City DopeNews

Commissioners Can’t Agree on Barber Street Bike Path

Changes proposed for the Barber Street-Prince Avenue intersection.

Commissioners will have no shortage of options to choose from when they vote on a long-delayed Barber Street for walkers and bikers next month.

At issue is whether the commission will prioritize safety over a handful of on-street parking spaces that rental property owners want to keep. Mayor Kelly Girtz said he will introduce a proposal instructing staff to find alternative parking for those tenants, while Commissioner Melissa Link said she will introduce her own plan that would get rid of the multi-use path between Boulevard and Prince Avenue—requiring cyclists to share the road with cars—and adding a four-way stop at Barrow Street.

Link has an unusual ally in Commissioner John Culpepper, who praised her idea because it would save $900,000 on the $8 million project. “I think we need to look at a cheaper option that keeps the on-street parking,” Culpepper said at the May 16 agenda-setting meeting.

The plan recommended by county staff to extend the multi-use path down the full length of Barber Street is supported by BikeAthens, the commission-appointed advisory group Athens in Motion and the Boulevard neighborhood association. It’s also backed by commissioners Jesse Houle and Carol Myers.

“I feel like it would be a real shame to just leave sort of an unprotected, disjointed, weird section between two large, busy roads that are otherwise protected,” Houle said.

Myers said the commission should trust ACC transportation planners. “I know I cannot come up with safer options than what they’re putting forth. I’d like to respect staff and the time they’ve spent on this,” she said. “The one thing I know for certain is that not having protected bike lanes and putting sharrows [painted ‘share the road’ signs] in the street is more economical, it is better for landlords, but it is less safe. There’s no confusion about that.”

Manager Blaine Williams confirmed that the multi-use path is the safest option. “I think it’s been fairly well proven that separated facilities are the safest,” he said.

Toole Design Group A current cross section of Barber Street versus what is recommended by Athens-Clarke County staff.

The Barber Street plan has been through several iterations since it was first conceived in 2018. The commission has sent it back repeatedly for revisions, most recently voting to table the controversial Prince-to-Boulevard portion because the District 2 commission seat was vacant. (Link won a special election to fill the seat in March.)

Myers served on the precursor to Athens in Motion and said the Boulevard-to-Prince stretch has always been a political minefield. “The reason [it was split into two projects] was, the consultant thought there would be a lot of political difficulty in dealing with the section from Boulevard to Prince Avenue,” she said. “I’m going to put forth that we are having the political discussion now.”

Or will the commission have it? Commissioner Allison Wright said she is inclined to table the issue again. And Commissioner Mike Hamby—who previously tried to divert SPLOST funds earmarked for Barber to Timothy Road in his district—now says he wants to scrap it entirely and put the money toward Milledge Avenue.

If and when it’s built, the Barber path will provide a key bike/pedestrian connection between downtown and Boulevard and the growing Chase Street/Newton Bridge Road area north of the Loop. Eventually it would link up to Sandy Creek Nature Center and the North Oconee River Greenway, providing a connection to campus, the Eastside and Winterville via the Firefly Trail.