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Published on September 2nd, 2015 |

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NPU-B votes no to city Complete Streets, Cycle Atlanta initiatives

With at least 60 Buckhead residents—some bicycle advocates and most opposed to bike lanes—crowded into a cramped meeting room, the board of Neighborhood Planning Unit-B cast votes Tuesday night against ordinances to adopt a balanced Complete Streets program for Atlanta and to adopt a Cycle Atlanta study.

The votes against those proposed ordinances related to the city’s Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP) were 11 for and 7 against denying passage of the Complete Streets ordinance and 9

NPU-B chair Andrea Bennett explains to the audience of 60 Buckhead residents the scope of the ordinances the board is considering.

NPU-B chair Andrea Bennett explains to the audience of 60 Buckhead residents the scope of the ordinances the board is considering.

against, 8 in favor and 1 abstention for passage of the Cycle Atlanta Study ordinance.

The NPU-B board did approve the city’s proposed changes to the Transportation Oriented Development ordinance by a vote of 10 in favor and 8 against. And, at its meeting the previous month, it also approved an ordinance for a citywide freight study, called Cargo Atlanta.
But, getting to the votes Tuesday night was not easy or quick.

NPU-B board chair Andrea Bennett, center, with board members Bill Bozarth and Bob

NPU-B board chair Andrea Bennett, center, with board members Bill Bozarth and Bob Stasiowski.

First of all, the room was too small for the audience and the noise of the air conditioning unit made it impossible for the mostly elderly crowd to hear the board’s discussion. So the room had to be totally reorganized to allow the audience to move into the U shape of the board seating.

Despite NPU-B chair Andrea Bennett’s instructions to the audience that the discussion was not about the state transportation officials’ consideration of redrawing the lanes of Peachtree Road through Buckhead to add bicycle lanes south of Peachtree Battle Avenue, that remained the focus of the audience and its comments.

“I think Peachtree is just one of those roads where cycling is a bad idea,” said one female resident who attended the meeting.

But resident Mike McLeod defended bike lanes. “It’s a perfect opportunity to have a bike network throughout Buckhead,” he said. “You can get people out of their cars. There’s data that shows

Left to right, NPU-B board members Kim Shorter, France Campbell and Jason Kendall during discussions at the Sept. 1 meeting.

Left to right, NPU-B board members Kim Shorter, France Campbell and Jason Kendall during discussions at the Sept. 1 meeting.

traffic flow will improve. I know it’s difficult to believe, but if you take away lanes for cars, you can improve traffic flow.”

He was in the minority with his comments.

The NPU board discussion, however, centered more on whether the ordinances as written were too open-ended and vague so as to turn over to city planners the right to expand bike lanes and other complete streets strategies on their own to any area of the city—including Buckhead.

Board member Kim Shorter told her colleagues, “The city has short-changed us with this document. There is no tie to action standards.” She feels city planners can set their own standards. She said the document is “too open-ended and gives planners too much latitude.”

At-Large City Councilwoman Mary Norwood, who was in the audience, was asked by a board member how these ordinances were being viewed by members of the Atlanta City Council, who will ultimately vote to either approve or disapprove of these changes to the wording of the Comprehensive Development Plan.

NPU-B board member Amy Hillman makes a point during the Sept. 1 meeting about the intention of the ordinances being considered by the board.

NPU-B board member Amy Hillman makes a point during the Sept. 1 meeting about the intention of the ordinances being considered by the board.

Norwood told the board and audience, “You have a very different city outside of Buckhead.” Midtown Atlanta has a grid street system and south side Atlanta has virtually no density, she explained. Neither condition is true of Buckhead.

While NPU-B chair suggested the board should first discuss the Move Atlanta Complete Streets ordinance because she felt it would likely be the least controversial, board secretary Jim Cosgrove said, “I think this is the most dangerous of all three.”

Cosgrove repeated the points made by Norwood and told the board, “this can damage our single-family neighborhoods in many ways. The only way to widen Peachtree Road is to condemn high-rise buildings” in order to gain more right-of-way.

“All of these ordinances are so broad that we are giving enabling legislation to the (city) planning department,” he added.

Other board members, however, felt the legislation was merely intended to clarify existing legislation and an attempt to take a city planning department, which has been reactive for years and make it more proactive. “They are planners,” said board member Jason Kendall.

Board member Amy Hillman, who has been a zoning attorney for about 20 years in the city, added, “What the intentions are is irrelevant. The only important thing is what is actually written into the ordinances.” Her remarks were supported by applause from the audience.

