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Athens Rising

Two more months to go until the new Oconee Street park-and-ride lot will be complete!

What a great new asset. With its convenient location just off the Loop at Exit 8, it will be a welcome new part of the transit equation. I, for one, am greatly looking forward to the accessibility to downtown when driving in from the Eastside and am thrilled about the environmentally conscious steps taken in its design and construction.

The park-and-ride lot is great for the environment. It is expected to reduce car trips (in length and number) and increase ridership on the Athens Transit system. This will reduce pollution and inner-city congestion if enough people take advantage of it. Initially, six buses will serve the soon-to-be open stop each hour (three going to downtown and three coming from downtown). There’s even talk of a potential circulator bus to run directly between downtown and the lot, although there’s no funding for it for the time being.

Parking will be free, then a quick trip on a bus or—if you’re like me and enjoy walking—a 15-minute stroll using the new pedestrian crosswalks, will lead you to your downtown destination. And it will do so in a much more convenient fashion than circling downtown to look for parking, stopping every two blocks at a red light and later having to remember to keep the meter fed.

The park-and-ride will be an example of environmentally friendly design and will incorporate many green features. Solar-powered LED lighting is being installed, as opposed to traditional energy-consuming fluorescents. Only about 30 LED lights will do the work of 130 fluorescents. Oh, and it is about $450,000 less expensive than the traditional option.

The site also features a rain garden, a landscaping area that collects runoff (thus reducing erosion, pollution and flooding in surrounding areas) to water plants. This will improve the aesthetic appeal without requiring artificial irrigation. And, of course, there is a stormwater system in place to filter water and prevent contaminated runoff. There are already other safeguards against runoff in place, too. Cars will park on pervious concrete that, unlike impervious surfaces, allows oil, antifreeze or whatever else leaks out to sink beneath the top layer to a filtration system.

This space can serve as a commuter lot for downtown employees, leaving more parking available for downtown stores’ customers and reducing traffic. Cars coming in from the Loop won’t even touch a surface street; they can come directly in and out of the lot without dealing with the intersection. It should lighten the burden on neighborhoods near downtown to provide parking on their streets.

This lot can also function as a central meeting place for carpooling, even to places away from downtown. The area will be outfitted with security cameras, putting even the most over-protective car owners (like me) at ease. Bike lockers and racks will be on site. The lot can also provide parking for Greenway access, including the much buzzed-about Greenway expansion that will run south from Carr’s Hill.

For me, public transportation is more than simply a means for getting from one place to another. It’s a shared experience where I encounter my fellow Athenians and gain a feel for the fabric of the community. My bus-riding experience has led me to appreciate the diversity of our community. Even now, although I have a car, I still enjoy taking the bus. Not only am I able to enjoy a short walk to the bus stop and then to my destination, but I also have an opportunity to interact with fellow bus-riders and gain a new appreciation for our city, not to mention reducing my carbon footprint and saving money. The shared experience builds community, and I encourage everyone to use transit, even if it’s only on occasion.

This development will enhance the downtown district’s attractiveness as a place to shop, dine and spend leisure time, making it as appealing as other districts with plentiful parking. Furthermore, I am thrilled with the environmentally conscious design. This project can serve as an example for other cities to emulate and for us as a guide to further improve our transportation system.

Perhaps if people were more cognizant of the fact that driving their car costs 60 cents per mile in gas, maintenance and depreciation, and puts about a pound of pollutants into the air, they might give mass transit another look. Let’s take advantage of this readily available parking and improving public transit system for our own convenience and to set an example that is sustainable and builds community.