Improvements in the works for MLK Drive

ATLANTA -- It's not what one would expect, and certainly not what one would wish for a namesake of the great civil rights leader.

Martin Luther King Jr. Drive is one of the longest streets in the city. Much of the 7.2 miles of road stretches through Atlanta City Councilman C.T. Martin's district.

But the blight along the street has led Martin and many others to describe the corridor as simply "a mess."

"Right now, I'd say there's a lot of people that are ashamed of how this street looks. They're ashamed that as a city, we've allowed it to look like this," Martin said.

Mayor Kasim Reed agrees. One year ago, during the annual King Day Ecumenical Service at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Reed publicly promised to make vast improvements to the street.

In an exclusive interview with 11Alive's Blayne Alexander, he said that from last year to this year, the needle has been moving -- behind the scenes.

"We have been working very hard at it and we now have a plan," Reed said. "We actually did a lot of hard work between my King speech and today. (Public Works Commissioner) Richard Mendoza has these improvements, and you and I will be able to ride down MLK and I'll show you the changes."

11Alive took a look at the 16-page planning document. The plans are already making community rounds for neighborhood approval. They include new bike lanes, waterfalls, and green median space in the middle of the road.

"When we're done, it's going to be one of our city's most attractive streets in terms of the infrastructure around the street," Reed said.

And then there's safety. Alexander drove down MLK Drive at night, and watched the streetlights become more scarce moving west from Northside Drive to Fulton Industrial Blvd. The plan from Atlanta Public Works calls for more light.

"The way the traffic lights are synchronized on that corridor, from sidewalks to streetscapes, in every major way, we're going to put energy in Martin Luther King Jr.," Reed said.

Martin said one major step is getting rid of an abandoned apartment building, something he expects to see happen within the next two weeks.

"We've got to prove to people that we're going to get something done," Martin said. "And when they see that (building) come down, they'll get optimistic."

Reed, too, is optimistic.

"I guarantee that you and I will be able to get into a car and I'll be able to show you what things looked like before the bond referendum and what they looked like after," Reed told Alexander. "And we just have to stay at it. I'm not saying it's going to be easy, but I am saying the days when we simply close our eyes and speed through MLK are over."

Volunteers took matters in their own hands on Monday. Organizer Pam Bates led a team who helped clean up a stretch of the corridor.

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