By Nathan Clubb
How many Atlantans live on a dangerous road? Afraid to walk, bike or allow their children to play in their own yard for fear of being hit by a car? The answer is too many. As more neighborhoods take a stand, that is starting to change.
My neighbors and I were determined to make United Avenue safer. This is our story: We experience a road designed for speed, designed to encourage fast commuter traffic in and out of our city, making it impossible for our kids to play in our front yards, walk alongside, or bike on United Avenue. The travel lanes are so wide that for significant portions of the road, a car can pass another car without even leaving the lane. Folks regularly fly by at 50 to 60 mph down this 30-mph road.
We have hope, however, that this will soon change. ATLDOT and GDOT recently released plans for redesigning the roadway, including one that incorporates many community requests. It trims down travel lanes, widens bike lanes and adds significant portions of protected bike lanes. Work has already begun on installing new ADA crosswalks. I know I will feel safer biking my 2-year-old daughter to daycare. I will feel safer letting her play in our front yard. These are the basics folks living everywhere in Atlanta deserve.
Half of United Ave (including in front of my house) will change from 16-feet-wide car lanes with a 4-foot faded bike lane to 11-foot-wide car lanes and 6-foot painted bike lanes. For additional protection, there will be a 3-foot buffer and bollards, similar to the ones GDOT recently installed on Moreland Avenue through Little Five Points. United Avenue is one of several southeast Atlanta roads for which our community has spent years pushing and achieving safety improvements.
So how did we get there and what does the future look like? It began with a group of neighbors convincing our neighborhood association, South Atlantans for Neighborhood Development (SAND), to meet regularly with our former Atlanta City Council Member, Carla Smith. We discussed what, if anything, could be done without waiting decades. We pulled together our list of asks (slimming down travel lanes, safer bike lanes, signage and adding crosswalks). We talked with now former Atlanta Chief Bicycle Officer, Cary Bearn, and other city transportation officials. We were originally told by the Department of Public Works (prior to the creation of ATLDOT) that no reconfiguration was possible until the road was scheduled for repaving, a schedule which did not exist.
We were fortunate to have an ally in Bearn, who worked tirelessly to come up with a solution. She found and submitted a safety improvement grant reflecting neighborhood priorities that won approval.We recognize this is just one road, and that the protection doesn’t even run the entire stretch. On its own, this will not change the culture of our city. It will not dramatically increase the number of cyclists and pedestrians. However, small improvements will begin to add up. We can build a safer, more sustainable, less car-centric city. Don’t get discouraged. Dedicated groups of volunteers crisscrossing Atlanta are driving this change (no pun intended).