With that, the NPU board proceeded to cast votes on the three ordinances.

The message was clearly a rejection of bike lanes in Buckhead for the time being, but more precisely a rejection of handing over to the city planning department open-ended latitude in interpretation of standards for development and transportation priorities in Buckhead.

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    8 Responses to NPU-B votes no to city Complete Streets, Cycle Atlanta initiatives

    1. J says:

      So shortsighted.

    2. Sally Flocks says:

      Opposition to the proposed Complete Streets ordinance expressed at Tuesday’s meeting was based in part on inadequate understanding of street design guidelines and other issues.

      One board member expressed the importance of adhering to AASHTO (American Assn. of State Highway Transportation Officials) guidelines rather than allowing more flexibility to designers. In 1997, the Federal Highway Administration published Flexibility in Highway Design, which promotes innovative, context-sensitive design. You can find this at http://bit.ly/1fVSv92 In 2010, the Institute of Transportation Engineers and the Congress for the New Urbanism –two highly respected national organizations –published Designing Walkable Urban Thouroughfares, a Context-Sensitive Approach. You can download this at http://bit.ly/1LVstkH The Federal Highway Administration has since issued a memo officially endorsing the ITE/CNU guidelines.

      Designs following AASHTO guidelines often endanger people who walk. At the SE corner of the intersection of Peachtree and Lenox Road, for example, the slip lane has a very large turning radius. A pedestrian waiting to cross to the island is invisible to drivers until the person driving the car is very close to the crosswalk. Apologies in advance for the transportation jargon, but using an elongated island with a compound turning radius rather than one using AASHTO guidelines will increase safety both for people walking and for those driving cars. The existing slip lane requires drivers to turn their neck far more than they would if the island was designed according to guidelines in the ITE/CNU manual. It also reduces visibility between people walking and people driving.

      A board member also expressed concern about allowing vehicles to encroach into other lanes. Encroachment is something we experience nearly all the time in Atlanta. The state code requires right-turning drivers to turn into the right lane. A large share of people who drive here, however, turn into lane next to it. Allowing buses to encroach onto a 2nd lane enables our intersections to have a smaller turning radius. This shortens the length of crosswalks and helps prevent drivers from speeding when turning right. Both are excellent safety improvements.

      Transportation professionals are encouraged to use engineering judgment, and approving designs more appropriate for urban areas does not give them “open-ended” latitude. As the manuals I cited above confirm, national agencies already promote flexibility — and good guidelines exist on ways to provide appropriate designs.

      • Paul Dunfee says:

        The document states that it’s fine to design for large vehicles to need to encroach on other lanes, including opposing traffic lanes, or have to make multipoint turns. This is typical of the fantasy land this document was written toward. In reality, in Buckhead, the streets are often congested. Large vehicles cannot make these turns because the other lanes are occupied by cars. Let them wait, you say, until the traffic clears. When the large vehicle is an ambulance or fire engine, waiting is not a safety improvement. It is not in the public’s best interest to increase response times for emergency vehicles. This would be your inadequate understanding.

        • Sally Flocks says:

          About 80 people are killed while walking in the Atlanta region each year. Far more are injured. Of these, 90 percent occur while people are crossing the street. Shorter crossings, which come with tighter turning radii, save lives.

    3. James says:

      Such an incompetent bunch of short sited folks. This is the reason why Midtown will leave Buckhead behind. There needs to be a change to the makeup of this board. Talk about backwards. This right here is the reason Atlnata is behind other major cities by 15 years. Please get some vision and do the right thing rather than protect your half acre lots in the middle of the city. Exactly the thing that causes traffic in the first place. And you revert to a 1997 highway guide. Great work.

    4. Jesup says:

      Buckhead should make it LEGAL for cyclists to ride on sidewalks since Piedmont and Peachtree and Roswell road aren’t remotely safe for them.

      • Sally Flocks says:

        State law prohibits adults from riding bicycles on sidewalks. State law supersedes city law, so neither the City of Atlanta nor Buckhead has the authority to allow adults to ride bicycles on sidewalks. People who ride bicycles on sidewalks endanger people who walk, so even if Buckhead did have the authority to allow adults to ride bicycles on sidewalks, it’s a bad idea.

        • haywoodjarehmee says:

          Yeah right. This is right up there with statewide jaywalking bans. Cars endanger bikes in the road far more than bikes endanger pedestrians on sidewalks.

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