The following commentary was submitted by Tyler Dewey, Tony Eubanks, Clint McCrory and Jennifer Rice.
On Wednesday, July 22, Athens-Clarke County is accepting comments on proposed changes to three streets in Athens (Chase Street, East Hancock, Riverbend Parkway), adding bike lanes in two cases (see below for details).
While some small positive outcomes may result from these changes, they are not designed in a way that provides meaningful improvements to bike and pedestrian safety or accessibility in Athens. As citizens concerned with the lack of a coherent approach to implementing ACC’s Complete Streets policy, we urge you to attend this forum and ask questions about the way public input is being gathered and how staff decisions on bike and pedestrian issues are made. Also, please let the Mayor and Commission know that you want to see meaningful public debate on traffic management for bike and pedestrian safety, and that the current approach to implementing ACC’s Road Diet and Complete Streets policies is not adequate.
Step 1: Attend the public forum” for three-lane conversion review on Wednesday, July 22 from 5–7pm (you can drop in anytime) at 120 W. Dougherty Street. This event does not require that you do any public speaking.
If we want to see an integrative and effective approach to bike and pedestrian safety in Athens, we must show there is public interest. Attendance at this meeting will show that there is widespread interest in the way ACC determines how to make changes in transportation policy to improve bike/pedestrian infrastructure. City staff, elected officials and other concerned residents will be present.
Step 2: Submit written comments on the three proposed projects to ACC; send a copy to your commissioner and the mayor, and copy us at firstname.lastname@example.org
ACC will accept written comments on the proposed changes Wednesday night and via email through Aug. 1. This is your chance to express concerns related to any or all of these projects, and to ask broader questions about the process of implementing road diets and Complete Streets policies that affect bike and pedestrian infrastructure.
ACC’s road-diet policy only applies to four-lane streets. This rigid approach does not provide the flexibility to choose appropriate projects or designs. Its narrow focus results in isolated pockets of bike lanes, and it provides no mechanism for improving corridors for pedestrians. The Complete Streets policy only applies to new construction, and has many exceptions.
Let city staff and elected officials know you want to see a comprehensive approach to transit management that takes bike and pedestrian safety seriously. Email the director of transportation and public works at David.Clark@athensclarkecounty.com, the mayor at Nancy.B.Denson@athensclarkecounty.com and find your commissioner’s email here: https://www.athensclarkecounty.com/168/Commission-Information-Biographies. (Better yet, email them all!)
Information about the three proposed projects:
Chase Street: The proposal is to convert the street from four lanes to three lanes with bike lanes in each direction between Rowe Road (just inside the Loop) to Dairy Pak Road. While all of Chase Street from Prince Avenue to Dairy Pak is scheduled to be resurfaced, only this northernmost segment has four lanes. As such, only this segment is being considered for the possible addition of bike lanes under ACC’s Road Diet policy.
Between Boulevard and Rowe, Chase Street is currently three lanes. Therefore, this section does not fall under the purview of ACC’s Road Diet policy, and no improvements to bike/pedestrian infrastructure are being considered by staff at this time. This is a missed opportunity created by ineffective policy.
East Hancock: The proposal is to convert 100 feet of eastbound left-turn lane (traffic turning left from Hancock to Thomas) to 100 feet of westbound left turn lane (traffic turning left from Hancock into the courthouse parking deck), and to convert the eastbound through lane (which currently dead ends at the new Classic Center expansion) to a shared left and through lane.
How is switching direction of one auto travel lane a Road Diet or Complete Street project?
Riverbend Parkway: The proposal is to add bike lanes and the first buffer areas in Athens to this very wide divided two-lane road, for a total length of about 1/2 mile of new bike lanes. Though this is a dead-end road, it is almost two miles in length, with a number of apartment buildings and houses on it. Furthermore, Riverbend Parkway tees into Riverbend Road, a 1.5 mile road connecting College Station and South Milledge. Riverbend Road has bike lanes, so this proposal does modestly extend the bike lane network.
• How were these three projects (East Hancock Avenue, North Chase Street and Riverbend Parkway) selected from the master list of road resurfacing projects released in early summer? Why and how were they prioritized over other possible resurfacing projects?
• Has staff ruled out adding bike lanes to Oneta Street, also scheduled to be resurfaced this year?
• How are the Bike Master Plan and Safe Routes to School integrated into these decisions? Do these proposed changes enhance the goals of those programs?
• How are these projects funded? Does the funding specify or prioritize projects that improve pedestrian and bike safety? If so, how does the East Hancock Avenue project improve bike or pedestrian safety?
• How do these projects fit with the recently compiled pedestrian and bike crash data? Are these bike lanes being added in places with bike safety issues? Will the new bike lanes connect in a meaningful way to other areas of town with bike lanes? Why is the entire Chase Street corridor that is being resurfaced/reconstructed not being considered for Complete Streets treatment to increase bike and/or pedestrian safety in a meaningful and useful way?
• Under what circumstances is public input required for resurfacing or reconstruction of roads? What is the difference between reconstruction and resurfacing with respect to Complete Streets and Road Diet policies?
• Why was there no discussion of Complete Streets features on Chase when the section from Broad to Cobb Street was reconstructed this spring? Will Complete Streets and/or Safe Routes to School policies be considered when Prince Place is resurfaced?
• What is the next step from this public input session on making a decision about these traffic proposals? Is there a public record of comments received, and is city staff required to address comments?
• In considering long term planning efforts, is there compatibility between ACC’s Complete Streets and Road Diet policies? Which takes precedence when these policies conflict? Given the relatively recent adoption of a Complete Streets policy, shouldn’t we be talking about how they can be integrated? Since the Road Diet policy is only applied to four-lane roads and the Complete Streets policy only applies to new road construction, the majority of ACC streets are almost automatically eliminated from any consideration of bike lanes or safer pedestrian pathways under current policy.
• If our goal is an integrated network of complete streets, and we are not doing it here, where do we start?