So often, whenever citizens or elected officials bring up the idea of making a local road safer for pedestrians—Prince Avenue is a great, if overused, example—we are told we can’t do it because… reasons. (It’s too expensive; the traffic; some other street is a higher priority; etc.) So often, too, these are straw-man arguments. The proof is what Athens-Clarke County staff have come up when asked to calm traffic on Dougherty Street.
Dougherty is a wide street that has traditionally served as the northern boundary of and a bypass around downtown, although new development is changing and will continue to change that. The width, speed of traffic and obstructed sight lines make it rather perilous to cross, cutting off neighborhoods to the north from downtown. Low-income Denny Tower, Bethel Midtown Village and a few Athens Housing Authority units are just north of Dougherty, and with residents there less likely to own cars, safe and easy pedestrian crossings are even more important. ACC Transportation and Public Works identified it earlier this year as one of the five most dangerous local streets for pedestrians.
TPW Director David Clark briefed commissioners on his plan to three-lane Dougherty for just $20,000 by using the roadway’s existing stripes. (The street is not scheduled for repaving until at least 2020, and re-striping it in the interim would be far more costly, because the lines have to be ground off, not just painted over.) In a nutshell, he would create a center turn lane along the entire length of the road and convert most of the outside westbound lane and parts of the outside eastbound lane into parallel parking, also adding a bus bay near Hull Street and a queue lane for the First Presbyterian Church school. In total, the changes will add 81 on-street parking spaces.
“This is a really low-cost fix that could make a huge impact,” Commissioner Melissa Link said.
Traffic on Dougherty is about 14,000 vehicles per day, and even with the new Uncommon Athens student housing development, engineers don’t expect it to rise above 17,000 in the next 10 years. The road diet will increase travel times for cars by a few seconds, but all of the intersections will continue to operate at acceptable levels for urban corridors, according to TPW’s study.
Assuming it’s approved in February, which looks likely, work is scheduled for the week of UGA’s spring break in March.
Now, let’s see about maybe doing that Complete Streets: Prince Avenue pilot project, shall we?
More Parking: Whether to meter the new Dougherty Street parking spaces was the topic of some discussion at the commission’s Dec. 8 work session, and one property owner is asking the Athens Downtown Development Authority to start metering 44 currently free spaces on Dougherty Street Extension near the Classic Center.
Smith Wilson, who is renovating a small building on Dougherty Extension into retail and office space, told the ADDA that the spots are being taken up by college students who live in new developments nearby, to the detriment of businesses. At least a couple of cars have not been moved in weeks, Wilson said. “It is 24-hour occupied,” he said. “There is no parking available for anybody passing by.”
Link floated the idea of tiered parking rates downtown—charging less on more out-of-the-way streets like Dougherty and more in the central core of downtown. The ADDA voted to pass on Wilson’s recommendation to the commission, where Link could get a crack at passing that policy. While they’re at it, commissioners should think about equalizing on-street and deck rates to encourage people to park in decks, which would go a long way toward solving the problem.
ADDA On the Move: Also at the ADDA’s Dec. 8 meeting, the board voted to buy a $138,000 ground-floor space in the Gameday building. The ADDA moved into the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce building, which also housed the old Economic Development Foundation and now the government-run ACC Economic Development Department, in 2013 in an effort to create a one-stop shop for economic development. But being in the same physical location isn’t really necessary, said ADDA Executive Director Pamela Thompson, and she wants a storefront to make the ADDA more visible and to sell more downtown gift certificates. The move will probably happen in late winter or early spring, attorney Jim Warnes said.
Facade Grant: In other business, the ADDA awarded its third facade grant, this one for $3,000 to Fred Moorman, who will use it to replace second-floor windows in the old George Dean’s building that he’s converting into a Zaxby’s and student apartments. This is the problem with the program: While it’s intended to encourage property owners to improve the appearance of their buildings, Moorman owns dozens of properties worth tens of millions of dollars and absolutely does not need the money. Let him shell out $3,000 to replace his own windows; the building’s in a historic district, and the Historic Preservation Commission is going to make him do it anyway.
In Your Business: The dollar theater at Georgia Square Mall is closed. The Homewood Hills location of Vision Video is closing next week, further reducing your movie-watching options. Used clothing store Plato’s Closet is moving from Alps to Atlanta Highway between the mall and Goodwill’s new location. Flash Foods, a combo gas station/fast-food restaurant, is under construction on Lexington Road. Junkman’s Daughter’s Brother (Junkman’s Daughter’s Brother’s Brother?) has reopened in the old bus depot on Broad Street next door to Gameday. A Reddy Urgent Care clinic is opening downtown in what used to be the bar 283 (by Jittery Joe’s) to serve all your alcohol-related health care needs.
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