The dreams of a more vibrant Atlantic City often see it as a place where millennials and baby boomers choose to live — in lively neighborhoods that don’t require a drive to get to necessities, fun and employment.
The geography of the small city favors such dreams.
It’s only 48 blocks total and compact, easily walked with or without the help of its four kinds of public transit. And it has a broad, fabulous oceanfront walkway that runs the length of the town, its world famous Boardwalk.
Walkability rater Walkscore.com gives Atlantic City a 71 out of 100, or “very walkable.” It told one of our reporters that people living in such areas tend to be healthier and fitter, and have higher levels of engagement with their communities. No wonder people prefer walkable towns.
Walking, however, is just one form of human-scale transportation in the modern city, and on the others Atlantic City falls short. Except for the hours when bicyclists are allowed to use the Boardwalk, the city isn’t cycling-friendly. Nor is the streetscape very welcoming for scooters and skateboards, favorites of millennials.
Part of the problem is that Atlantic City’s streets and traffic controls were created to maximize the flow of car and truck traffic. Pretty much the minimum was then done to accommodate pedestrians in that scheme, let alone cyclists and others.
Ocean City has shown how busy streets can be reclaimed for pedestrians and cyclists. It has calmed traffic with reduced speed limits and more stop signs, created bike lanes and allowed schoolchildren to use its Boardwalk after the noon cutoff for riders. It also created an island-long bicycling corridor linking streets configured to favor cyclists over motor vehicles.
Atlantic City had a similar pedestrian and cyclist safety plan proposed in 2013.
Developed by the city and the state Department of Transportation, it called for traffic-calming median islands and curb extensions, increased Boardwalk hours for bicyclists, and true bike lanes for corridors running the length of the city.
Unfortunately, the good plan wasn’t executed. Instead the city has settled for the minimum — just putting up signs declaring a “bike route” to encourage cyclists to choose less busy streets. Another is expected later this year.
That won’t do. People on the street or sidewalk — on their feet or whatever wheels they choose — want to feel comfortable and secure. They won’t go there if they constantly need to be on high alert to avoid joining society’s growing ranks of pedestrian traffic victims.
This would help the other kind of safety widely seen as a key to Atlantic City’s revival — that the chance of seeing a crime or being the victim of one is negligible. The city’s Police Department has done an admirable job on the reality, reducing crime overall by two-thirds since 2013. But the public’s perception hasn’t shifted as much.
Nothing says a street is safe like people going about their business, running errands, having fun. Nothing discourages crime more than the presence of plenty of law-abiding people.
At this point the city and state have it backward. It’s not make the city safer and people will come — it’s get more people into a welcoming, relaxed streetscape and Atlantic City’s safety and livability will be obvious. The pedestrian and cycling improvements are more important to the city’s revival than officials realize.