Petition seeks reconsideration of Decatur bike lanes project

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt September 14, 2015
W. Ponce De Leon Avenue. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

W. Ponce De Leon Avenue. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

This story has been updated. 

Local cyclists want the city of Decatur to revisit its plans for bike lanes along Commerce Drive.

On Sept. 8 the City Commission approved installation of bike lanes on Commerce Drive between Clairemont Avenue and West Trinity Place. Commissioners also approved an agreement with Trammell Crow Residential in the amount of $69,000. TCR is developing the Alexan residential development on Commerce Drive.

According to the memo attached to the Sept. 8 meeting agenda, “The City is to pay for the bike lanes between West Ponce de Leon and West Trinity Place. This project was included in the Alexan development plan approved by the City Commission in February, 2014. The total cost of the improvements is $165,000.”

Two local cyclists say the plan is fundamentally flawed.

Tonio Andrade and Joseph Hurley have created the petition and are circulating it among other cyclists. 

“The main problem is that (the plans) make no attempt to physically separate bicycle and automobile traffic,” the petition says. “Cities like New York, Portland, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Seattle, and, yes, Atlanta, have recognized the necessity of physically-separated bike lanes and are now focusing their attention on building such lanes.”

The petition also criticizes how the plan for bike lanes treats two intersections along the road: Commerce and Clairemont and Commerce and West Ponce de Leon.

“In the former, the bike lane stops just before the intersection,” the petition says. “In the latter, the bike lane is crossed by southbound automobile traffic turning right onto Ponce from Commerce. Bike lanes should not simply dissolve, particularly at intersections, because intersections are where people in cars are most likely to injure or kill people on bikes.”

In an email to Decaturish, Hurley said the cycling community wants bike lanes on Commerce.

“The current plans are for painted bike lanes with no protective barriers,” Hurley wrote. “While we certainly want bike lanes on Commerce Drive, simply painting bike lanes on the street will not create safe cycling infrastructure.”

Deputy City Manager Hugh Saxon responded to the petition on Monday afternoon.

“The proposed bike lanes are similar to the existing bike facilities on West Ponce de Leon Avenue, West Trinity Place and Commerce Drive south of Trinity,” Saxon said. “… The project is consistent with the City’s Community Transportation Plan, includes traffic calming features and helps convert Commerce to a ‘complete street.’ The plan was prepared using design guidance from the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), which is considered the authority for these types of transportation facilities.”

Saxon’s full response is reprinted at the end of this article.

Here is the full text of the petition, provided by Hurley:

Jim Baskett, Commissioner

Patti Garrett, Commissioner

Bill Bolling, Commissioner

Fred Boykin, Commissioner

Scott Drake, Commissioner

City of Decatur

509 N. McDonough St.

P.0. Box 220

Decatur, GA 30031

12 September 2015

Dear Mayor Baskett and Commissioners Garrett, Bolling, Boykin, and Drake:

We, the undersigned, are writing with regard to the plans to create bicycle lanes for Commerce Drive submitted to the city on 3 September 2015 by Hugh Saxon, Deputy City Manager. We are pleased that the city has undertaken to install bicycle lanes on this roadway, and we applaud your commitment to active transportation. Commerce Drive needs bike lanes, and the total budget of $165,000 should certainly be ample to create lanes that will protect cyclists and make them feel secure. Unfortunately, the plans as currently laid out are deeply flawed.

The main problem is that they make no attempt to physically separate bicycle and automobile traffic. Cities like New York, Portland, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Seattle, and, yes, Atlanta, have recognized the necessity of physically-separated bike lanes and are now focusing their attention on building such lanes. (See “Inventory of Protected Bike Lanes” by People for Bikes.) Research has shown that separated lanes not only provide more physical protection; they also provide a feeling of security, which encourages more people to get on their bikes, creating a virtuous cycle. (See “Protected Bike Lanes 101” by People for Bikes.)  The goal is to make bike lanes that are safe for all people to use. Mere paint does not suffice. This is particularly true for roadways as busy as Commerce Drive.

So we call upon the City of Decatur to revisit the plans and modify them in such a way as to provide physical separation for the bike lanes as much as possible. Ideal practice is curbs or surface grading that elevates the bike lane. We would be satisfied with vertical bollards in this case. They are certainly not ideal, but they do provide a level of security, which is why the City of Atlanta is using them in its new bike infrastructure, as in the 10th Street lane and the Peachtree Center Avenue lanes.

A second problem with the plans involves the two intersections of Commerce and Clairemont on the one hand and Commerce and West Ponce de Leon Avenue on the other. In the former, the bike lane stops just before the intersection. In the latter, the bike lane is crossed by southbound automobile traffic turning right onto Ponce from Commerce. Bike lanes should not simply dissolve, particularly at intersections, because intersections are where people in cars are most likely to injure or kill people on bikes.

So we also call on the city to redesign the bike lanes at these two intersections. The city of Davis, California, made national news when it installed the country’s first true bicycle intersection. Salt Lake City has also made national news with a similar plan. The City of Decatur could similarly achieve a position of leadership within the region and perhaps nationally if the intersections in these plans were truly designed for people riding bikes. In any case, no plan is complete that does not get people on bikes safely across intersections.

The total cost of the plan as currently drawn is $165,000. We believe that if this much money is to be spent, the infrastructure should come up to current best practices, providing physical separation for bike lanes and bike-safe intersections. It would be a terrible waste of money to carry out the plans because as currently drawn few people will feel safe on them and therefore the bike lanes will rarely be used.

Once the city modifies the plans, however, and installs truly effective, separated bike lanes, it will create a safe bicycle environment for families, including our young children, regaining its leadership as a bike-friendly city (it might even gain a silver certification in the Bicycle Friendly Community rankings).

We look forward to working with you to improve our city. Thank you for your attention.

Sincerely yours,

Tonio Andrade

Andrea Andrade

119 W. Dearborn Circle

Decatur, GA 30030

Joseph Hurley

Stefanie Wuertz-Hurley

208 Shadowmoor Drive

Decatur, GA 30030

The petition may be signed by following this link.

Here is the full response from Deputy City Manager Hugh Saxon …

Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

The Commerce Drive bike lane proposal will provide bike lanes on Commerce Drive between Clairemont and West Trinity Place and will connect with the existing bike lanes on Commerce south of Trinity.  The proposed bike lanes are similar to the existing bike facilities on West Ponce de Leon Avenue, West Trinity Place and Commerce Drive south of Trinity.

The concept was approved in early in 2014 as part of the development plan for the Alexan residential development.  The Alexan developer is putting in the new bike lanes between Clairemont and WPDL, with the City filling in the gap between West Ponce de Leon and West Trinity Place.  The City’s share of the cost is very reasonable.  The project is consistent with the City’s Community Transportation Plan, includes traffic calming features and helps convert Commerce to a “complete street.”  The plan was prepared using design guidance from the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), which is considered the authority for these types of transportation facilities.

We agree that more protection for bicyclists is safer and would probably encourage more use by families and children. This is a major reason that the City supported the PATH trail along the CSX railroad corridor and is making an investment in protected bicycle lanes on North McDonough Street and Church Street.  Of course, there is a significant cost difference in these types of facilities over what is proposed for Commerce Drive.

Hugh Saxon

Deputy City Manager

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of Decaturish.com. https://www.linkedin.com/in/danwhisenhunt

View all posts by Dan Whisenhunt

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