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Chase Street Road Diet Will Be Reversed—for Now

Photo Credit: Austin Steele/file

Removing a lane from Chase Street has caused traffic to back up at the Loop.

Athens-Clarke County officials said Wednesday they will restripe part of Chase Street between the Loop and Newton Bridge Road, returning it to four lanes.

But that may not be the last change to the street, according to ACC Transportation and Public Works Director Drew Raessler. A consultant hired to update the county’s bike and pedestrian master plan will produce a Complete Streets study of the corridor in November.

“We can’t simply go back and say ‘that’s it,’ in my opinion,” Raessler said.

ACC commissioners approved a road diet for Chase Street last year on the recommendation of the previous TPW director, David Clark, in an effort to slow down fast-moving traffic. 

Between Newton Bridge and Rowe roads, Chase was recently restriped from four lanes to two travel lanes with a center turn lane. Business owners in the industrial area complained that the change led to trucks and workers’ cars backing up trying to get on and off the Loop.

The change led to an additional 15-second delay in the morning and 58 seconds in the afternoon, according to a July traffic study. The delay resulted from the removal of one of two left-turn lanes on Chase at the Loop, which reduced the space for cars to line up by 50 percent, creating congestion, Raessler and ACC traffic engineer Steve Decker said.

Officials considered placing a traffic light on Chase at the inner Loop, but they believe that would only make the problem worse.

A public forum on Wednesday quickly grew testy, with Chase-area business owners frequently interrupting Raessler’s presentation to berate him.

At one point, cycling advocate Gretchen Elsner asked what could be done to get workers on bikes. Another attendee scoffed at the idea.

“We work for a living. We sweat,” he said. “What you’re talking about, you’re foolish.”

But the issue doesn’t just involve commuters and truckers. South of Oneta Street, Chase is residential, with cyclists and pedestrians (including schoolchildren) dodging vehicles speeding off the Loop or not slowing down when the speed limit shifts from 40 to 30 miles per hour. The conflict is likely to grow worse when Southern Mill—a mixed use development that will include apartments and a brewery—opens off nearby Bryan Street. Other vacant industrial buildings in the area will likely be redeveloped as mixed use one day, too.

The Complete Streets study may raise possibilities like changing the Loop interchange to a teardrop roundabout or routing bikes off Chase at Oneta and onto Barber Street, Raessler said.

The commission will vote on reconfiguring Chase Tuesday, and Commissioner Jared Bailey assured business owners that the commission is listening to their concerns.

“We all want this to work,” he said. “It’s too important.”

The vote will not affect changes made to Chase south of Rowe Road. That stretch will be permanently restriped next week, Raessler and Decker said, with bike lanes between Rowe and Boulevard, sharrows between Boulevard and Prince, and a new crosswalk with a flashing beacon at Chase Street Elementary.

Next month, a pedestrian island will be installed at the school crosswalk. And in January, construction will start on a sidewalk between Boulevard and Nantahala, with new crosswalks at the Chase-Nantahala intersection.

A digital “your speed” sign has been effective in slowing down vehicles headed south on Chase, Raessler told Boulevard residents.