Streetcar projects needs proper bike lanes

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

The Atlanta streetcar project is skimping on bike lanes in order to protect some metered parking spaces, writes a local bicycle activist. That makes riding bikes along a redeveloped Auburn Avenue a much more dangerous proposition, and a shortsighted one, too. The city says it’s a necessary compromise. It would like to nurture our growing cycling community — and plans to double the mileage of city bike lanes by 2016 — but it also recognizes that businesses will need at least some limited on-street parking.

Commenting is open below Tom Weyandt’s column.

By Rebecca Serna

Once completed, the Atlanta Streetcar project has the potential to transform downtown Atlanta and the Sweet Auburn neighborhoods. Projected to carry 2,500 riders a day, the streetcar project promises new life and new investment along Auburn and Edgewood avenues.

Just blocks away, the Beltline’s Eastside Trail is already booming. Even before the official opening last week, the trail saw a steady stream of people walking, running and biking. A quarter of a billion dollars in private investments is going in along the 2.25-mile trail.

Individually, these projects have the potential to change neighborhoods. Together, they have the potential to transform Atlanta. That potential, however, depends on the connectivity of these two projects and other great bike improvements in the works in Midtown and beyond.

Auburn Avenue is a critical component of this transformation. Plans call for Auburn to become the eastbound bicycle traffic corridor, paired with a westbound bike lane on Edgewood Avenue to Five Points to create a connected bike route. Due to the hazard streetcar tracks pose for bikes, the route was split between the two streets so that the bikeway could be placed across the street from tracks to prevent crashes.

Because both streets were in dire need of pedestrian and bicycle improvements, the streetcar project received a $5.1 million transit enhancements grant from the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Livable Centers Initiative. This funding was specifically designated for striped bike lanes, and its documentation reads, “The provision of widened sidewalks and bike lanes will in some locations remove on-street parking and in other locations add on-street parking.”

Rather than a continuous, dedicated bike lane along the full stretch, Auburn would get just three blocks of bike lanes, the rest shared with cars and signed with shared lane markings (“sharrows”). The bike lanes are being sacrificed not to accommodate the streetcar or existing traffic, but to preserve a few dozen metered Park Atlanta spaces.

Sharrows may seem sufficient to some, but a recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that cyclists face the highest injury risk when they share major streets with parked cars, with no bike lanes available. If Auburn Avenue does not have a high-quality bike facility, cyclists will be less likely to alter their route and stick with Edgewood, despite the presence of streetcar tracks. According to the study, cyclists face increased crash risk with streetcar tracks.

Our counter-proposal would balance the need for a safe, connected bike facility with the desire to preserve as much on-street parking as possible. It would have the added benefit of being easily extended farther east to the Beltline crossing with Irwin, connecting the Beltline neighborhoods with the Sweet Auburn business district.

Bicycling contributes directly to an improved neighborhood economy, in part because bicyclists and pedestrians spend more money close to home than drivers.

Before the early 2000s, Edgewood and Auburn were nearly indistinguishable – abandoned storefronts and decaying buildings. Today, Edgewood is the most traveled bicycle corridor in the city. Not coincidentally, Edgewood is booming with nightlife and street vitality, and has been featured in articles from Southern Living to the New York Times — while, in stark contrast, Auburn Avenue, one block north but with no bike lanes, has again been named one of the 10 most endangered historic places in America.

With all the benefits bicycle infrastructure provides, it’s no wonder Mayor Kasim Reed is committed to building 34 miles of new, high-quality bicycle lanes and trails over the next three years. Auburn Avenue should be one of those miles.

Rebecca Serna is Executive Director of the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition.

Balancing act is needed between bike lanes and parking

By Tom Weyandt

The Atlanta Streetcar project is under construction along parts of Edgewood and Auburn avenues. Once finished, this new transit system will be transformative for this area and will connect one of Atlanta’s most historic neighborhoods with Centennial Olympic Park, the World of Coca-Cola, CNN, Georgia State University, the future Center for Civil and Human Rights and many other businesses and attractions along the 2.7-mile route. In fact, this project constitutes the largest single investment for this corridor in more than 50 years and is estimated to bring in significant new private investments.

A few critical components of this project include traffic-light modifications and timing optimization, improving existing sidewalks, and adding upgraded facilities for bicyclists. Atlanta has approximately 60 miles of bike lanes and paths, and we intend to double that by 2016. Recently, the Atlanta Beltline opened the Eastside Trail, which added to this total count. Additionally, it is our goal to double our bike commute-to-work rate to 2.2 percent.

As part of the city of Atlanta’s continued commitment to improve bike corridors and trails, the Atlanta Streetcar construction firm hired the nationally renowned bicycle planning and design firm Alta Planning & Design to advise how best to incorporate bike lanes into the configuration of this new system. Based in Portland, Ore., this company has advised cities across the United States on best practices of creating walkable and bikeable communities, and is considered by many in the industry to be the most progressive firm of its kind.

As part of Alta’s suggestions, there are plans to include a continuous westbound bicycle lane with assorted bicycle boxes for left turns along Edgewood Avenue between Boulevard and Park Place; a northbound contraflow bicycle lane on Park Place between Edgewood and Auburn avenues; an intermittent eastbound bicycle lane along Auburn; and a continuous southbound/eastbound bicycle lane with innovative intersection treatments on Jackson Street and Edgewood between Auburn and Boulevard. We also plan to install safety and way-finding signage for cyclists using the corridor. These improvements do not currently exist.

In certain sections of the streetcar route, namely Auburn Avenue, the streets become much narrower. With the current street design, there simply isn’t enough room to safely accommodate full bicycle lanes along with on-street parking, traffic and the streetcar vehicle itself along areas of Auburn. The design-build firm has suggested installing sharrows, or shared bicycle lanes. It’s a practice already in place in many areas of the city and is used in other cities as well.

While not ideal, it is a compromise. As with many complex projects, there is always a balancing act. The city of Atlanta is committed to fostering and nurturing the growing cyclist community and will work to accommodate its concerns when possible. At the same time, we are equally committed to the needs of businesses along Auburn Avenue that rely heavily on the available, albeit limited, on-street parking.

Tom Weyandt is a senior policy adviser to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

11 comments Add your comment

Retired Vet

October 27th, 2012
10:21 am

MANGLER

October 26th, 2012
2:28 pm

You are aware that the streecar route will intersect with the southwest entrance and exit to the Peachtree Center MARTA staton?