Dear Decaturish – Planters are not an election issue
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I am writing to express my opinion on the discussion about the planters on W. Howard Ave. The installation of the planters was met with appreciation by some and disdain by others. This discussion has become contentious and this project has become an election issue. I ask that residents please recognize this should not be an election issue and that we refrain from asking candidates any further questions about it. Here are my reasons:
A discussion about reducing the number of lanes on W. Howard Ave. was initiated by concerned neighbors who saw firsthand how speeding drivers were putting kids and crossing guards in danger every day. This persistent problem was also observed during non-school hours. See May 9 letter to the editor written by Allison Ericson (https://decaturish.com/2019/05/dear-decaturish-the-planters-are-a-gift/).
Once it was established that this had become a serious issue that needed remediation, a project was born called, “Re-imagine West Howard Avenue.” Meetings were held to gather input. See:
This issue has been cited as a case of the City taking action without input from the community, but this is a misrepresentation. These meetings were well publicized in neighborhood listservs and physical publications. There were attendees at the meetings who expressed both sides. It was determined that the pedestrian and vehicular safety concerns raised by the residents were valid and needed to be addressed.
The project goals were to calm traffic and increase safety for drivers and pedestrians. My correspondence with Police Captain, Billy Woodruff, supports the fact that these goals are being achieved. He communicated to me, “Since the planters were installed in October of 2018, the City of Decatur Police Department has seen a 38% reduction in traffic accidents and a 62% reduction in speeding citations issued. The police department also conducted a speed study in February of 2019 which showed only 2.1% of vehicles were traveling at a speed which was enforceable.” Per state law, only speeds 46 mile mph or greater are enforceable in this 35 mph zone.
The need for traffic calming on W. Howard should not be lumped in with a larger discussion about overall lane reductions around Decatur. The lane reduction on W. Howard was a much-needed local safety initiative and not a plan to cut off access for people coming from Atlanta as has been stated.
Throughout this project, the city has been responsive to input from residents. A decision was made to use a flexible method of reducing the lanes of traffic. This is a common practice around the country where other forward-thinking cities are attempting safety improvements on their roads. This philosophy allows the configuration to be adjusted based on observed data and input from residents. The city has already changed the lines drawn at the entrance to Atlanta Ave in response to input.
Now for the planters themselves. Obviously, some residents don’t like them, but there were few options for this space. Planters have been successfully used in other cities. They were a more affordable solution than permanent curbs and they afforded flexibility to mitigate any unforeseen problems. The concept of using planters was vetted in the Oct. 12, 2017 resident meeting and the attendees did not object to the planter concept.
The colors don’t offend me (really, I got used to them long ago) but they offend some. A poll to secure feedback on colors would likely have gotten many different responses. The staff simply chose colors that match the City of Decatur emblem, a logical choice that made sense at the time. It wasn’t a stretch to believe the colors would resonate with City of Decatur residents. https://www.decaturga.com/
The staff contracted with a private company to plant flowers in the planters. Unfortunately, the selected flowers were not the best choice from a maintenance perspective. The staff are currently taking steps to get new plants established in the planters and step up a watering schedule. They learned a lesson and they are working to remediate this issue.
What I think I’m hearing from some of the candidate responses and the public is that the city should have asked what “we” wanted the lane reduction to look like before implementing a solution. As I have detailed previously, the city did have public meetings with the neighborhood for input on overall design. However, the City of Decatur staff doesn’t ask residents to weigh in on administrative decisions like colors. When the City of Decatur painted colorful crosswalks downtown, they didn’t ask residents to approve each of the designs. Soliciting that level of input on every project is simply not feasible.
For all of the reasons I have stated, I feel the installation of the W. Howard planters is simply not an election issue. City commissioners do not manage city projects at this micro-level, nor should they. The city staff did nothing wrong. They have done a good job of working with the community on the Reimagine W. Howard project and the project has been a success. Staff are working hard to fix the plantings and they did their best on the design. I encourage Decaturish and all residents to stop treating the planters as an election issue. In time, a more permanent configuration will be in place and the planters will find a new home to the delight of some and the dismay of others. Let’s please give the city a chance to work with what we have and make it better.