Parkway’s demise was boon for activists, fuel for congestion

Editor’s note: This column by The Atlanta Journal’s editorial page editor appeared on Sunday, Sept. 1, 1991:

Pop the corks on the champagne, send up the balloons, let the block parties begin. The Presidential parkway is dead and everybody’s happy.

Mayor Maynard Jackson proclaimed it a “new day for Atlanta — truly a dream come true.”

Former President Jimmy Carter — and Mrs. Carter — we’re told, are “quite pleased.”

U.S. Rep. Ben Jones (D-Ga.) toasted roadway opponents, “This is for all the people who would not give up when they were told it was hopeless. You’ve changed the system, and made the system work.”

Lt. Gov. Pierre Howard could hardly contain himself. “The Braves are in first place and now we’ve resolved the parkway issue. What next?” he asked.

And Gov. Zell Miller, his grammar temporarily knocked askew in the glow of the moment, declared state government’s “new sensitivity” to concerns of neighborhood groups and passed happy judgment on the occasion.

“What we’ve got here today, everybody came out a winner,” he said.

But did they?

Certainly the neighborhoods involved are happy. What is being called a “compromise” was really no compromise at all, it was total capitulation to the demands of anti-parkway activists.

The politicians who showed up to celebrate the “victory” have reason to be pleased, they have solidified the support of a very active and well-organized constituency of voters who have proven their effectiveness.

But if everybody is happy, why has this bloody battle been going on for so many years? Why did city and state politicians wait so long for this great moment of gratification?

Maybe it’s because there was a reason for building the parkway. What seems to have been forgotten in the flush of celebration is that plans for the road were drawn not to inflict some sort of ugly punishment on the neighborhoods, but to fill a real need.

Traffic planners saw the parkway as a vital east-west artery connecting Downtown Atlanta with central DeKalb County, Stone Mountain and other heavily populated areas lying half way between Interstate 85 North and Interstate 20 East. The need for such an artery was successfully defended in court and in a series of hearings before federal agencies.

That need still exists. But the people of those areas, the ones who will be hurt by the abandonment of the parkway, have never been organized, therefore they have been easily ignored by politicians who respond, not to needs, but to pressure.

One question does remain, however, Federal funds were authorized for a highway designed for a specific purpose, not for neighborhood street improvements nor for a new city park. Now that that purpose has been rejected, will the feds still come through with the money? Will the taxpayers pick up the tab for a road that no longer does what it was supposed to do?

Probably. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Mr. Jones are working on that, so let’s all relax and be happy. And don’t worry about where the neighborhood coalitions will flex their muscle next, they’ll let us know soon enough.