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Commission May Backtrack on Plans for Barnett Shoals and Boulevard Bike Lanes

Athens-Clarke County commissioners might once again put off plans to add bike facilities on Barnett Shoals Road and in the Boulevard area.

Echoing a Boulevard resident who told commissioners that bike lanes aren’t needed on that street, Commissioner Melissa Link suggested at last week’s agenda-setting meeting tabling or tweaking a plan to paint a buffered bike lane and on-street parking there. She said the public has not been informed of the plan.

“It’s a historic neighborhood, and folks appreciate the wide, historic nature of the street and the granite curbing, and the only problems we do see are the occasional speeder, which every neighborhood sees,” Link said.

Word must have gotten out somehow, because John Jefferson said his social media post on the topic received 10 pages of comments, most of them opposed. He called the proposed bike lanes “an expensive solution in search of a problem we don’t really have on Boulevard. It’s such a wide street. In three years I’ve never had an experience where I’ve felt unsafe or menaced by a car while I was biking on Boulevard,” he said.

Boulevard residents would prefer traffic-calming measures like speed humps over bike lanes, Link said. (Research shows that narrower car lanes also slow down drivers, and in fact part of the Chase Street plan calls for slimming down lanes on the bridge over the railroad tracks to slow traffic coming off the Loop and into town.)

Business owners also have questions about three proposed roundabouts on Chase Street at the Loop and Oneta Street, Commissioner Jerry NeSmith said. “They have to be explained,” he said. “You can’t throw a chart up on the internet and expect people to understand it.”

Other commissioners, including Kelly Girtz and Mike Hamby, said there has been plenty of opportunity for public input already, with two well-attended town hall meetings and two commission meetings last month, where the commission already put off a decision once to gather more feedback. “I’ve not had a sense of lack of opportunity for public input, up to and including tonight,” Girtz said. Only two citizens spoke at the Aug. 21 meeting.

The plan—most of which is currently unfunded—would divert bike traffic from Chase Street to a multi-use path on Barber Street, with connections to Chase via Boulevard and Oneta Street. Although Boulevard may be wide enough to accommodate cars and bikes together without stripes, the markings would “explicitly show you can get [to new mixed-use developments on Chase Street around the Loop] on a bicycle,” Girtz said.

Meanwhile, on Barnett Shoals Road, the ACC Transportation and Public Works Department is proposing a 60-day pilot project. Barnett Shoals between College Station and Whitehall would be reduced temporarily from four lanes to three with a bike path that’s separate from the road. The experiment will help county staff gather data about who and how many people might bike if the change were made permanent, Manager Blaine Williams said.

BikeAthens Executive Director Tyler Dewey expressed support for the pilot project. “A lot of times, a lot of concerns about them are just because they’re a new type of infrastructure that Athens might not have, but work and are being adopted widely across the country,” he said.

But the pilot project ran into opposition from commissioners Andy Herod and Sharyn Dickerson. “I don’t even think we should try a demo project, because that will just make people angry,” Dickerson said.

Herod argued that three-laning Barnett Shoals would make the College Station Road intersection dysfunctional for cars. They proposed converting one of Barnett Shoals’ sidewalks into a multi-use (bike and pedestrian) path, which Herod said would be “a lot more inviting and a lot less dangerous” than riding next to cars.

“I might not have quit if I had a multi-use path to use, because I used to ride a lot on Prince Avenue, but I wouldn’t consider it now,” said Mayor Nancy Denson, who blocked a similar pilot project on Prince in 2014.

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