BY ELLIE HENSLEY
Midtown Atlanta is home to nearly 18,000 residents, from young professionals to college students to empty nesters who have traded their home in the suburbs for a condo in a more walkable part of the city.
These senior residents of Midtown will definitely find amenities including restaurants and shops, an easy to navigate street grid that generally lays flat and MARTA rail stations and bus stops. But in an urban place that aspires to design infrastructure that meets the needs of people from age 8 to 80, those who can’t walk or stand for long periods still might encounter some challenges with navigating their way through the district on foot.
This month, we spoke with Florence Bowser and Lagretta “Lala” Watkins, two residents of the Lutheran Towers retirement community at Juniper and 4th Streets, about Midtown’s transportation network, what’s working, what’s not and how it could be more accommodating for seniors. We also spoke to Sally Flocks, founder of PEDS, a pedestrian advocacy group that has been working with Midtown Alliance since the mid-1990s to improve the district’s transportation network. Read more below in this third installment of our series on the state of walkability in Midtown for people with different abilities.
Safer Sidewalks, Slower Motor Vehicle Traffic
Bowser has lived at Lutheran Towers for about 17 years. She has seen the district transform into a denser, more urban place, with many empty lots being developed into high-rise towers.
“I really like being able to walk around on sidewalks and see all the people,” she said. “This whole area has really changed.”
Watkins said she and her fellow Lutheran Towers residents would feel safer venturing out in Midtown if the area had more speed bumps and crosswalks. Flocks said Midtown Atlanta crosswalks have come a long way since the late 1990s, when PEDS led peaceful crosswalk demonstrations to mark the anniversary of the death of Margaret Mitchell. The “Gone With the Wind” author died in 1949 after being struck by a car at 13th and Peachtree Streets.
“When we started, no one stopped at crosswalks, and now people do,” Flocks said. “PEDS and Midtown Alliance have done a tremendous amount together to make Midtown more walkable, from working to implement pedestrian hybrid beacons to advocating for better sidewalks.”
Bowser said many of the sidewalks have improved due to construction projects being delivered around the district, and she hasn’t had a fall in quite some time. But new development also has a downside — Flocks noted the covered walkways built in active construction zones often lack entrances accessible for those who use wheelchairs.
And while a small faction of residents have in the past called for the removal of benches to discourage loitering and sleeping in the district, outdoor seating provides a much needed spot to rest for seniors out running errands, taking a walk or waiting for transit.
“When we walk, we like to stop and rest and there are fewer benches than there used to be,” said Bowser. “We need those benches.”
Living Car-Free in Midtown
Regardless of age, Midtown is a great place to live a car-free lifestyle by riding transit. There are many MARTA bus stops and four rail stations in the 1.2 square mile district — but delays and modified schedules can make it more difficult to rely on the service as a primary mode of transportation.
“I've been to other cities where you could time yourself on the trains and buses,” Bowser said. “If you had to be somewhere within an hour, you could. If you missed one bus, there was another right behind it. It’s not like that here.”
Watkins said she’d like to see MARTA start making announcements about late buses like it does for its rail service.
“The city is growing rapidly, and it’s grown enormously since I moved to Lutheran Towers nine years ago,” said Watkins. “But the fact remains, we need to get around town. If you don’t want us to use cars, and you want us to get out and walk more and enjoy the beauty of Midtown, you need to help provide us with things we really need.”
Note: This is part three in a series Midtown Alliance developed to examine the Americans with Disabilities Act turning 30 earlier this year. We’ve spoken with people who spend time in the district whose experiences can help us improve our transportation network, including Carden Wyckoff, a resident disability advocate who lobbies for better streets and sidewalks in Atlanta and Adam Hinchliffe, a former client and current employee of the Center for the Visually Impaired.