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Commission Approves Barnett Shoals Bike Lanes, Delays Decision on Boulevard

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Athens-Clarke County commissioners approved preliminary plans Tuesday night for bike lanes in the Boulevard neighborhood—but not on Boulevard itself.

The concept plan approved Tuesday includes narrowing lanes on a Chase Street bridge to slow traffic coming into town off the Loop and multi-use paths along Barber Street and Oneta Street.

However, plans to eventually stripe bike lanes along Boulevard were scrapped—for now—after residents of the street objected that Boulevard is already safe for cyclists, and the markings would ruin its historic character.

“This street has always been one of the favorites for cyclists,” Commissioner Melissa Link said. “It’s one of the few streets I can safely bike on, having some physical limitations.”

Commissioner Kelly Girtz proposed approving the concept plan, minus the bike lanes and on-street parking on Boulevard. His motion passed 7–3, with Link and commissioners Jerry NeSmith and Mariah Parker voting against it. NeSmith said businesses had not been notified of the plans, while Parker did not give a reason.

The commission will revisit the Boulevard bike lanes once a traffic study is complete. The study should start within the next couple of weeks.

“That should work out some of the data we need to see what are the real needs on the street,” Link said. “I’m proposing we delay that leg of the plan so that process can move forward, and it’s moving forward in the next couple of weeks, actually.”

 Link had proposed her own commission-defined option, which also included public input requirements and a new study of bike infrastructure on Chase Street. But other commissioners said studying Chase Street again would duplicate past efforts and hold up projects elsewhere, like on Prince Avenue.

“Let’s get some things on the ground, get things going, get things moving,” Commissioner Mike Hamby said.

Link’s proposal did not get a vote, as commissioners approved Girtz’s motion first. Had it failed, they would have moved on to Link’s.

Except for the Chase Street bridge markings, the rest of the project is likely years away. No construction plans have been approved, nor is any money currently available to build them.

The plans grew out Link’s efforts to improve bike and pedestrian safety on Chase Street when part of that road was up for repaving in 2016. Most of Chase south of the Loop proved too narrow to add bike lanes without removing a center turn lane residents wanted to keep, and three-laning the four-lane portion of Chase proved to cause tractor-trailer backups, so it was restriped back to its original configuration.

ACC then hired Toole Design Group—which also consulted on the Athens in Motion bike/pedestrian master plan update—to design bike infrastructure for the Chase corridor. After public input, Toole recommended routing bike traffic up Barber Street, with connections to the Chase Park Warehouses and new mixed-use developments, such as the old Southern Mill and Westclox plant, via Boulevard and Oneta.

In addition, the commission unanimously approved a 30-day trial of bike lanes on Barnett Shoals Road. The four-lane portion of the road between College Station and Whitehall roads will be temporarily restriped with two car lanes, a center turn lane and a two-way separated bike path on the east side of the road.

Commissioners Andy Herod and Sharyn Dickerson had proposed keeping the car lanes and replacing the sidewalk on the west side with a multi-use path instead. But BikeAthens and others objected that such a path would be difficult to reach from neighborhoods on the east side of Barnett Shoals and cost more than using existing pavement.

“Both of these projects are the lowest hanging fruits,” BikeAthens Executive Director Tyler Dewey said. “We should approve them, and then reap the benefits of better places to walk and bike.”