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Deck the Streets

Redesign of Atlanta's Broad Street

by Atlanta City Studio

Deck the Streets

Broad Street, located in an urban neighborhood of Atlanta, Ga., received a renovation to make it more focused on pedestrian needs. Atlanta City Studio, a design group under the City of Atlanta Department of City Planning, in partnership with Jacobs Advanced Planning Group, used Ipe decking to give the street a new purpose.
Photo credit: Atlanta City Studio (2018)

Stretching for three blocks through Downtown Atlanta, Broad Street is one of the city's most urban streets. The narrow vehicular lanes, on-street parking, wide sidewalks, lush tree canopy, and consistent active retail facilities on both sides of the street make the area an example of a time when Atlanta once knew how to "get it right" with street design.

In 2015, in order to benefit the community even more, Broad Street was temporarily closed to vehicular traffic at one intersection. The goal was to encourage pedestrian activity and the growth and development of the storefronts along the street. For a time, the initial strategy combined with active programming in the first block was a success. However, failure to close a second intersection and the return of on-street parking on the block eventually restored vehicular priority.

Deck the Streets

An Ipe decking system with deck pedestals can easily be deconstructed and re-used if the city decides to go in a different design direction for the street.
Photo credit: City of Atlanta Department of Public Works (2017)

By 2017, the City of Atlanta and its partners - particularly Central Atlanta Progress / Atlanta Downtown Improvement District (CAP / ADID) and Flatiron City - were ready to make substantial improvements to Broad Street to further support the goal of creating a space for pedestrians. Preliminary ideas ranged from temporary, single block solutions to a more permanent transformation of the entire three blocks. The design ultimately needed to strike a balance between a substantial physical intervention and one that could be completed with a modest budget and within a short time frame for construction.

The final built design is a "boardwalk"-style plaza that creates a flush condition with the sidewalk on both sides of the street for a single block on Broad Street. The design concept was to use form, material, and color to intentionally express the installation rather than blend it in with the existing streetscape. The new plaza is a long-term pilot to test the use of the space as well as new materials and methods in an urban street condition to inform a future scope and permanent design for Broad Street.

The plaza base is a pedestal decking system with 24" x 24" wood decking panels. The adjustable pedals negotiate the substantial site topography and street grade to create a consistent plaza surface that is fully ADA accessible. Existing utilities, including stormwater facilities, remain unaffected and accessible. Ipe decking panels withstand the heavy pedestrian traffic and exposure to the elements with minimal maintenance. The flexibility of the decking system allowed most of the construction to be completed in about two weeks. It can easily be deconstructed and re-used when the pilot period concludes.

Deck the Streets

Previously, Broad Street had very little to set it apart from any other street, and its narrow lanes made it difficult for pedestrians and bicyclists to maneuver in the space with vehicles using the area.
Photo credit: Atlanta City Studio (2017)

Custom elements in the decking include integrated wooden benches that physically and visibly connect the plaza with concrete tree planting boxes along the sidewalk. In addition, the plaza design establishes vendor spaces and features a raised platform area that serves as a stage for special events and a trash enclosure that serves surrounding building owners. Street furniture elements - bistro sets, bike racks, and trash cans - share a common color palette that provides a vibrant accent and sharp contrast with the wood and concrete of the plaza. This color palette also provides a branding element for the plaza itself. Moveable planters are maintained seasonally and are re-arranged as needed to choreograph the use of the space. An interactive, overhead LED lighting system illuminates the plaza at night and changes color and intensity in response to audible cues in the area.

Collaboration with multiple agencies was key to the project's success. The City of Atlanta partnered with the CAP / ADID, Downtown's community improvement district, and Flatiron City, private owner and operator of the historic Flatiron building in support of the project. The design itself involved a public-private partnership.

Deck the Streets

The completed project is ADA compliant, with Ipe decking, seating and seating walls. Installed around the existing street lights, the decking is flush with the street, allowing for easy access. Planters containing English ivy bracket the area.
Photo credit: Atlanta City Studio (2017)

Working with the City's Department of Public Works and Fire Department was critical to making sure that key operational and life safety needs were met in restricting vehicular access to the street. CAP / ADID provided the street furniture, planters and plantings, bicycle racks, and interactive lighting system. They continue to partner with the City in the operation, maintenance, and activation of the plaza. Atlanta Information Management (AIM), through their Smart Cities initiative, is also using the space to test interactive digital elements that will feature information on the project itself.

The plaza has been open to the public for 12 months. The space is heavily used and continues to be a platform for public life and public realm experimentation. A typical day sees numerous visitors in the plaza eating lunch, working out of the office, or simply enjoying being outside in the Downtown area. The plaza has become a popular backdrop for photographers and the film industry.

Deck the Streets

24" bistro tables and chairs in primary colors allow for pedestrian seating. Color-changing LED string lights hang above, adding to the welcoming effect of the street.
Photo credit: Piotr Pomaranski (2018)

The Department of City Planning, CAP / ADID, and Flatiron City continue to partner to bring additional, active programming to the space. These partners recently concluded a series of monthly summer block party events to activate the space. These parties included happy hours, live music, mini-soccer matches, and a public art competition that resulted in a mural crosswalk installed at the deck's southern entrance on Poplar Street. These have been coupled with design activities and charrettes continuing the conversation with Atlanta locals about the future design of Broad Street.

Deck the Streets

After the decking was installed, the city held an art competition to help complete the street transformation. The result was a crosswalk mural on the street in front of the decking area.
Photo credit: Atlanta City Studio (2018)

The Broad Street Pedestrian Plaza serves as a new Downtown destination and an opportunity for the public to become an integral collaborator in the city's public realm design.

Deck the Streets

Spanning 3 blocks, Broad Street uses amenities and unique street design to attract visitors. Replanted willow oak trees shade the area.
Photo credit: The Sintoses (2018)

Team List
Lead Designer - Atlanta City Studio, City of Atlanta Department of City Planner - Jacobs Advanced Planning Group
Construction Management - City of Atlanta Department of Public Works
Construction Prime Contractor - SD&C
Construction Sub-Contractor - Russell Landscape
Planting Sub-Contractor - Gibbs Landscape
Lighting Installation - Illuminating Design
Tree Re-Planting & Maintenance - Trees Atlanta
Programming Partner - Flatiron City
Design / Programming Partner - Women's Entrepreneurship Initiative (WEI)
Smart City Programming - Atlanta Information Management (AIM)

As seen in LASN magazine, August 2019.

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December 8, 2019, 10:11 am PDT

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