Prince Avenue residents, rejoice! The bike lanes and other safety improvements you’ve been waiting for may be on their way.
Plans for Prince the Athens-Clarke County Transportation and Public Works Department presented to the ACC Commission last week call for protected bike lanes from Oglethorpe Avenue all the way to Pulaski Street, as well as three-laning the locally owned portion of Prince between Pulaski and Milledge Avenue.
“I’m very excited about this,” Commissioner Jesse Houle said. “I was on the Complete Streets steering committee. We started off really focusing on a road diet on Prince Ave., so I’m really excited to see where this is headed.”
But the Prince saga goes back much further than that. A Prince Avenue user group that provided input into the plans reached back nearly 20 years to incorporate multiple studies done over the years, including a 2004 neighborhood charette, a 2012 ACC corridor study, a 2014 road safety audit done by ACC, a 2017 traffic analysis done for the 100 Prince development at the former St. Joseph Catholic Church, the 2018 Athens in Motion bike and pedestrian plan and a 2019 road safety audit done by the Georgia Department of Transportation. Out of 113 total projects included in all those plans, the user group identified 34 as high priorities, then consolidated those into 22.
Despite a longstanding problem with drivers coming from Jackson County flying down the urban corridor at highway speeds, the county commission narrowly voted down a “road diet” on Prince—reducing the locally owned portion between Pulaski and Milledge to three lanes with a center turn lane and bike lanes—in 2006. In 2014, then-Mayor Nancy Denson blocked a pilot project that would have temporarily re-striped the road.
But plans brought forward by the county SPLOST office and Transportation and Public Works Department at a June 8 work session include three-laning the inner stretch of Prince, as well as safety improvements like bike lanes on the portion of Prince between Milledge and the Loop that’s owned by GDOT. “We really wanted to highlight the need for bike infrastructure on this corridor,” said ACC Bike and Pedestrian Coordinator Daniel Sizemore.
Other potential improvements meant to slow down traffic and make crossing the street safer include:
• moving the crosswalk near The Grit to the other side of Newton Street, where visibility is better.
• realigning the Park Avenue and Talmadge Drive intersection.
• a raised crosswalk on Talmadge at Cobb Street.
• upgraded turn lanes at Milledge Avenue and fewer curb cuts.
• raised medians between Georgia Avenue and Talmadge, west of King Avenue, and between Nacoochee Avenue and Chase Street.
In addition, Sizemore suggested that the mayor and commission negotiate public access to the new Piedmont College parking deck in Normaltown and encourage businesses to share parking. “Hopefully we could come up with some way to really help small businesses to develop and grow without having a full parking lot for all of their needs,” Sizemore said.
The plans are in the very early stages and still evolving. Commissioner Ovita Thornton suggested burying power lines, but SPLOST Administrator Keith Sanders said that might be prohibitively expensive.
Commissioner Russell Edwards asked about a mid-block crosswalk near Normal Hardware. “You’ve got people darting across the road there already,” he said. “Certainly, some protection would help.” It might be too close to the Oglethorpe/Satula intersection, though, Sizemore said.
GDOT is making its own plans for Prince between Sunset Drive and Milledge, Sizemore told commissioners, only some of which were incorporated into his presentation. State funding will cover some of the costs, and $4 million from T-SPLOST, the voter-approved 1% sales tax for transportation, is set aside for Prince. But that won’t be enough to fund all the identified projects, Sanders warned.
GDOT will present its plans to the mayor and commission in the near future. In the meantime, ACC officials are working on plans to gather public input. Another work session is scheduled for September.
Another project nearby is closer to fruition. The Athens-Clarke County Transportation and Public Works Department is seeking commission approval for a biking and walking path along Barber Street.
But some commissioners are not happy with the plans, and they asked for more information at a meeting last month. The plans call for the multi-use path with a two-way separated bike lane and a sidewalk to run between Chase Street/Newton Bridge Road and Boulevard. But due to the narrowness of Barber south of Boulevard, the path would end there. Instead, the stretch of Barber between Boulevard and Prince Avenue would have sidewalks on either side and no bike facilities except for sharrow markings—a portmanteau of “share the road” and “arrow” reminding drivers that bikes are present—in the roadway.
“We’re going from sharrows to a two-way bike track,” Edwards said at last week’s work session. “The disjointed nature, it just doesn’t make sense to me.”
According to county transportation officials, the cost of buying right-of-way and constructing a multi-use path south of Boulevard would add $1 million to the $5 million project. Beyond the cost, they also argued that, on that portion of Barber, a multi-use path would not make cycling safer.
“I would not necessarily spend the money on a multi-use path even if we had it. Is that clear?” Lauren Blais, the chair of Athens in Motion citizen committee, told commissioners. “The level of comfort is already high compared to some other places.”
Barber Street was rated a “2” by consultant Toole Design Group, which means the average adult would feel comfortable biking there as the road is now. However, that was “not acceptable” to Commissioner Tim Denson because it excludes children. People younger than 12 can legally bike on the sidewalk, Blais reminded commissioners.
Because so many people bike and walk on Barber, TPW officials wanted to separate bikes and pedestrians, in addition to separating both from cars. But on the Boulevard-to-Prince segment, a path for bikes would not be safer than biking in the road because of the number of driveways, Blais said. Drivers tend not to look for cyclists on the sidewalk or in an off-road path when pulling out, she said.
When some commissioners suggested removing on-street parking to create space for a path, Blais said that parked cars help to slow down traffic. “I really feel traffic calming is the best option for now,” Blais said, adding that a multi-use path could be built later, perhaps in the next round of T-SPLOST.
Other traffic-calming measures include a “speed table” at Boulevard and a crosswalk with flashing beacons at Barrow Street. “All of those elements together should slow traffic down,” said Sizemore.
One of the commissioners who had concerns, Allison Wright, said she now supports the project as planned. The commissioner who represents Boulevard, Melissa Link, also said she supports it.
The Barber Street project is one of the highest priorities in the Athens in Motion plan, completed in 2019, and emerged as an alternative to a failed experiment with striping bike lanes on Chase Street. It will connect downtown and Prince, the Boulevard neighborhood, factories in the Chase area and a burgeoning entertainment district, including the Chase Park Warehouses, Terrapin brewery and General Time, a future mixed-use development with an amphitheater.
Other Athens in Motion projects currently underway include sidewalks and bike lanes on Cherokee Road, Jefferson River Road and Riverbend Road, as well as sidewalks on Holman Avenue and Magnolia Street.
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