Coming off a year with 25 traffic deaths, Athens-Clarke County is updating its Complete Streets policy.
Complete Streets is a way of designing streets so that they’re safer for all users—cyclists and pedestrians in addition to drivers—rather than focusing solely on cars. ACC passed a Complete Streets policy in 2012, but the National Complete Streets Coalition gave it a score of just 21 out of 100 because it made no mention of diversity or vulnerable users like people with disabilities, and included no context like land use, no guidelines for implementation, no performance measures and wasn’t binding.
“It was a good start. It was good that we kicked it off, that we have a Complete Streets policy,” Lauren Blais, chair of the Athens in Motion transportation committee, told commissioners at an Apr. 12 work session. “Now let’s put some teeth behind it.”
The new policy would require ACC to add bike and pedestrian infrastructure when repaving or making other changes to roadways. The policy also places a focus on correcting past mistakes made for racial or socio-economic reasons.
Some of those measures, like protected cycle tracks separated from car traffic, would be new to Athens but are widely used in other cities like Atlanta. Others could be more familiar, like green thermoplastic paint on bike lanes. One example Blais cited is the busy intersection at Lumpkin and Baxter streets that ACC redid in 2020 when UGA built a new Terry College of Business building there.
“This is really putting in a policy that echoes what we’re already doing,” said Commissioner Carol Myers, who served on Athens in Motion before being elected in 2020.
Commissioners also received an update on the Athens Justice and Memory Project, which will commemorate the Linnentown neighborhood that was razed in the 1960s to make way for the University of Georgia’s Baxter Street dormitories, as well as other primarily Black neighborhoods lost to Urban Renewal during that era.
Plans call for three interpretive signs with information about Linnentown and a mosaic installation along Finley Street south of Baxter, inspired by signage and a mural of civil rights leader John Lewis on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta.
“I took a trip there with my son shortly after the passing of Rep. Lewis and just really found it to be a powerful experience,” said UGA geography professor Jennifer Rice, who is volunteering on the project. “We kind of just took it and ran with it in our committee.”
As designed, the signage and public art will be entirely on ACC right-of-way because UGA has declined to participate.
UGA art professor Lynn Sanders-Bustle has also been involved, but for her to continue her involvement as the mosaic is installed will require a formal agreement for liability reasons, county officials said. That could be a problem because UGA has continuously denied any responsibility for Linnentown and refused to support an ACC resolution condemning the destruction of the neighborhood.
Commissioner Jesse Houle worried that trying to reach a formal agreement with UGA would lead to the university trying to block the project.
“Obviously, we’d love to have UGA at the table, just as we wanted them at the table for the resolution, and maybe this is an avenue to invite that,” Houle said. “If this is another attempt to invite that, OK, but if this is prerequisite for moving forward, it’s hard for me to wrap my head around why that is.”
If UGA won’t allow Bustle to continue working on the project, the Justice and Memory Committee will have to find another way to move forward, said co-chair Hattie Thomas Whitehead, who grew up in Linnentown.
“We are in uncharted waters,” Whitehead said. “We have to do new things [differently] to get to where we want to go with this team and what we want to do, because we all know UGA isn’t at the table. Just saying.”
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