City DopeNews

Complete Streets, the Greenway Advances and the School District Is Moving

Athens-Clarke County has a complete-streets policy and a road-diet policy, too. So why do some of our streets seem so incomplete and our roads so fat?

Money, for the most part, according to Transportation and Public Works Director David Clark. Reconfigurations of East Hancock Avenue, Riverbend Parkway and Chase Street are scheduled for the coming year, when they’re up for reconstruction, Clark told ACC commissioners at a work session last week, although he expects industries reliant on trucks—which scuttled a road diet on Newton Bridge Road—to oppose a road diet on Chase Street.

Mitchell Bridge and Whitehall roads are among those due for the complete-streets treatment this year, with either sidewalks and bike lanes or paved shoulders that can function as bike lanes and graded areas for future sidewalks added. (Mitchell Bridge Road won’t be a true complete street because it would cost “several million” dollars to move major transmission lines, according to Clark.)

Sometimes, it’s just not worth it. A new bridge planned for MLK where it crosses a creek near Ruth Street, for example, will eat up all the SPLOST 2011 bridge funds because of the cost of grading, moving utilities and building a wider bridge to accommodate sidewalks and separated bike paths, Clark told commissioners at a work session last week. That means they’ll have to put off new bridges on Old Hull and Tallassee roads.

“Our recommendation is to eliminate the complete-streets component and go back to just replacing the bridge,” Clark said.

That didn’t sound so bad to commissioners. MLK already functions as a complete street with a wide sidewalk along one side of the bridge, Melissa Link and Kelly Girtz said. “Why just one formula?” Link said. “We’re not going to get a complete street with that one formula out of every single one.” They suggested one wider multi-use path as a way to avoid moving power lines.

Cost shouldn’t be an obstacle, though, Girtz said, “because half a million dollars to save a life is worth it, in my mind.”

Discussion also turned to when complete streets should be applied in terms of traffic, not just cost. TP&W set the (arbitrary, to some) threshold of 20,000 vehicles per day as the limit of what a three-lane road can handle. But “we never said over 20,000 vehicles per day and we won’t consider it,” Clark said, pointing out that Hawthorne carried 23,000 vpd when he recommended a road diet to create space to widen its very narrow lanes.

In addition to reconstruction—when a road is ground down to the dirt—repaving should trigger a complete-streets discussion as well, Girtz said.

For state highways like Broad Street, it’s a different matter. The Georgia Department of Transportation doesn’t have the money to redo the Broad–Hancock Avenue intersection—a dangerous (and popular) one for pedestrians that was recently repaved—and only gives us 30 days’ notice on road work, Clark said.

“Give the money to us,” Commissioner Mike Hamby said. “Let us do it.”

Girtz suggested establishing a fund to enhance GDOT projects; the money could come from a future vote on a local transportation sales tax, Hamby said.

Growing Greenway: After years of languishing, ACC’s next phase of greenways is finally starting to take shape.

The Pulaski Creek Greenway, between Pulaski Street and the Council on Aging off College Avenue, opened last year. The Trail Creek Greenway, which runs one mile from downtown up to East Athens Community Park, opened earlier this month. And more is coming.

Next up is the East Campus Connector, which Leisure Services Park Services Administrator Mel Cochran briefed commissioners on last week. The much-talked-about rails-to-trails project dubbed Firefly Trail will run from Dudley Park near downtown to the vicinity of the park-and-ride lot at the Oconee Street Loop interchange. The East Campus Connector, meanwhile, will follow the North Oconee River from the greenway’s current end point at Dudley Park past Oconee Hill Cemetery to UGA’s research complex off College Station Road, with a spur connecting it to the park-and-ride lot as well. In essence, this stage of the greenway will connect campus and the Eastside to existing greenways, tying together East Athens, downtown, Pulaski Heights/Boulevard and the Sandy Creek Nature Center.

Construction on both Firefly Trail and the East Campus Connector are scheduled for 2016–2017. And the next phases of the greenway can be completed with the $5.4 million in federal and SPLOST funds currently available, project manager Derek Doster told commissioners.

School Headquarters: The Clarke County Board of Education approved the sale of the district’s Mitchell Bridge Road central office to Advantage Behavioral Health Systems for $2.8 million last week.

School administrators have been wanting to downsize for some time. For now, they plan to move into the underused H.T. Edwards complex at the intersection of Broad Street and Hancock Avenue when Advantage takes over the 17-acre property and 50,000 square-foot building at the end of the year.

Eventually, the district will explore renovating the West Broad School, a mostly unused segregation-era facility near H.T. Edwards that’s currently home to the Athens Land Trust’s West Broad Market Garden, a community garden and farmers market staffed by neighborhood residents and CCSD students. It’s unclear how moving the central office there would affect the garden.

“We plan to engage an architect at some point, and that process will begin to determine how West Broad, as a campus, will develop,” said district spokeswoman Anisa Sullivan Jimenez.

Advantage—a nonprofit that contracts with the state and county to provide homelessness, mental health and addiction services—will consolidate from three rented buildings on North Avenue, Miles Street (off Chase Street) and South Milledge Avenue into the CCSD complex. CEO Oliver J. Booker noted that public transit serves all four locations, and Advantage has a fleet of vehicles to transport clients.