Occasionally, I go to great lengths for these columns.
This week I went a few extra miles, about 12 to be precise.
I started in my car just south of the World Congress Center and drove to I-285 on Northside Drive, which splits into Northside Parkway after crossing Arden Road in Buckhead.
I wanted to get a sense of the sidewalks along the road. I was curious whether the stretch where North Atlanta High School is, which has no sidewalks, is the norm or an anomaly.
While it is inconsistent, a majority of Northside has sidewalks.
Anywhere there is dense commercial and residential development, there should be sidewalks. Individuals should be able to walk to the local grocery store, drug store, restaurant, church or school without risking their lives.
It’s that last thing — the school — that makes the lack of sidewalks from West Paces Ferry Road to the Post Riverside development especially egregious.
There has been a folding chair on a small patch of concrete directly across the road from North Atlanta’s entrance for at least two years. Why? Because right there, in the grass, is the distinct blue, burnt orange and orange of the MARTA bus stop sign.
While it is served by a crosswalk and a traffic light, there is no shelter or bench. During inclement weather, students who use the stop stand out in the elements on that small piece of concrete, waiting for the bus.
Northside Parkway is known by many names. I know it as 41, for Highway 41, but the generation before me knows it as the Dixie Highway.
It connected northern Michigan and southern Florida. At the time, all of the rural roads in the United States were graded dirt. When the state completed the Georgia section in 1916, it was the first north-south paved interstate. This was well before the United States invested in the interstate system beginning in 1956.
Along this stretch of highway between Atlanta and Marietta, the area was still considered rural when IBM put a corporate campus there in 1978. Developers added those shiny high-rises along I-285 near the Cumberland Galleria in the 1980s as Atlanta grew northward.
I doubt there was ever a thought of sidewalks.
Then, in 2012, the gigantic technology company moved out of its 56-acre north Atlanta corporate campus. At the time, Atlanta Public Schools needed to find land for a new high school to meet growing demand.
It purchased the former IBM campus and adapted the 11-story office building in the woods into a high school that could serve 2,350 students at a cost of $147 million. The 942 car parking deck shows the campus was built for cars, not public transportation. The lack of sidewalks shows Atlanta Public Schools was not thinking about kids who walk to school.
North Atlanta students have been in the building for eight years, and some still have to walk through the woods to get to their school. If they live close by, there is no way to get there on foot or a bicycle safely.
I found articles from a few years ago about the city of Atlanta and the PATH Foundation working to bring sidewalks to the area. The only date I could find was a vague mid-2020 when funding could come through. That time has come and gone without sidewalks or, as we’ll see, funding.
I reached out to the foundation and quickly received a response from Greta deMayo, the executive director, who confirmed they are working with the city to solve the problem. The plan is to build a .7 mile sidewalk on the north side of the parkway from Mr. Paran Road to Post Riverside, where it will connect to the sidewalks serving the commercial area north of the river. It is estimated to cost $3.5 million.
But the project has been put on hold pending authorization of federal funding.
I’m somewhat relieved the PATH Foundation — a nonprofit with a 30-year record of building trails throughout Georgia and beyond — is working on it.
Still, the lack of sidewalks around our public high school remains a blight on Buckhead and says a lot about our priorities.