woonerf” or “shared space.”

This design removes the physical barriers between the sidewalks and streets and gives pedestrians freedom to roam — and priority. Drivers are still allowed to travel through the space — but must do so slowly, negotiating right of way with pedestrians and cyclists.

This model has been used with great success in European plazas, where cars are allowed, but strictly regulated. Counterintuitively, reducing separation between drivers and pedestrians can improve safety by forcing drivers to slow down and pay attention.

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An example of a Shared Space in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Peachtree Street was historically a great gathering space for the region — a Times Square of the South, if you will. An exhibit is currently showcasing photos of historic Peachtree Street to show how the area has changed.

The project is part of a larger effort in Atlanta to provide a more walkable, less car dependent city.

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Atlanta has already managed, however, to make the street lively once again — but only on a temporary basis. Atlanta Streets Alive, an open streets event on Peachtree, attracted about 126,000 people early this month, according to Curbed — an absolutely enormous crowd. Event organizers, used the event to show off the potential new format for the street.

The plan is still in the early stages, a city official tells Streetsblog and the city is preparing to launch a feasibility study for the concept that would establish a cost estimate and traffic impacts projections.

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