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The Barnett Shoals Bike Path Is a Goner, but What About Regular Bike Lanes?

We hardly knew ye. It became clear during the Athens-Clarke County Commission’s Oct. 15 agenda-setting meeting that the experimental two-way bike lane on Barnett Shoals Road between Whitehall and College Station roads is a goner when the commission votes on it Nov. 6. “I think this demonstration project did what it should do, which is prove this is not a feasible solution,” Commissioner Jerry NeSmith said.

A month after commissioners punted on deciding whether to keep the lane, they are no closer to a consensus, except to agree that a two-way lane is not a politically feasible option. But an alternative emerged to commissioners Sharyn Dickerson and Andy Herod’s costly plan for switching Barnett Shoals back to four lanes with a separated multi-use path on the other side of the road: leaving it three lanes with two traditional bike lanes on either side.

Carol Myers, a member of BikeAthens and the committee that wrote the new Athens in Motion bike and pedestrian master plan, floated the idea. The three-lane configuration, with two travel lanes and a center turn lane, “has been successful in improving safety without any significant effect on traffic flow,” she said. The two-way separated lane “is a cutting-edge design,” she said, but she was critical of restoring Barnett Shoals to four lanes, because the new configuration has slowed traffic. “We shouldn’t use [bike lanes] just to avoid making our roads safer,” she said.

Herod argued that the three-lane configuration makes it harder for drivers to turn out of neighborhoods and for fire trucks to navigate the right turn from College Station onto Barnett Shoals. And public opinion is against it, he said.

“We’ve had about a thousand people comment on this, and those people who move through this intersection, use this corridor most frequently, are three to one against what we have out there, and I think it would be pretty outrageous to ignore that,” Herod said.

Dickerson said she doesn’t think Barnett Shoals meets the criteria for the county’s 2005 three-laning policy, and said it needs to be completely rewritten. “It has consistently been applied inconsistently, and there’s no way to tell if a three-laning has been a success,” she said.

Commissioners Allison Wright, Melissa Link and NeSmith said they would be open to one-way bike lanes on either side of the road. They might flow better into the bike lanes on College Station, Wright said.

As with proposed bike lanes on Boulevard, Link cited the cost of a multi-use path—estimated by Herod at $400,000—which she said could be better spent elsewhere. “I think we need to be pragmatic about these solutions,” Link said.

Herod, though, said he’d rather have sharrows—generally considered ineffective by bike advocates—and make Barnett Shoals four lanes than go with three lanes and bike lanes.

“I think we’re being shortchanged again,” he said. “People out here deserve what the bike/ped master plan says they should have,” which is a multi-use path.

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