By Skyler Hassan
The City of Atlanta is accepting online comments and votes through February 26 concerning possible improvements to Boulevard SE between Glenwood Avenue and McDonough Boulevard (City Council District 1).
On January 21 and 23, the city held Zoom meetings about these alternatives. Hosts included Transportation Commissioner Josh Rowan, Atlanta District 1 Councilmember Carla Smith, Ian McCrae of Renew Atlanta, and other city staff. The intended purpose for the public meetings was to allow input from affected residents as required by federal and state regulations but there was little opportunity, as attendees’ microphones were muted. In the second meeting, both the chat and Q&A features were disabled as well.
Federally-required public meetings mandate that a free exchange be accessible to participants. Only allowing a chat feature may be insufficient, according to the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia’s website. Disabling all opportunity for live public participation violates federal and state law. While hate speech (the asserted justification for muting input) is undeniably horrible, it does not authorize the city government to censor citizens.
At both meetings Councilmember Smith repeatedly referred to measures such as crosswalk signals and complete streets as “bells and whistles,” as if these were merely nice to look at rather than much-needed life-saving solutions.
According to Rowan, the design phase for the potential federal-grant-funded option would not begin for at least five years, and would take another five to ten years to complete. Regarding the other proposed option, the 18-to-24-month road diet, he stated that the money would be held as future matching federal grant funds, which is why the city is asking residents to make a false choice between the two plans. During the second meeting, Commissioner Rowan opposed the more immediate road diet option, which has funding by Renew Atlanta, choosing instead to advance the five-to-ten-year plan. We are being asked to put off relief for pedestrian safety for the possibility of a federal grant to fund a plan that will take longer to implement and delay improvements for as long as 30 years.
As a resident living on Boulevard, as well as the Chair of the Neighborhood Planning Unit W Transportation committee, I suggest residents support the 18-to-24-month road diet option to construct a safer street now. Advocacy groups including Slow Down Boulevard, A Safer Boulevard, and the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition also endorse this plan.
Slow Down Boulevard founder Victoria Lansford attended both meetings and contends, “The city has made participation as difficult and opaque as possible. They violated our right to petition our government by censoring our voices in federally-required community input meetings. They even discontinued the ability to critique their patently confusing and misleading ‘questionnaire.’” In response to citizens’ complaints, the City revised the comment card on January 28, but the card’s link was broken.
All Boulevard users are encouraged to vote and comment at https:// renewatlanta.s3.amazonaws.com/documents/Comment-Card_BLVD-01.21n23.211.pdf. (The full presentation may also be found at www.renewatlantabond.com. Select “Projects,” “Complete Streets,” then “South Boulevard.”) The “vote” option allows for selecting “Support” or “Opposition” to the project, and if in support, choose either the Road Diet with Bike Lanes option—to be completed by mid-2022, funded by Renew Atlanta—or the 2031 “Complete Street” plan. Then email the completed document to ATLDOT@atlantaga.gov before February 26.