After the successful launch of the Prince Avenue bike lanes last year, more bike facilities could be coming to the Boulevard area if commissioners approve a separated bike path on Barber Street.
“Ultimately this whole area is going to have a lot of changes going on in the upcoming years focusing on safety,” bike and pedestrian coordinator Daniel Sizemore told commissioners at last week’s work session.
Commissioners sent back a plan in 2021 because they wanted more than just sharrows (“share the road” signs painted on the roadway) on the portion of Barber closest to Prince. The latest proposal continues a sidewalk and two-way cycle track all the way down to Prince, but at the cost of on-street parking.
The project is broken up into four phases. An industrial section of Barber between Dairy Pak Road and the Loop would be reduced from four lanes to three to make room for a two-way cycle track and sidewalk. In addition, the intersection would be improved with crosswalks and truck aprons.
The sidewalk would switch sides between the Loop and Oneta Street due to a pinch point caused by a pedestrian bridge, then switch again between Oneta and Boulevard. A total of 12 on-street parking spaces would be removed from those sections. Truck aprons to slow down turns are also proposed for the Oneta intersection. Boulevard would get a raised intersection to calm traffic.
County transportation officials said they chose to include both a sidewalk and a bike path, rather than a multi-use path, because mixing pedestrians and cyclists isn’t always appropriate in urban areas with a lot of foot traffic or on hilly streets like Barber where bikes can pick up a head of steam. “When you’re walking, you don’t want someone flying by on a scooter or a bike,” said Lauren Blais, chair of the Athens in Motion advisory committee. “That can be kind of nerve-wracking”
At 54%, separating bike and pedestrian traffic was by far the most important concern for the more than 100 people who provided public input. Pluralities favored separate bike lanes and sidewalks over a multi-use path, and removing on-street parking to make room, rather than taking away front yards. Property owners by and large opposed any change that would lead to a loss of parking, but all of the affected parcels have access to off-street parking, according to Transportation and Public Works officials.
The $8.2 million project is funded by TSPLOST 2018, a 1% sales tax for transportation that voters approved five years ago. Other TSPLOST and SPLOST funds remain available for future bike projects like Jefferson River Road and Cherokee Road, TPW Director Stephen Bailey said. A Vincent Drive sidewalk included in SPLOST 2021 could also become a multi-use path instead.
Along with the Prince bike lanes, the potential Vincent Drive multi-use path and the future Jefferson River Road bike lane, the Barber Street project is part of a broader network allowing people from all over the northwest part of the county to access downtown, Holland Park, industrial jobs along Chase Street, and the entertainment district sprouting up around General Time and the Chase Park Warehouses by bike. “This is ultimately going to be how somebody gets to work at Wayfair, or kids on Kathwood Drive get into town,” Mayor Kelly Girtz said.
A vote on the project concept is scheduled for Feb. 7. Commissioners were generally supportive, although Patrick Davenport wondered if the cycle track could stay on one side of the street, and Ovita Thornton and Allison Wright suggested more public input might be needed.
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