Photo Credit: Blake Aued
A beer truck blocks the center lane of Washington Street, just before I hijacked it.
University of Georgia College of Environment and Design professor Jack Crowley is wrapping up the downtown master plan—he swears!—and gave an update to the Athens Downtown Development Authority Tuesday, Feb. 11. Everyone tried to pay attention as they wondered whether their cars would be under an inch of ice by the time they left.
Anyway, Crowley said he is basically done with the plan and is trying to put the finishing touches on it in time for the ADDA's March meeting. Discussion last week focused on a problem that's vexed officials for decades: what to do about all those beer trucks unloading in the center lane.
The master plan calls for converting Washington Street—now three lanes in one direction—into a two-way street with one lane in each direction. "Nothing justifies three lanes headed west except maybe the LSU game letting out," he said. "That's about it."
The space now occupied by the third travel lane would be used to create an extra-wide sidewalk along the south side of Washington Street (serving most of the retail) except for the City Hall block, where, combined with an upcoming streetscape project, the space would be used to create a plaza suitable for concerts, markets and other gatherings.
"Make it a good, wide pedestrian lane," Crowley said. The slight curve as the sidewalk switched sides would also calm traffic, he said.
However, such a configuration would leave delivery trucks with nowhere to unload. Since downtown Athens, for the most part, lacks alleys, and the street edges are taken up by much-needed parking, trucks are forced to unload in the center lane, where they block traffic and generally frustrate everyone.
Crowley suggested turning the area underneath the News Building and Classic Center's parking lots into a staging area for deliveries. Trucks could park there and transfer their cargo (read: beer) onto Gators or golf carts to take them to their destination (read: the bar). "It's done in large cities, and it's done in Europe all the time," he said.
ADDA board members also said they want to take a hard look at a cutoff time for trucks to park in the center lane, which would be sure to infuriate bar employees who don't want to get up early to take deliveries.
Crowley also wants to replace downtown traffic signals with four-way stop signs. There aren't enough cars to justify the signals, he said, and stop signs tend to slow down traffic for pedestrians.
In the end, the board voted to keep Crowley's recommendation in the plan, but as with everything else, the mayor and commission ultimately will decide whether to adopt it.
Downtown Parking: The ADDA is adding a second pay station to the West Washington Street parking deck at a cost of $24,530. The deck is sometimes very much utilized when a lot is going on downtown, and the deck is unmanned late at night, with only one pay station where drivers can leave. "Sometimes people get frustrated with their wait and get creative in how they exit the deck," ADDA Executive Director Pamela Thompson said. I bet.
In addition, those universally despised pay-and-display meters on Broad and Clayton streets will soon be banished to the far corners of downtown and replaced by new single-space meters. Two pay-and-display meters will be placed on Foundry Street, and eight will be relocated to a surface lot next to the Foundry Park Inn.
Commission Goals: The Athens-Clarke County Commission on Tuesday, Mar. 4 is set to approve its "goals and objectives" for the year. Essentially, it's a list of priorities for the coming budget cycle. Some of the goals highlighted by Mayor Pro Tem Mike Hamby include:
• identifying additional water sources. Yeah, we've got plenty now, but there was a crippling drought about six years ago, when we thought the Red Cross was gonna have to airlift in bottled water.
• increasing the frequency and scope of Athens Transit. The upcoming budget is supposed to include money for a consultant to find efficiencies and funding options.
• completing an assessment of workforce housing needs, as well as an inventory of deteriorating apartment complexes. As students move into the new "luxury" digs downtown, maybe working-class people will move into some of the nicer apartments those students are abandoning. Those dating back to the 1970s might have to be torn down.
Icepocalypse: No Snow Jam for us. Athens-Clarke County Transportation and Public Works crews sprang into action when snow started to fall at 4 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 11 and worked in shifts around the clock until 3:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 14, scraping snow and ice off 87 roads with two graders and spreading 110 tons of sand, according to ACC Manager Alan Reddish, who runs the local government day-to-day. The staff of 34 worked a total of 1,236 hours—that's an average of 36 hours each. Reddish also credited stormwater infrastructure improvements with allowing melting snow and ice to drain quickly.
People like to complain about the government—and rightfully so, in many cases—but we should also remember that a lot of hardworking people are out there putting our tax dollars to good use. As Commissioner Kelly Girtz put it, "Things work around here, yo."
Saturday School: Speaking of the Icepocalypse, University of Georgia students, who've missed more than five days of classes due to weather so far this year, will make up missed Monday-Wednesday-Friday classes on Saturday, Mar. 22, and Tuesday-Thursday classes on Saturday, Mar. 29. Or, teachers, at their discretion, can administer evening tests or allow students to make up missed material online.
Prince Avenue: Supporters of a temporary road diet for Prince Avenue had hoped the ACC Commission would vote on it next month. It's not on the Thursday, Feb. 20 agenda, though, which means it's highly unlikely to get a Mar. 4 vote before running the experiment in April as planned. Girtz said he's OK with waiting until the fall (as Mayor Nancy Denson wants) because that will leave time to install semi-permanent pedestrian islands on the county-owned portion of Prince between Pulaski Street and Milledge Avenue, as well as talk to the state Department of Transportation about refuges along the state-owned portion in Normaltown and Homewood Hills.