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Decatur City Commission approves traffic-calming measures on South McDonough Street

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Decatur City Commission approves traffic-calming measures on South McDonough Street

Decatur City Hall. Photo by Grace Donnelly.

This story has been updated. 

By Grace Donnelly, contributor

Decatur, GA — The Decatur City Commissioners at its Feb. 20 meeting passed a plan for the first phase of changes intended to make South McDonough Street safer for pedestrians.

The traffic-calming measures, which are focused on the stretch of road between Garland Avenue and Pharr Road near the College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center, will include new striping, stormwater management improvements, additional speed tables, and chicanes, which are islands that narrow the road and create a curving path that discourages speeding.

The plan also includes removing the right-turn slip lane at the Garland Avenue and South McDonough Street intersection, extending curbs to protect pedestrian crossings, and a hardened centerline to prevent queue-jumping during school drop-off. Repaving along South McDonough Street has already been completed.

Residents who live near the project uniformly expressed support for making the area more pedestrian-friendly, but about half of those who spoke during public comment on Tuesday had concerns about the impact of specific measures. The placement of chicanes and the closure of the slip lane in particular prompted worries about neighbors’ ability to access their driveways and exit Garland Avenue safely, as well as the ability of school buses and emergency vehicles to navigate the updated intersection.

Cara Scharer, assistant city manager for public works, and engineers from Toole Design Group, which has been investigating and developing this plan since March 2023, answered questions about the specifics of the design and the community engagement process.

Scharer and members of the Toole team met with residents who live near the project during open houses in September and November of last year. The number of change orders to this project shows how community feedback has been incorporated, Scharer said, but the design decisions are ultimately based on what’s best for public health and safety rather than what’s most popular.

Funding from the 2023-24 capital improvements budget will pay for phase one of the plan, which includes new signage and paint to mark traffic changes, crossings, and placement of chicanes. These temporary measures will give the city and the Toole Design team a chance to determine whether any of these features need to be adjusted before building out the permanent infrastructure to implement these changes in phase two.

All the chicanes will be mountable, Scharer said, meaning that larger vehicles could drive over them if necessary. Several residents also asked to have a crossing guard at the Garland Avenue intersection. Scharer said the police department is working out how to staff that position.

Decatur City Commissioners unanimously passed the initial phase of the plan.

“This is not a solution in search of a problem,” Decatur Mayor Pro Tem Tony Powers said, noting that prioritizing pedestrian safety is something that people have been asking for along this corridor for quite some time.

Decatur began developing this traffic-calming strategy following a petition from residents in 2020 calling for safety improvements to the intersection of South McDonough Street and Garland Avenue.

Neighbors and commissioners asked questions about the possibility of reducing the 35 MPH speed limit on South McDonough Street. To be able to enforce a lower speed limit, the city would have to engage in a traffic study with GDOT or address the issue through the Safe Streets For All action plan this spring, Scharer said.

Scharer also shared a proposal for two additional speed tables between Lenore Street and Pharr Road, which would require a separate contract to complete.

In other business:

– The city commission approved a $5,000 disbursement of funds from the opioid settlement for Decatur Prevention Initiative, which is expanding its youth education programs on drug addiction and overdoses.

Fire Captain Gary Menard shared that the fire department has already been able to purchase 600 doses of Narcan, a life-saving treatment for those experiencing an opioid overdose, and distributed them to schools, buses, and resident advisors at Agnes Scott. They are beginning to provide doses to businesses in Decatur as well, he said.

– The city commission renewed a $46,200 agreement with KCI Technologies, Inc. for monthly traffic signal inspections and monitoring at 34 intersections in Decatur and approved a $49,415 agreement with Sunbelt Traffic, LLC for the installation of new audible pedestrian crossing signals at five intersections.

– Decatur city commissioners voted to approve an application for a federal Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) planning grant to reconnect Scott Boulevard.

This is only a green light for Decatur to apply for the $1 million competitive grant, which requires a $1 million funding match from the city if awarded.

The RAISE grant application proposes a complete street approach on Scott Boulevard that would begin in fiscal year 2024-25. While the US Department of Transportation only awards RAISE grants to a small portion of applicants, Decatur is working with GDOT and should have a stronger case with this project due to the low-income demographic of the corridor.

– The city commission also heard updates from Decatur’s Environmental Sustainability Board (ESB) and Beecatur during Tuesday’s meeting.

March is “No Mow Month,” promoted by Beecatur to support spring’s earliest pollinators. The ESB is planning the annual Earth Day celebration in Decatur Square for April 20 and hoping to increase community engagement around environmental conservation and climate action. ESB meetings are held on the fourth Monday of each month at 6:30pm and are open to the public.

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